The beginning of the Controversy concerning Indulgences.
POPE- Alexander VII. the most flagitious of men, died in the year 1503. After the short interval of the dominion of Pius III. who ruled the church less than a year, Julius II. was elected pontiff. A circumstance attended this election, which deserves to be recorded* as a memorable indication of those times. The cardinals agreed upon oath before the election, and obliged the new pontiff after his election to take the same oath, that a general council should be called within two years to reform the church. The effect of this measure, which so strongly implied the consent of the christian world to the necessity of a reformation, was the council of Pisa. But nothing good was to be expected from Julius; a man, in the language of worldly greatness, renowned for military ambition. By his intrigues the council of Pisa was dissolved, and Julius died in 1513, after he had filled the christian world with blood and confusion by his violence and rapacity.
Leo X.f succeeded; a man famous for the encouragement of letters and the fine arts, and deservedly celebrated among the patrons of learned men. But historical veracity can scarcely admit any farther encomium on his character. He was a Florentine of the illustrious house of the Medici, and inherited the elegant taste and munificent spirit of that family. He was elected pope in the thirty seventh year of his age. Though refined and humanized by his love of the liberal arts, and extremely abhorrent from the savage manners of Alexander and of Julius, he possess, ed other qualities, no less inconsistent than theirs with the character of a pastor of the church of Christ. An excessive magnificence, a voluptuous indolence, and above all, a total want of religious principle, rendered him perhaps more strikingly void of every sacerdotal qualification than any pontiffs before him. He has been accused of open infidelity; but the proofs are said to be only negative; certainly, however, he at no time took the least pains to discover to mankind, that he had a sincere reverence for religion. It was during the pontificate of this man, that providence gave the severest blow to the authority of the Roman hierarchy, which it had ever received since the days of Gregory II.
• Seckendorf, vol. i. page 3.
t This prelate, the soil of Lorenzo the magnificent, was ordained at the age of seven year9, made an abbot before he was eight years old, and at the age of thirteen became a cardinal! Such was the influence of hig father in the court of Rome! Lorenzo, in a prudential letter to his son, tells him, that he had heard with pleasure of his attention to communion and confession; and that there was no better way for him to obtain the favour of heaven, than by habituating himself to the performance of such duties.—Roscoe's Life of Lorenzo de Medici.
Both before his exaltation and after it, he opposed with dexterity and success the laudable attempts after a reformation, which have been mentioned. A council called by this pope, and held in the lateran palace, was directed under his auspices against the determinations of the council of Pisa. Afterwards in the year 1517, the university of Paris, renowned at that time through Europe for learning and knowledge, appealed from Us decisions to a future general council. It is not necessary to enter into the detail of these transactions. They are here briefly mentioned in a general way for the purpose of showing that common sense and the voice of natural conscience had agreed to the necessity of a reformation, though men knew not the principles on which it ought to proceed. The greatest personages of the times had delivered their sentiments to the same. The existence of the distemper was admitted. The true remedy was unknown: that was to be drawn only from the word of God; and almost all parties were equally ignorant of the contents of the sacred volumes. In this same year, however, 1517^ the spirit of Luther was raised up, to instruct the ignorant, to rouse the negligent, and to oppose the scandalous practices of interested and ambitious ecclesiastical rulers.
Lorenzo appears to have known the art of rising in this world, better than the narrow road to eternal life.
No reformer had ever an opportunity more favourable to his designs. Such was the temerity of the existing hierarchy, that they might seem even to have purposely afforded to their opponents an advantage for the beginning of a contest, or rather to have been providentially infatuated. Leo X. after he had presided almost five years, having reduced himself to straits by his prodigal expenses of various kinds, and being desirous to complete the erection of St. Peter's church, begun at Rome by his predecessor Julius II. after his example had recourse to the sale of indulgences, the general nature of which Maimbourg describes much in the same manner as has been done in the foregoing chapter.* These he published throughout the christian world, granting freely to all, who would pay money for the building of St. Peter's Church, tlie license of eating eggs and cheese in the time of lent. This is one of the many ridiculous circumstances which attended Leo's indulgences, and it is gravely related by the papal historians. The promulgation of these indulgences in Germany, was committed to a prelate, the brother of the elector of Brandenburg. His name was Albert, a man who at that very time held two archbishoprics, namely, those of Mentz and of Magdeburg, and who himself received immense profits from the sale. Albert delegated the office of John Tetzel, a dominican inquisitor, well qualified for an employment of this kind. He was a bold andenterprisingmonk of uncommon impudence, and had already distinguished himself in a similar transaction. He had proclaimed indulgences in support of the war against the Muscovites, and by that means had much enriched the Teutonic knights, who had undertaken that war. " This frontless monk," says a celebrated ecclesiastical historian,* "executed this iniquitous commission not only with matchless insolence, indecency, and fraud, but even carried his impiety so far as to derogate from the all sufficient power and influence of the merits of Christ." Myconius assures us, that he himself heard Tetzel declaim with incredible effrontery concerning the unlimited power of the pope and the efficacy of indulgences. The people believed, that the moment any person had paid the money for the indulgence, he became certain of his salvation, and that the souls, for whom the indulgences were bought, were instantly released out of purgatory. So Maimbourg allows; and if the people really believed the current doctrine of the times, and looked on the preachers of indulgences as men worthy of credit, they must have believed so. We have formerly seen popes themselves to hold this confident language. John Tetzel boasted, that he had saved more souls from hell by his indulgences, than St. Peter had converted to christianity by his preaching. He assured the purchasers of them, that their crimes, however enormous, would be forgiven; whence it became almost needless for him to bid them dismiss all fears concerning their salvation. For remission of sins being fully obtained, what doubt could there be of salvation? In the usual form of absolution, written by his own hand, he said, " I, by the authority of Jesus Christ, through the merits of his most holy passion, and by the authority of his blessed apostles, Peter und Paul, and of our most holy pope, delegated to me as commissioner, do absolve thee: first, from all ecclesiastical censures however incurred; secondly,from all sins committed by thee, however enormous; for so far the keys of the sacred church extend: and, I do this by remitting to thee all the punishments due to thee in purgatory on account of thy crimes, and I restore thee to the innocence and purity in which thou wast when baptized, so that the gates of punishment* may be shut to thee when dying, and the gates of paradise be opened." Such was the style in which these formulas were written. It is impertinent to blame the abuses committed by the officials; it is not to be supposed, that these formulas were without papal authority; neither has any thing of that kind ever been asserted. In regard to the effect of indulgences in delivering persons from the supposed torments of purgatory, the gross declarations of Tetzel in public are well known. " The moment the money tinkles in the chest, your father's soul mounts up out of purgatory." It does not appear, that the rulers of the hierarchy ever found the least fault with Tetzel as exceeding his commission, till an opposition was openly made to the practice of indulgences. Whence it is evident, that the protestants have not unjustly censured the corruptions of the court of Rome in this respect. Leo is declared to have granted, immediately and without hesitation,f the profits of the indulgences collected in Saxony and the neighbouring countries as far as the Baltic, to his sister the wife of prince Cibus, by way of gratitude for personal favours which he had receivedfrom the family of the Cibi. The indulgences were farmed to the best bidders, and the undertakers employed such deputies to carry on the traffic, as they thought most likely to promote their lucrative views. The inferior officers concerned in this commerce were daily seenj in public houses, enjoying themselves in riot and voluptuousness: in fine,
* Seckend. page 8. Let the reader remember, that this incomparable author, S. gives us all along the very words of his antagonist, whence the papal as well as the protestant materials are continually held up to view.
