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LUTHER is the most notable of all the Reformers. His name at once starts the most stirring associations, and leads into the widest details and discussions. His work was comparatively single and original in its energy; and his life was especially heroic in its proportions, and varied and graphic and interesting in its incidents. There is a grandeur in the whole subject, below which we are apt to feel that we constantly fall, particularly within the limits of a mere sketch.

Few characters have been more closely observed or more keenly scrutinised. There is a breadth and intensity and power of human interest in the career of the German reformer, which have concentrated the attention both of friend and foe upon it; while the careless freedom and humorous frankness with which he himself has lifted the veil and shown us his inner life, have furnished abundant materials for the one and the other to draw their portrait and point their moral. I do not know that in all history there is any one to whose true being, alike in its strength and weaknesses, we get nearer than we get to that of Luther. This is 52of the very greatness of the man, that from first to last he is an open-hearted honest German, undisguised by education, unweakened by ecclesiasticism, unsoftened by fame. Whatever faults he had lie upon the surface: they appear in all the manifestations of his character, and we have nowhere to search for any secret or double motives in his conduct. No one has ever ventured to accuse him of insincerity. He lives before us in all that he did; and neither dogmatic violence nor political necessity ever serve to hide from us the genuine human heart, beating warm beneath all the strong armour of controversy, or the thin folds of occasional diplomacy.

The life of Luther divides itself into two great periods, which denote as well an important distinction in his work. The first of these periods terminates with the Diet of Worms (1521) and his imprisonment in the Wartburg, and is marked by the striking series of events which signalise his education and conversion, his conflict about indulgences, and then his general conflict and final breach with Rome. The whole series falls naturally into three main groups or stages sufficiently distinct, yet of disproportionate outline. The first may be said to extend to the memorable year of 1517, and summons before our minds a varied and lively succession of pictures—the boy at Mansfeld, the scholar at Eisenach, the student and monk at Erfurt, the pilgrim to Rome, the professor and preacher at Wittenberg. The second stage, with all its peculiar significance, is a very rapid one, lasting exactly a year from October 1517, when he posted 53the ninety-five theses on the gates of the Church of All Saints, to October 1518, when he fled by night from Augsburg after his unsuccessful interview with the Legate77   Thomas de Vio, Cardinal Cajetan. Cajetan. The third is traced in its successive steps by the Leipzig Disputation, July 1519; the burning of the Papal Bull, Dec. 1520; and, finally, the Diet of Worms, April 1521.

Between these several stages of the reformer’s career there Is an intimate natural connection—a connection not merely accidental, but, so to speak, logical, in the manner in which they follow one another. They arise, the later from the preceding, by a sure process of rational and spiritual expansion, issuing in order like the evolving steps of a great argument, or the unfolding scenes of a great drama, or like both together,—presenting a marvellous combination at once of logical consistency and dramatic effect. It is of great importance, therefore, to understand the principle and ground of the whole, as portrayed in the struggles and experience of the first part of his life. The convent at Erfurt is the significant prologue to the whole drama.

Luther was born at Eisleben on the evening of the 10th of November 1483. His parents were poor,—his father, John Luther, being a miner; his mother, Margaret, a peasant. Humble in their circumstances, they were both of superior intelligence and character. The father was a diligent reader of whatever books came within his reach, and had his own somewhat immovable convictions as to life and duty; the mother was esteemed by all her honest co-matrons as peculiarly 54exemplary in her conduct,—ut in exemplar virtutum, as Melanchthon says. The story is, that they had gone to Eisleben to attend a fair, when their son was unexpectedly born on the eve of St Martin. The next morning he was carried to the Church of St Peter, and baptised by the name of the patron saint of the day. Shortly after Luther’s birth, his parents removed to Mansfeld, where, by industry and perseverance, his father’s worldly circumstances improved. He became the owner of two small furnaces, and was elevated to some civic dignity in the town of the district. Here, in the “Latin school,” the young Martin first began to experience the hardships of life. He appears to have been a somewhat unruly boy, or the school discipline must have been of a very savage description. He is said to have been flogged by his master fifteen times in one day; and while the scholastic rod thus weighed heavily on him, the parental rod was not spared. Neither father nor mother nursed the boy in softness. He himself gives us rather an unpleasant glimpse of the domestic discipline. “He was whipped for a mere trifle,” he says, “till the blood came.” But then, as a companion picture, serving to relieve by its bright tenderness the severity of the other, we are told of the father carrying the little Martin to school in his arms, and bringing him back in the same manner.