Even Du Pin allows, that Leo was naturally proud and lo'y; and he confesses, that the erection of St. Peter's Church was the occasion of that pope's havisg recourse to the sale of indulgences. Book ii. chap. 1.
• Seckend. page 14. f Maimbourg, page 11. t Id. page 12
whatever the greatest enemy of popery could have wished, was at that time exhibited with the most undisguised impudence and temerity, as if on purpose to render that wicked ecclesiastical system infamous before all mankind.
Indulgences were granted also at this time on many Particular occasions. The consecrated host had been lost at the parish church at Schiniedeberg in the diocese of Misnia: in consequence of which, the pastor had excommunicated the deacon and the porter of the church. These men, whom the superstition of the times had made culprits, had however recourse to the generosity of Tetzel, who was in the neighbourhood, and who furnished them with a diploma of absolution.* The prices of these indulgences were accommodated to the various circumstances of petitioners; and thus a plan was formed and was successfully carrying into execution, which would infallibly lay all orders of men under contribution. The prodigious sale of indulgences evinces both the profound ignorance of the age, and also the power of superstitious fears, with which the consciences of men were then distressed. This however was the very situation of things, which opened the way for the reception of the gospel. But who was to proclaim the gospel in its native beauty and simplicity? To give a satisfactory answer to this question was no easy matter. The princes, the bishops, and the learned men of the times, saw all this scandalous traffic respecting the pardon of sins, but none was found who possessed the knowledge, the courage, and the honesty, necessary to detect the fraud, and to lay open to mankind the true doctrine of salvation by the remission of sins through Jesus Christ. But at length an obscure pastor appeared, who alone and without help, began to erect the standard of sound religion. No man who believes that " the preparation of the heart is from the Lord," will doubt whether Martin Luther, in this great undertaking, was moved by the spirit of God. This extraordinary person, at that time an augustin monk, was professor or lecturer of the university of Wittemberg in Saxony. That academy was at once a college of students and a society of monks. Frederic the wise, elector of Saxony, ardently desirous of promoting literary knowledge, had added the former character to the latter, and always showed a steady regard to Luther, on account of his skill and industry in advancing the reputation of that infant seminary of knowledge, which then was very low and abject both in its revenues and its exterior appearance. Luther preached also from time to time, and heard confessions.* In the memorable year 1517, it happened, that certain persons, repeating their confessions before him, and owning themselves to be atrocious offenders, yet refused to comply with the penances which he enjoined them, because they said they were possessed of diplomas of indulgences. Luther was struck with the evident absurdity of such conduct, and yentured to refuse them absolution. The persons thus rejected, complained loudly to Tetzel, who was preaching in a town at no great distance. The dominican inquisitor had not been accustomed to contradiction. He stormed, and frowned, and menaced every one, who dared to oppose him; and sometimes he ordered a pile of wood to be constructed and set on fire for the purpose of striking terror into the minds of heretics. Luther was at that time only thirty four years old, vigorous both in mind and body, fresh from the schools, and fervent in the scriptures. He saw crowds flock to Wittemberg and the neighbouring towns to purchase indulgences, and having no clear idea of the nature of that traffic, yet sensible of the obvious evils with which it must be attended, he began to signify, in a gentle manner, from the pulpit, that the people might be better employed than in running from place to place to procure Indulgences. So cautiously did this great man begin a work, the consequence of which he then so little foresaw. He did not so much as know at that time, who were the receivers of the money. In proof of this, we find he wrote to Albert, archbishop of Mentz, who, he understood, had appointed Tetzel to this employment, but with whose personal* concern in the gains he was then unacquainted, intreating him to withdraw the licence of Tetzel, and expressing his fears of the evils which would attend the sale of indulgences. He sent him likewise certain theses which he had drawn up in the form of queries concerning this subject. He expressed himself with the greatest caution and modesty. In fact, he saw enough to alarm a tender conscience, but he knew not well where to fix the blame. He was not, as yet, fully satisfied in his own mind either as to the extent of the growing mischief, or the precise nature of its cause. In this state of doubt and anxiety, he wrote also to other bishops, and particularly to his own.diocesan the bishop of Brandenburg,f with whom he was a particular favourite.
* Seckendorf, page 15.
* Seckendorf, page 17.
Nothing can be more orderly, candid, and open, than this conduct of our reformer. J Zeal and charity were here united with the most perfect regard to ecclesiastical discipline. The bishop of Brandenburg reverenced the integrity of Luther, while he was aware of the dangerous ground on which he was advancing. " You will oppose the church," he replied, " you cannot think in what troubles you will involve yourself; you had much better be still and quiet." This was not a language calculated to repress the firm and intrepid spirit of the Saxon monk; for, though by no means as yet a competent master of the points in debate, he saw they were of too great magnitude for a conscientious pastor to pass them by unnoticed: he knew too the manners of lower life, and could judge, far better than the bishops in general could do, of the mischievous consequences, which were to be apprehended. With deliberate steadiness he ventured therefore to persevere; and having tried in vain to procure the concurrence of the dignitaries of the church, he published his theses, ninety live in number; and in fifteen days they were spread throughout Germany. Their effect on the minds of men was rapid and powerful, though Tetzel by threats, had silenced some pastors who had faintly opposed him, and though bishops and doctors, through fear of the flames, remained perfectly silent.
* See page 268, of this vol. f Id. page 16.
J Du Pin, in conjunction with all the Roman catholic writers, asserts that Luther's zeal for the interest of his own order, led him to oppose the doctrine of indulgences. The best refutation of this calumny is to be derived from a fair statement of facts. It has been said likewise, that Staupitius, the vicar general of Luther's order of monks, and that the elector of Saxony, stimulated Luther to commence his opposition. But there is no where to be found the smallest proof of these assertions. The love oi truth itself appears from his whole conduct to have influenced his measures, and the story needs only to be fairly told, in order to convince any candid person, that this was the case.
" Thus," says Luther, (for much of the foregoing account is taken from his own words) " I was commended as an excellent doctor, who, alone had the spirit to attempt so great an undertaking; but the fame, which I had acquired was by no means agreeable to my mind; because I had then some doubts concerning the nature of indulgences, and because I feared that the task was beyond my powers and capacity."*
But the real motives of Luther will be discovered in the surest manner by a brief review of the manners and spirit of the man, previous to his open declarations respecting indulgences. This Saxon reformer was born in the year 1483 at Isleben, a town belonging to the county of Mansfield. His father wrought in the mines of Mansfield which were at that time very famous; and, after the birth of his son Martin Luther, removed to that town, became a proprietor in the mines, discharged public offices there, and was esteemed by all men for his integrity. He gave a very liberal education to Martin, who was remarkable for dutiful affection to his parents in general, though in one instance, to be mentioned presently, he was led away by the superstition of the times, so as to offend his father exceedingly. After he had made great proficiency in his studies at Magdeburg, Eisenach, and Erfurth, he commenced master of arts in the university of Erfurth, at the age of twenty; and having now finished his course of philosophy, he began to give close attention to the science of the civil law, and is said to have intended to advance himself by pleading at the bar; but he was diverted from this purpose by an accident.* As he was walking in the fields with one of his most intimate friends, his companion was suddenly killed by lightning; and Luther himself was so terrified, partly by this event, and partly by the horrid noise of the thunder, that while his mind was in the utmost consternation, he formed the hasty resolution of withdrawing from the world, and of throwing himself into the monastery at Erfurth. His father, a man of plain, but of sound understanding, strongly remonstrated. The son as strongly pleaded, what he considered as a terrible call from heaven, to take upon himself the monastic vow. " Take care," replied the father, " that you are not ensnared by a delusion of the devil." But the mind of Martin was determined; and filial disobedience, in such a case, was looked on as a virtue. To the great grief and mortification of his father, he entered the monastery in the year 1505.
* Id. page 16.
In one of his letters, he OAvns that, from the very beginning of his monastic life, he was constantly sad and dejected;f and being unable to give peace to his mind, he at length opened his griefs to John Staupitius, vicar general of the augustin monks in Germany, a man highly esteemed by Frederic the wise, and consulted by him particularly in things which concerned the university of Wittemberg. Staupitius himself appears to have had some serious views of religion, and a degree of knowledge at that time very uncommon. After Luther had explained to him the uneasy thoughts with which he was burdened, " You do not know, said he, how useful and necessary this trial may be to you; God does not thus exercise you for nothing; you will one day see that he will employ you as his servant for great purposes." The event gave ample honour to the sagacity of Staupitius, and it is very evident, that a deep and solid conviction of sin, leading the mind to the search of scripture truth, and the investigation of the way of peace, was the main spring of Luther's whole afterconduct; and indeed this view of our reformer's state of mind furnishes the only key to the discovery of the real motives, by which he was influenced in his public transactions. Rash and prejudiced writers of the popish persuasion choose to represent him as having been under the dominion of avarice or ambition, but till they can produce some proofs beyond their own suspicions or bare affirmations, all such slanderous accusation must fall to the ground. In truth, no man was ever more free from avarice and ambition: the fear of God predominated to a very high degree in Luther's mind; and a nice sensibility of conscience, attended with an uncommon insight into the depth of our natural depravity, allowed him no rest. As yet he understood not the scriptures; nor felt that peace of God which passeth understanding. He had too much light to sit down in slothful content and indiference, and too little to discern the rich treasures of the gospel, and apply its healing promises to deep conviction of sin and misery. He remained for above a year not only in constant anxiety and suspense, but in perpetual dread and alarm. All these things are abundantly evident, and beyond all contradiction, to those who are acquainted with his writings.
* Du Pin. Moreri. Maimbourg.
Some authors say, that Luther's intimate friend was found murdered about the same time that he himself was so terrified by the thundert Seckendorf, page 19.