Having got all the schooling he could get at Mansfeld, he went first to the school of the Franciscans at Magdeburg, and then nearer home to Eisenach. It was in the latter place, while singing in the streets for bread, according to a common practice of the German schoolboys, that his fair appearance and sweet voice 55attracted the notice of a good lady of the name of Cotta, who provided him henceforth, during his stay at school, with a comfortable home. Luther in after years recalled his school-days with till the zest of his genial and affectionate nature, and used, in his familiar house-sermons, to exhort his hearers “never to despise the poor boys who sing at their doors, and ask bread for the love of God.” He would illustrate the advantage of prayer by a humorous story drawn from his experience as a street-singer. “Importunity in prayer,” he says, “will always bring down from heaven the blessing sought. How well do I remember singing once as a boy before the house of a rich man, and entreating very hard for some bread. At last the man of the house came running out crying aloud, ‘Where are you, you knaves?’ We all took to our heels, for we thought we had angered him by our importunity, and he was going to beat us but he called us back and gave us two loaves.”88   House-Postils, Walch, vol. xiii. p. 535; quoted by Worsley, Life of Luther, vol. i. p. 41.

On his reaching his eighteenth year, it became a question to what profession he should devote himself. His father’s ambition was excited by his talents, and the law seemed the most likely avenue by which these talents could carry him to distinction and emolument. He accordingly entered the University of Erfurt, then the most distinguished in Germany, with the view of preparing himself for the legal profession. There he studied philosophy in the writings of the school-men, and perfected his classical knowledge in the pages of Cicero and Virgil. Even thus early the 56barren subtleties of the scholastic philosophy rather repelled than interested him. They left, however, a permanent influence on his intellectual character.. He took his degree of Doctor of Philosophy or Master of Arts in 1505, when he was twenty-two years of age, and the event, according to custom, was celebrated by a torchlight procession and great rejoicing.

But before this event he had begun an education of a far more real and profound character than any that the university could impart to him. One day, as he was turning over the books in the University library, he fell upon a copy of the Vulgate. He beheld with astonishment that there were more gospels and epistles than in the lectionaries. A new world opened upon him; he returned again and again with avidity to the sacred page, and, as he read, his heart burned within him. Several circumstances served to deepen these feelings—a dangerous sickness, which brought him near to the point of death, and the decease of a friend of the name of Alexis, accompanied, or at least somehow deeply associated in his mind, with a dreadful thunderstorm to which he was exposed on his return to Erfurt after a visit to his parents. This latter event especially made a powerful impression upon him. The common version of the story99   It is supposed to mingle together two events. is, that the lightning struck his friend by his side as they journeyed together, and that Luther was so appalled by the disaster that he fell upon his knees in prayer, and resolved, if spared, to dedicate himself to the service of God. The story is at least a fair tribute to the childlike piety that now and always animated him. 57He kept his resolve, silent and apparently unmoved for some time, yet cherishing it in his heart. His mode of carrying it out was characteristic. One evening he invites some of his fellow-students to supper, gives them of his best cheer; music and jest enliven the company, and the entertainment closes in a full burst of merriment. The same night there is a solitary knock at the door of the Augustine convent, and the student who has just gaily parted from his companions, two volumes alone of all his books in his hand, a Virgil and a Plautus, passes beneath its portal. He has separated from the world, and devoted himself to God, as he and the world then understood devotion.

The three years which Luther now spent in the convent at Erfurt are among the most signal and significant of his life. During these years were laid deep in his heart those spiritual convictions out of which his whole reforming work sprang and grew into shape. The sparks which were afterwards to explode in the overthrow of the Papacy, and to lighten up into the glory of a restored Gospel, were here kindled. The struggle for which Germany was preparing, was here rehearsed in the single soul of a solitary monk. It is a painful and somewhat sad spectacle; but it possesses not only the interest of an earnest individual struggle, but the sublimity of a prelude to the great national conflict which was impending.

It was Luther’s duty as a novice to perform the meanest offices in the convent. He had chosen his lot, and he was not the man to shrink from its mere servile hardships; so he swept the floors, and wound 58the clock, and ministered in various ways to the laziness of his brother monks. He was even driven to his old trade of street-begging, as they assailed him with their doggerel cry, “Saccum per nackum”—“Go through the streets with the sack, and get us what you can to eat.” After a while, and by the friendly interference of the university in his favour, he was able to resume his studies. Augustine and the Bible on the one hand, and Occam and Gerson on the other, shared his attention, and we are left vaguely to guess what seeds of divine truth from the one, and of papal disaffection from the other, were sown in his mind. All was as yet a chaos in his spiritual condition. The darkness had been stirred within him, and a profound uneasiness produced, but no ray of light yet rested on. it. By fasting and prayer, and every species of monkish penance, he laboured to satisfy his conscience and secure his salvation. “If ever monk could have got to heaven by monkery,” he afterwards said, “I might have done so. I wore out my body with watching, fasting, praying, and other works.” He was sometimes for four days together without meat or drink. But all his labours and mortifications brought him no peace. The terrors of guilt haunted him as a bodily presence—clung to him as a pursuing shadow, so that one day at mass he cried out, as some dire aspect of wrath rose up before him, “It is not I! it is not I!” On another occasion he disappeared for certain days and nights alarm was excited; his cell door was broken open, and he was found prostrate on the floor in a state of helpless emaciation—unconscious, and apparently dead, till roused by the chanting of the young choristers. The 59one human influence to which he was never insensible, moved him when everything else had failed. Now and always, music had a charm for him only second to theology. “It is the only other art,” he says, “which, like theology, can calm the agitations of the soul and put the devil to flight.”

At length light began to dawn upon him, and it came from a source already recognised and described. The Augustines had recently received a new vicar-general in the person of Staupitz, and he now came on a visit of inspection to the convent at Erfurt. The character of this man stands out, amid the prevailing unworthiness of the Romish clergy of the time, as a remarkable and most honourable exception. Of clear intelligence, simple and affectionate feelings, and most real and living piety, he reflects the brightest side of the system which he represented; and it is well for us to remember that it had such a bright side, and that, saving for this, Luther and his work might never have been what they were. With characteristic frankness the reformer never ceased to confess his spiritual obligations to the head of his order. “Through him,” he said, “the light of the Gospel first dawned out of the darkness on my heart.” Touched by the undisguised zeal and” grave and melancholy looks of the young monk, Staupitz sought his confidence. Luther unbosomed himself. “It is in vain,” he said, “that I promise to God; sin is always too strong for me.” “I have myself,” Staupitz replied, “vowed more than a thousand times to lead a holy life, and as often broken my vows. I now trust only in the mercy and grace of God in Christ.” The monk spoke of his fears60—of the terrors of guilt that haunted him, and made him wretched amidst all his mortifications. “Look at the wounds of Christ,” said the vicar-general; “see the Saviour bleeding upon the cross, and believe in the mercy of God.”—Surely a brave and true Gospel speaking from the bosom of the old and corrupting hierarchy to the heart of the nascent and reviving faith! Luther further deplored the inefficacy of all his works of repentance. “There is no true repentance,” answered Staupitz, “but that which begins in the love of God and of righteousness. Conversion does not come from such works as you have been practising. Love Him who has first loved you.” There was comfort in such words to the heart of the weary monk. The darkness began to clear away; but again and again it returned, and the struggle went on. “Oh, my sins! my sins!” he exclaimed, in writing to the vicar-general. “It is just your sins that make you an object of salvation,” was the virtual reply. “Would you be only the semblance of a sinner, and have only the semblance of a Saviour? Jesus Christ is the Saviour of those who are real and great sinners.” To these precious counsels Staupitz added the present of a Bible; and Luther, rejoicing in its possession, devoted himself more than ever to its study. Gradually the truth dawned upon him as he nourished himself upon Scripture and St Augustine. Still he had not attained a clear and firm footing. A renewed sickness, brought on by the severity of his mortifications, brought back his old terrors. God seemed an offended judge ready to condemn him, and he lay miserable in his fears, when an aged monk, who had 61come to see him, sought to console him by repeating the words of the Creed, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins.” Luther caught at the words. The monk pressed the point by urging that it was necessary to believe not only that David’s or Peter’s sins were forgiven, but that his own sins were forgiven. From this time the doctrine of grace was clearly seen by him, his soul passed into its bright light. The confusions which had rested on the language of Scripture cleared away. “I saw the Scripture in an entirely new light,” he says, “and straightway I felt as if I were born anew; it was as if I had found the door of Paradise thrown wide open.”