In the second year after Luther had entered into the monastery, he accidentally met with a Latin bible in the library. It proved to him a treasure. Then he first discovered, that there were More scripture passages extant than those, which were read to the people. For the scriptures were at that time very little known in the world. In reading the word of God with prayer, his understanding was gradually enlightened, and he found some beams of evangelical comfort to dart into his soul. The same year he was refreshed in his sickness by the discourse of an old monk, who showed him that remission of sins was to be apprehended by faith alone, and referred him to a passage in Bernard's sermon on the annunciation, where the same doctrine was taught. With incredible ardor he now gave himself up to the study of the scriptures and the books of Augustin. He was at length regarded as the most ingenious and learned man of his order in Germany. But the soul of Luther was constantly panting for something very different from secular glory.
He was ordained in the year 1507, and in the next year was called to the professorship at Wittemberg by Staupitius, where a theatre was opened for the display of his talents both as a teacher of philosophy and as a popular preacher. He excelled in both capacities. Eloquent by nature, and powerful in moving the affections, acquainted also in a very uncommon manner with the elegancies and energy of his native tongue, he became the wonder of his age. These things arc allowed very liberally by his enemies;* but it ought to be observed, that the exercises of his own mind, by which, under the guidance of the holy Spirit, he was led more and more into christian truth, would naturally add a strength to his oratory, unattainable by those who speak not from the heart. Martin Polichius, a doctor of law and medicine, exclaimed, " this monk will confound all the doctors, will exhibit new doctrine, and reform the whole Roman church; for he is intent on reading the writings of the prophets and apostles, and he depends on the word of Jesus Christ; this, neither the philosophers nor the sophists can subvert." He, who spake thus, was himself looked on as a prodigy of wisdom; and, I suppose, a degree of discernment, less than his, might have shown an attentive observer, that the didactic plan of Luther was that of an original thinker, who was not likely to con
• Page, 18. Maimbourg. Page, 22. Varillasius
fine himself to the beaten track, but to produce something new to mankind. Melancthon's concise account entirely agrees with this statement. " Polichius," says he, " often declared, that there was a strength of intellect in this man, which he plainly foresaw would produce a revolution in the popular and scholastic religion of the times." Nor does it seem at all improbable, but that if Luther had followed merely the dictates of his own adventurous genius, he might have been the inventor of some novel theological schemes and doctrines. But all tendency to fanciful excursions in the important concerns of religion, was effectually restrained and chastised in the mind of our reformer by his profound reverence for the written word: moreover, from his first entrance into the monastery, he appears to have been taught of God, and to have been led more and more into such discoveries of native depravity, as render a man low in his own eyes, and dispose him to receive the genuine gospel of Christ.
In the year 1510, he was sent to Rome on some business, which related to his own monastery, and this he discharged with so much ability and success, that on his return, he was compelled by the vicar general to assume the degree of doctor of divinity. He writes, that he did this with great reluctance, and entirely from obedience to his superiors. It is easy indeed for a man to say this; but, from the mouth of Luther it is with me decisive of its truth. For veracity and integrity do evidently appear to have remarkably entered into the character of this reformer, as indeed these virtues are always to be eminently found in those, who have had the most genuine experience of christianity. The expenses attending this high degree were defrayed by the elector of Saxony, who always admired Luther, and was perfectly convinced of the profundity of his learning and the rectitude of his views in religion. While he had been at Rome, he had discovered something of the singularity of his character, which had attracted the attention of the Italian priests. The external rites of religion, which to them were
Vol. IV. 36
matter of political formality, with him were serious exercises. While they hurried over their exercises of the mass, he performed his with a solemnity and devotion, which excited their ridicule, and they bade him to repeat them with more rapidity. A thoughtful mind like his, could not conceive that religious employments should be discharged with levity, and he returned to his monastery more fully convinced than ever, that Rome was not the scene, in which a serious pastor could properly learn the rudiments of religion. He studied and taught the scriptures with increasing ardour and alacrity, and after he had been created doctor, in the year J 512, he expounded the psalms and the epistles to the Remans, to the great satisfaction of his audience. He studied the Hebrew and the Greek languages, and highly valued the philological labours of the famous Erasmus of Rotterdam, the renowned reviver of classical literature; and while he concurred with that great man in his contempt of monastic trifles, he was intensely studious to learn better and more scriptural notions of God and his attributes, than those which Erasmus so ingeniously satirized. To build was, however, found much more arduous, as it is certainly a far more important work, than to pull down; and from the time that Luther was created a doctor of divinity, he conscientiously devoted his time and talents to the sacred office. Already he was suspected of heresy, because of his dislike of the scholastic doctrines; and he was induced, both from the natural soundness of his understanding, and from the spiritual exercises of his own heart, to reject the aristotelian corruptions of theology, and to study the genuine doctrines of scripture.
In 1516, he thus wrote to a friend.* " I desire to know what your soul is doing; whether wearied at length of its own righteousness, it learns to refresh itself and to rest in the righteousness of Christ. The temptation of presumption in our age is strong in many, and specially in those who labour to be just and good with all their might, and at the same time are ignorant of the righteousness of God, which in Christ is conferred upon us with a rich exuberance of gratuitous liberality. They seek in themselves to work that which is good, in order that they may have a confidence of standing before God, adorned with virtues and merits, which is an impossible attempt. You, my friend, used to be of this same opinion, or rather, this same mistake; so was I; but now I am fighting against the error, but have not yet prevailed."
* Seckend. p. 20.
This interesting and instructive letter demonstrates what was the religious frame of our monk at that time. He had received the grace of Christ, and knew the true and only way of salvation; though, in his own eyes at least, he was weak in the faith. He both felt and preached the fundamentals of the gospel, before he appeared in the field against popery, and if he had not been absolutely persecuted into a secession, such was his modesty and love of peace and order, and so little had he then studied the particular corruptions of the hierarchy, that he would, in all probability, have continued to his death an obedient son of the Roman church.' Many excellent men had done so before him; because, through inadvertency, they had remained unconscious of the absurdities of the predominant religion. The methods of providence were however admirable in conducting Luther into the depths of a controversy, to which he seems to have had no inclination. Indulgences were preached, and he saw the evil of them in a practical, rather than a theoretical light, and was thence drawn undesignedly into a contest, the effects of which were salutary to so many nations. Those who apprehend, that when he began the contest, he was ignorant of the nature of the gospel, appear not to have known the order and method, by which the mind of the Saxon reformer was conducted into religious truth.