Thus Luther fought his way step by step to the freedom of the Gospel; from hard and painful asceticism to despair of holiness by any such means, and then from the very depth of this despair to the comfort and gladness of a free salvation in Christ, as preached to him by Staupitz and the aged monk. By the end of his stay at Erfurt his Christian convictions were well matured, although he was still far, and for many years after this still far, from seeing their full bearing, and the inevitable conclusions to which they led.

In the year 1507 he was ordained a priest, and in the following year he removed to Wittenberg, where the Elector Frederick of Saxony had recently planted a university, destined to be memorably associated with the reformer. If Erfurt be the cradle of the Reformation, Wittenberg was its seminary and the chief seat of its triumph; and the old Augustine convent there, even more than that at Erfurt, gathers to itself a stirring and glorious, if somewhat less solemn interest.


At first Luther lectured on dialectics and physics, but with little good-will. His heart was already in theology—that theology “which seeks out the kernel from the nut, and the flour from the wheat, and the marrow from the bones.” In 1509 he became a bachelor of theology, and immediately began lecturing on the Holy Scriptures. His lectures produced a powerful impression by the novelty of their views and the boldness of his advocacy of them. “This monk,” remarked the rector of the university,1010   Dr Martin Pollich of Metrichstadt. “will puzzle all our doctors, and bring in a new doctrine, and reform the whole Roman Church, for he takes his stand on the writings of the apostles and prophets, and on the word of Jesus Christ.” On such truly Protestant ground he already stood, although he called himself after this, and truly enough so far as all practical recognition of his position was. concerned, “a most insane Papist.”

From lecturing he passed to preaching, although here, as at every step, with a struggle. He had an awful feeling of the responsibility of speaking to the people in God’s stead, and it required the urgent remonstrance of Staupitz to make him ascend the pulpit. He began his career as a preacher in the small chapel of the convent, a mean building of wood, thirty feet long and twenty feet broad, decayed and falling to pieces. There for the first time was heard that mighty voice which at length shook the world. His words, Melanchthon said, were “born, not on his lips but in his soul;”1111   Non nasci in labris sed pectore. they sprang from a profoundly awakened 63feeling of the truth of what he spake, and kindled a corresponding feeling. They moved the hearts of all who heard them, as they had never been moved before; and very soon the creaking and mouldy timbers of the old edifice were altogether unable to contain the numbers who thronged to hear him. He was invited by the town-council to preach in the parish church, and there his burning words reached a much more general and. influential audience.

One important element in the education of the reformer still remains to be mentioned. He was destined to see and study the Papacy in the very centre of its power—in its full-blown magnificence in Rome. In the year 1510—some say 1511—he went on a mission to this city.1212   The nature of the mission is not exactly ascertained. It is supposed to have been partly connected with the interests of his order, and partly in fulfilment of a vow. What he saw and heard there made an ineffaceable impression on him, although it did not produce any immediate result. “I would not take a hundred thousand florins,” he afterwards said, “not to have seen Rome. I have said many masses there, and heard many said, so that I shudder when I think of it. There I heard, among other coarse jests, courtiers laughing at table, and bragging that some said mass and repeated these words over the bread and wine, Panis es, Panis manebis; Vinum es, Vinum manebis.” For the time, however, the fervour of his monastic devotion burned bright amid all this blasphemy. He ran the round of all the churches, and believed all the lying legends repeated to him. It even passed through his mind as a regret that his parents were still living, as 64otherwise he might have wrought their deliverance from purgatory by his masses and penances. He tried to mount the Scala Sancta (Pilate’s staircase, miraculously transported from Jerusalem) on his knees, and yet (strange evidence of the conflict raging in his heart), as he essayed the painful task, a voice of thunder kept shouting to him, “The just shall live by faith!