In the same year he was appointed, by Staupitius, subaltern vicar; by which office he was authorised to visit about forty monasteries in Misnia and Thuringia. Returning to Wittemberg in June, he wrote to Spalatinus, who was the secretary of the elector, and always showed himself a steady friend of Luther, in terms which expressed the frank effusions of his own heart, on a review of the state of religion in the country, which the visitation had given him an opportunity of accurately observing. " Many things please your prince, and look great in his eyes, which are displeasing to God. In secular wisdom I confess that he is of all men most knowing; but, in things pertaining to God and which relate to the salvation of souls, I must own that he is blind seven fold." This was the true character of Frederic at that time, though justly esteemed the wisest prince of the age; and though he was sincerely and ingenuously desirous of promoting religion and virtue. In fact, his good understanding was oppressed with a heavy load of the most pitiable superstitions. He was, however, by no means displeased with Luther, for using freedom of speech, and there is reason to believe that, afterwards, he learnt more of the true nature of the gospel, though by very slow degrees.
In October of the same year, Luther communicated to his learned friend Spalatinus, his thoughts concerning certain of the fathers, and also concerning Erasmus's method of interpreting scripture.* This memorable epistle will deserve the particular attention of the reader, as it furnishes judicious and connected observations on Augustin and his contemporaries, and on the fathers both who preceded and who followed them; and as it likewise suggests very useful reflections on the comparative merits of theologians in different periods, from the days of Cyprian to those of Luther and Erasmus.
Luther, to Georg. Spalatinus
" That, which strikes my mind in considering Erasmus, is this: In interpreting the apostle's account of the righteousness of works, or, of the law, he understands by these terms ceremonial observances OnLy. In the next place, though he admits the doctrine of original sin, he will not allow, that the apostle speaks of it in the fifth chapter to the Romans. Now, if he had carefully read Augustin's Pelagian Tracts, especially his account of the spirit and the letter, of the guilt of sin and the remission of it; and had observed how he speaks in perfect unison with the best of the fathers, from Cyprian to Ambrose, he might have better understood the apostle Paul, and also have conceived more highly of Augustin as an expositor, than he has hitherto done. In dissenting from Erasmus's judgment in this point, I must frankly declare, that I as much prefer Augustin's expositions to those of Jerom as he prefers those of Jerom to Augustin's. I am, it is true, an augustin monk; but that circumstance has no influence on my judgment; for till I had read this father's works, I had not the least prejudice in his favour. But I see that Jerom studiously endeavours to draw every thing to a merely historical meaning,* and what is very extraordinary, where he expounds the scriptures as it were occasionally or accidentally, as in his epistles for instance, he does it in a much sounder manner than when he interprets professedly and on purpose. The righteousness of the law is by no means confined to ceremonies; for, though it includes these, it still more directly respects an obedience to the whole decalogue, which obedience, when it takes place to a certain degree and yet has not Christ for its foundation, though it may produce such men as your Fabricius's, and your Regulus's, that is, very upright moralists according to man's judgment, has nothing in it of the nature of genuine righteousness. For men are not made truly righteous, as Aristotle supposes, by performing certain actions which are
* Lib. i. ep. 20.
. * A merely historical meaning. A mere narration of facts, as opposed to a spiritual meaning, and a practical application to every man's conscience.
externally good, (for they may still be counterfeit characters,) but, men must have righteous principles in the first place, and then they will not fail to perform righteous actions. God first respects Abel, and then his offering.* I beg you would put Erasmus in mind of these things. In so doing, you will discharge the duties both of a friend and of a christian. As on the one hand, I hope and wish that he may be celebrated through the christian world, so on the other, I fear many may be induced by the authority of his name, to patronise that literal and lifeless mode of interpreting scripture, into which almost all commentators have fallen, since the time of Augustin. I may be thought presumptuous and perhaps severe in thus criticising many great men: my apology is, that I feel a concern for the cause of true theology, and for the salvation of the brethren."
A little before the controversy concerning indulgences, George, duke of Saxony, intreated Staupitius to send him some learned and worthy preacher. The vicar general in compliance with his request, despatched Luther with strong recommendations to Dresden. GeOrge gave him an order to preach: the sum of Luther's sermon was this:f That no man ought to despair of the possibility of salvation; that those, who heard the word of God with attentive minds, were true disciples of Christ, and were elected, and predestinated to eternal life. He enlarged on the subject, and showed that the whole doctrine of predestination, if the foundation be laid in Christ, was of singular efficacy to dispel that fear, by which men, trembling under the sense of their own unworthiness, are tempted to fly from God, who ought to be our sovereign refuge. An honourable matron, who attended the palace, and who had heard Luther, was asked by George the duke, at dinner, how she liked the discourse. I should die in peace, said she, if I could hear such another sermon. The duke, in much anger, replied, " I would give a large sum of money, that a sermon of this sort, which encourages men in a licentious course of life, had never been preached." And he repeated this several times. Within the space of a month, the lady was confined in bed by sickness, and soon after died rejoicing in her prospects of future glory. Fabricius concludes the account with saying,* " From that time Luther came no more to Dresden." That capital of modern Saxony was then part of the dukedom of George, who proved one of the most virulent enemies of lutheranism. He was the uncle of prince Frederic the wise. Like pharisaic formalists in all ages, he perversely misconstrued the doctrine of free salvation by Jesus Christ, which Luther preached, and which is intended to enable humble and repenting souls to serve God with lively faith and cheerful hope. The duke of Saxony, I observe, perversely misconstrued this doctrine, as though it had a tendency to persuade men to live in sin; but the good matron abovementioned, who resided at his court, appears to have tasted of that bitterness of true conviction of sin, which only can render the doctrine of grace delightful and salutary to the mind.
* Gen. iv. f Seck. p. 23.
How precious this doctrine must have been to the mind of Luther himself, may be conceived from a well authenticated circumstance,f which evinces the state of mental bondage, in which he had been held. Having for many days neglected, through the intenseness of his studies, to recite the canonical hours, he, in compliance with the pope's decrees, and to satisfy his conscience, actually shut himself up in his closet, and recited what he had omitted, with punctilious exactness and with such severe attention and abstinence, as reduced his strength exceedingly, brought on nearly a total want of sleep for the space of five weeks, and almost produced symptoms of a weakened intellect. Is it to be wondered at, that he, who at length found reKef and liberty by the grace of Christ, should be zealous to preach the mystery of the cross to his fellow creatures?
* Orig. Sax. lib. vii. f V»l i. p. 344. Bavar. Seek. p. 21.
I have now laid before the curious reader some interesting particulars of the private life of Luther, previous to his assumption of that public character, which has made his name immortal. The serious christian will adore the wisdom and goodness of divine providence, which, by preparatory exercises of soul, had directed this extraordinary personage into the true light and liberty of the gospel of Christ, and fitted him for the great work to which he was called. At the same time it seems a certain fact, that the Saxon reformer was not induced to act the part, which has given so great a celebrity to his name, from motives of personal malice, or of ambition, or of avarice, but purely from the fear of God, from a conscientious regard to evangelical truth, from a zeal for the divine glory, and for the profit of the souls of his fellow creatures.
There are two points concerning Luther, on which all the most respectable, even of the papal party, unanimously concur in their testimony. The qne is, that his learning, genius and capacity were of the first magnitude. It may seem proper to mention this, because some modern writers, who appear almost wholly ignorant of the real character of the man, have rashly represented him as a person of contemptible knowledge. But this is the common method of treating many great men, whose studies and attainments have happened to be but little connected with the pursuits and discoveries of the eighteenth century; and till readers learn the practice of so much candor, as may dispose them to make equitable allowances for the taste of the times in which men of great abilities and great accomplishments have made their appearance, such superficial authors will always find admirers' The other particular, relative to our illustrious reformer, is this; that his life is allowed to be without blemish. In fact, the romanists, for the purpose of indulging the spirit of censure, arc obliged to have recourse to surmises, for want of realities. When we are much out of humor with a per
son, it is human nature to ascribe his very best actions to bad motives. But the slanderous representations of enemies ought never to be substituted in the place of authentic documents. The writers alluded to may Fancy, that Luther's conduct is best accounted for on the supposition, that pride, vanity, ambition and resentment, were the ruling passions of the man they dislike; nevertheless, all readers of cool judgment will take care to distinguish between their prejudiced, illnatured, conjectures, and substantial proofs.
Far be it, however, from the historian's design to irtsinuate, that there were no faults or defects in the character which he so much admires. Besides the incessant ebullitions of native depravity, in the confession of which no man was ever more earnest than Luther, all real christians, the most eminent saints not excepted, have their infirmities, and their faults, which cost them much inward pain and sorrow; yet, it should ever be remembered, that in judging of true followers of Christ, by whatever name we may choose to call either their defective attainments or their positive blemishes, no fault, no imperfection, no falling short of the " perfect man in Christ Jesus," can be allowed, but what is absolutely consistent with sincerity of heart. The very candid and accurate memorialist Seckendorf, who is so useful to my researches, defies all the adversaries of Luther to fix any just censure on his character, except what may be ranked under two heads, namely, a disposition to anger, and an indulgence in jesting. Beyond all doubt the Saxon reformer was of a choleric temper, and he too often gave way to this constitutional evil, as he himself bitterly laments. Neither is it to be denied that he also too much encouraged his natural propensity to facetiousness. The monks of his time were, in general, guilty of the like fault, and often to so great a degree, as very improperly to mix scurrilities with sacred subjects. Moreover, the vices and the follies of those, whom Luther opposed, afforded a strong temptation both to a spirit of anger and of ridicule; For, however severe he mav
Vol. IV. 37
be thought in many of his invectives, we are compelled by unquestionable evidence to confess, that his keenest satirical pieces never reached the demerits of those who ruled the church in that age. But, after all that can be said in mitigation, it must be owned, that a reformer ought to have considered not so much what they deserved, as what became the character he had to support; namely, that of a serious christian, zealous for the honour of his God, displeased with the vices of his clerical brethren, and grieved on account of the pitiable ignorance of the people, yet more desirous of curing the prevailing evils, than of exposing them. .
These unhappy blemishes in Luther, doubtless appear much more offensive to us, than they did in his own time among men of ruder manners, and accustomed to a greater freedom both of action and of expression in their mutual intercourse. They form the darkest shades in his writings, which, in all other respects, are truly admirable. One cannot but feel both some surprise and regret, that this great and good man should have failed, in so considerable a degree, to imitate his favourite author. An uniform spirit of meekness is the singular excellence, which adorns the page of Augustin.
The defects, which we have mentioned, were too considerable to be passed over in silence; and, having now discharged the duty of an impartial historian, we leave it to the judicious reader himself to appreciate their just operation in lessening his esteem and veneration for this extraordinary personage. In contemplating the other qualities and endowments of our reformer we have no hesitation in affirming, that it is not easy to find a more blameless or even a more excellent character. No man since the apostles' days had penetrated into the sacred oracles with such singular felicity. He was endowed with a greatness of soul far beyond the common lot of men: dangerous gift in a fallen creature! It was through divine grace, that he was enabled to display and persevere in a conduct the most consistent, uncorrupt, and disinterested. His bold and adventurous spirit never appears in any one instance to have made the smallest encroachment on the most perfect integrity. Humane, generous, and placable, he was rarely diverted from the path of equity; and, notwithstanding the uncommon vehemence of his temper, he was often submissive and condescending. With an exquisite sensibility and readiness of conception, with a zeal and an imagination, which never remitted their ardour for a single moment, he was most perfectly free from enthusiasm; and with a great capacity and .unparalleled intrepidity, he seems to have been devoid of ambition and contented to live all his days in very moderate circumstances. Only the wise Disposer of all events, for the glory of his own name and for the revival of true religion in Europe, by the effectual operation of his holy Spirit, could have produced, at the season when most wanted, so faithful a champion, and possessed of so much vigour of intellect, of so daring a spirit, and of so truly humble and christian like a temper.
Such was the illustrious Luther, when he was called upon by divine providence, to enter the lists, alone and without one assured ally, against the hosts of the pretended successor of St. Peter, who was then domineering over the christian world in all his grandeur and plenitude of power.
I shall conclude this chapter with laying before the reader several concise testimonies to the talents and virtues of Luther, extracted from the writings of popish authors, who will not be suspected of any partiality towards the man, whom they have been accustomed to consider as a detestable heretic. To transcribe the various encomiums which have been written on this celebrated character by his friends and admirers, by protestant authors, and by historians in general, would be an endless labour.
The Jesuit Maimbourg, in his History of Lutheranism, records many particulars respecting the learning and abilities of this celebrated heretic, as he calls him, which have not yet been mentioned.
" He possessed a quick and penetrating genius: he was indefatigable in his studies; and frequently so absorbed in them as to abstain from meat for whole days together. He acquired great knowledge of languages and of the fathers. He was remarkably strong and health}-, and of a sanguine, bilious, temperament. His eyes were piercing and full of fire. His voice sweet, and vehement when once fairly raised. He had a stern countenance; and though most intrepid and high spirited, he could dissemble the appearance of modesty and humility whenever he pleased, which however was not often the case. In his breast was lodged plenty of fuel for pride and presumption: hence his indiscriminate contempt of whatever opposed his heresies; hence his brutal treatment of kings, emperors, the pope, and of every thing in the world that is deemed most sacred and inviolable. Passionate, resentful, and domineering, he was continually aiming to distinguish himself by venting novel doctrines, and on no occasion could be induced to retract what he had once advanced. He maintained, that Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Scotus, Bonaventura, and others, had undermined the foundations of true philosophy and of christian theology; and he endeavoured to raise up a system of his own, upon the ruins of those very great geniuses. This is an exact portrait of Martin Luther, of whom it may be truly said, there was in the man a great mixture both of good and of bad qualities: the bad predominated; but he was abundantly more corrupt in his thoughts and sentiments, than in his life and manners. He was always reckoned to live sufficiently blameless while he remained in the monastery, and till he absolutely ruined all his good qualities by his heresies."
Varillas, or Varillasius, a celebrated French historian, in his diffuse history of various heresies, speaks of Luther in the following manner. " Tiiis augustin monk united in his single person all the good and all the bad qualities of the heresiarchs of his time. To the robustness, health, and industry of a German, namentable schism of the church, and filled his writings with his poisons. He composed various works; and it cannot be denied that he was a man of much learning and fire of genius. Vanity was his motive, whatever pains may have been taken to represent him as a person of integrity and moderation. Henry VIII. king of England, in answer to Luther, had sent to pope Leo, a learned defence of the seven sacraments. Luther replied to the monarch in so insolent a manner, that it was easy to see from this single instance, that a man of such a temper could not be under the influence of the Spirit of God. Besides, he published a seditious book against the bishops; and had the ImpuDence To Oppose The Pope's Bull, in which he himself was excommunicated."
As my chief object in giving these extracts is to satisfy the reader, from the testimony of Luther's enemies, of his great learning and talents, I content myself with quoting briefly the substance of what has been repeatedly and distinctly conceded by the most noted roman catholic writers, in regard to these points; and I entirely omit many scandalous falsehoods, which have been invented by malicious advocates for the papal system, with the view of defaming the character of our reformer. His two blemishes have been mentioned above, as allowed by the incomparable Seckendorff—and these—no judicious defender of protestants or of protestantism will ever undertake to defend.
Those, who wish to see a full account, and also a confutation, of the idle inventions and abominable falsehoods here alluded to, may consult with advantage, the celebrated Historical and Critical Dictionary by Peter Bayle. This author, though justly esteemed an infidel in religion, was a man of brilliant parts, and acute intellect; and he has collected together much useful information respecting Martin Luther, and both his friends and his adversaries.
" I," says this writer, " shall chiefly insist on the many falsehoods, which have been published respecting Luther. No regard has been paid, in this point, to the rules of the art of slandering. And yet the authors of them have assumed all the confidence of those, who fully believe that the public will implicitly espouse their stories, be they ever so absurd. They accuse him of having confessed that he had struggled for ten years together with his conscience, and at last had become perfectly master of it, and fallen into atheism. They impudently maintain that he denied the immortality of the soul. They charge him with having gross and carnal ideas of heaven, and with composing hymns in honour of drunkenness. Most of these calumnies are grounded upon some words in a certain book published by Luther's friends, to which his adversaries give a horrid meaning, and very different from this ecclesiastic's real thoughts. His greatest enemies could not deny, that he had eminent qualities; and history affords nothing more surprising than his exploits. For a simple monk to give so rude a shock to popery, is what we cannot sufficiently admire. He had made great progress in scholastic learning, yet no one fell so foul upon the method of philosophizing at that time, nor was any man more vehemently bent against the great Aristotle."
The same author produces the following remarkable citation from a noted French writer, who was one of Luther's slanderers.* " Luther was a perfect atheist. His own disciple, Dr. Aurifaber, deposes, as an earwitness, that he heard Luther himself say in the pulpit, he thanked God he felt no longer any disturbance of his conscience, and that he began to see the fruits of his gospel among his disciples. " Nam post revelatum Evangelium meum," said he, " Virtus est occisa, justitia oppressa, temperantia ligata, Veritas lacerata, fides clauda, nequitia quotidiana, devotio pulsa, hasresis relicta." Mons. Garasse translates this passage thus: " I have fought with such success, that I have stifled the seeds of virtue, oppressed justice.
* Monsr. Garasse
extinguished sobriety, rent truth to pieces, broken the pillars of faith, made villany familiar, banished devotion and introduced heresy." Upon which P. Bayle makes the following excellent observation." There isno need to observe here, that all this is to be understood by the rules of contraries: the thing speaks for itself; and I am certain there is no honest man, whatever religion he is of, but will detest or pity the extravagance of such a slanderer." It is not at all improbable but Luther might use, in his pulpit, the very words here brought against him in accusation; nor is it necessary to suppose, that, in the warmth and haste of eloquence, he should even have used the words, They Said, or Mine Enemies Cried Out, to make his meaning clear. Nothing can be more obvious than the sense of the citation, even as it stands. " After my way of expounding the gospel became known," says Luther,* They Said, or Mine Enemies Chied Out: "Virtue is stifled, justice is oppressed," and so on; and we are left to wonder how an omission, which is quite common in all vehement harangues, whatever be the language spoken, could possibly be made, by any reasonable man, the occasion of so much calumny. Those, however, will wonder less, who have been accustomed to observe, how frequently it happens in our times, that sound and zealous preachers of the gospel are misrepresented and reviled, as though their interpretations of the nature of Christ's salvation had a tendency to promote licentiousness.
Let not the reader forget, that my present object is to produce evidences of Luther's learning and talents from the mouths of his adversaries, or at* least from the mouths of those, who have shown no particular predilection for the pure gospel of Jesus Christ. It would be with much pain and reluctance, that I should be compelled to place the famous Erasmus among either of these classes. His great learning, his elegant taste, and his acute understanding, are all unquestion
• All becomes clear "by supposing the words here printed in capitals to have been implied, though not actually said.
able; neither is there any doubt how very serviceable his writings proved in preparing men's minds to approve the bolder and more decisive measures of Luther.* But still, in my judgment, the proofs of his love of ease, of fame, and of the esteem of persons of rank and consequence, are far more numerous, than any examples which can be produced of his sincere regard for the essential doctrines of christianity, or of the evangelical humility of his own mind. Though it may be extremely difficult to delineate accurately a character of this sort, his observations, nevertheless, on the great men and great transactions of his own times, cannot fail to be valuable. Moreover, as Erasmus at no time, I believe, was very fond of Luther, and as they very much opposed and controverted each other's opinions, the judgment of this illustrious scholar respecting the great Saxon reformer, may be laid before the reader in this place with much propriety. Indeed the following extracts are the more important and also suitable to be cited here, because, first, they decisively prove the abilities of Luther, and secondly, they contain many facts and circumstances, which demonstrate the knowledge, learning and integrity of our reformer, and lastly, they very materially corroborate the preceding account of the state of the religious world in general, when this extraordinary man began his opposition to the existing ecclesiastical tyranny.
Erasmus had so good an opinion of Luther's intentions, that in one of his epistles, he expresses his belief, " That God had sent him to reform mankind." Melancthon, in his life of Luther, assures us from his own knowledge, that the elector of Saxony, besought Erasmus in the very kindest manner, to tell him freely, whether he judged Luther to be mistaken, respecting the principal controversies in which he was then engaged; and that Erasmus, on this occasion, spoke out, • That Luther's sentiments were true; but that he
* See p. 252. of thi» vol.
Vol. IV. 38
wished to see more mildness in his manner." In another letter to the elector he says, " The cause of Luther is invidious, because, he at once attacks the bellies of the monks and the diadem of the pope." In various other letters, and particularly, in one written to cardinal Campegius in the year 1520, Erasmus opens his mind freely concerning Luther and his proceedings. He acknowledges that" he possessed great natural talents; and that he had a genius particularly adapted to the explanation of difficult points of literature, and for rekindling the sparks of genuine evangelical doctrine, which were almost extinguished by, the trifling subtilties of the schools. He adds, that men of the very best character, of the soundest learning, and of the most religious principles, were much pleased with Luther's books; further, that in proportion as any person was remarkable for upright morals and gospel purity, he had the less objections to Luther's sentiments. " Besides," said he, " the life of the man is extolled even by those who cannot bear his doctrines. Some, indeed, in hatred to his person, condemn what is true, pervert and misinterpret what is right, and make him pass for a heretic, for saying the same things which they allow to have been pious and orthodox in Bernard and Austin." Erasmus declares, that he had endeavoured, to the utmost of his power, to hinder Luther from being oppressed by a faction of raging zealots. It grieved him that a man of such Fine Parts should be rendered desperate by the mad cries and bellowings of the monks. We ought, continued this sagacious Hollander, " to take notice of the source and spring of all this evil. The world was burthened with human inventions in the business of religion, loaded with the opinions and doctrines of the schools, and oppressed with thetyranny of the monks and begging friars. I do not condemn them all, but many of them are so mad, that for the sake of interest and rule, they hamper the consciences of men on purpose. They lay aside Christ and modesty, they preach nothing but their own innovations.
great deal that relishes more of imprudence than irrcligion; but the greatest offence he has given, is, his want of respect to Thomas Aquinas; his lessening of the profits of indulgences; his despising of the mendicant friars; his preferring of the gospel to the doctrines of the schools; his opposing of the sophistries of disputants; all these are intolerable heresies."*
The reader, in this last instance, has had before him a witness, perfectly competent to decide on many of the points which usually afford matter for much controversy between papists and protestants; and, as we trust, the true character of the Saxon reformer, in regard to his motives, abilities, and learning, is now " fully ascertained; we return to the narrative of the progress of the dispute concerning the sale of indulgences.