A further and last step of academical honour awaited him on his return. He was created a Doctor in the Holy Scriptures in the year 1512; and the oath which, on this occasion, he solemnly swore on the. Bible, to study and preach it all his life, and maintain the Christian faith against all heretics, is said to have been often afterwards a source of comfort to him in the great crises of his work.

And now our reformer’s education was nearly complete, while everything was preparing for the approaching struggle. Some visits of inspection which he made in the place of Staupitz to the Augustine convents, served still more to awaken his feeling of the need of reform, and to call forth his activity and practical abilities. “The whole ground,” he complained, “was covered, nay, heaped up, with the rubbish of all manner of strange doctrines and superstitions, so that the word of truth can barely shine through; nay, in many places not a ray of it is visible.” The train of conviction was thus fully laid; the impulse and power of reform were fully prepared. It only required a spark to kindle the train—some special excitement to call forth the energy still slumbering, but all ready and furnished for the struggle. Could Rome only have penetrated 65beneath the surface at this moment, and seen what a deep tremor and current agitated the German mind—how light had begun to peer through unnumbered chinks of the old sacerdotal edifice, revealing not only its weak defences, but the vile and unclean things within—how warily would she have acted! But the blindness of decay had struck her—falsehood had eaten away her judgment, as well as undermined her strength, and foolishly she went onwards to her overthrow.

The system of indulgences was a natural result of the general system of penance; it rested on the same fundamental falsehood. So soon as the purely spiritual character of repentance became obscured, and the idea of sin as an outward accident under the control of the Church, rather than an inward and spiritual fact, began to prevail, there was obviously no limit to the growth of ecclesiastical corruption. If the Church possessed the power of freeing the sinner from the consequences of his sins, it was a mere development of this principle that the Pope, as the head and sum of the Church, should possess this power in an eminent degree; and when attention was once fixed on the mere externals of penance, it was only a fair logical conclusion that these externals could be appointed and regulated by the Pope at pleasure. The steps of the degradation are plainly marked, from the recognition of outward satisfaction as a condition of salvation, to the substitution of mortifications, pilgrimages, &c., as exhausting the demands of the Church, and then, as the moral feeling sank, and the hierarchical spirit rose, to a payment of money in place of actual 66service of any kind. Once materialise the spiritual truth, and gradually the material accident will become everything, and not only substitute itself in place of that truth, but necessarily pass from one degraded form to another, till it find its last and summary expression in money—money being always the brief and convenient representative of all mere external work. In so far as there was anything distinct in the character of indulgences, they were worse than even the general system of which they formed a part. While penance and priestly absolution, corrupted as they had become, confessedly based upon the merits of Christ, and were held to imply contrition in the offender; indulgences were rested upon the special doctrine of the treasure of the Church or the overflowing merits of the saints, and were in some of their forms confessedly dispensed irrespective of the moral condition of the recipient. Regular ordination, moreover, was a requirement of the one system, whereas indulgence was arrogated by the Pope as his peculiar privilege, and could be exercised at will by any one nominated by him.1313   The alleged object of the plenary indulgence was to contribute to the completion of the Vatican Basilica, and its vaunted effect was to restore the possessor to the grace of God, and completely exempt him from the punishment of purgatory. There were, however, lesser forms of the papal blessing capable of procuring lesser favours. For the plenary indulgence, the necessity of confession and contrition was acknowledged; “the others could be obtained without contrition or confession, by money alone.”—Ranke, vol. p. 335.

It may be easily imagined what a system this was in the hands of an unscrupulous and low-minded agent; and such an agent, of the worst description, it 67was the misfortune of Rome to send abroad at this time through Germany. At Jüterbock, a few miles from Wittenberg and the borders of Saxony, which the Elector had refused him permission to enter, John Tetzel, a Dominican friar, established himself for the sale of the papal indulgences. A shameless traffic had fallen into the hands of a man conspicuous for shamelessness of tongue, and who scrupled not at any blasphemy to exalt the value of his wares. As the dispenser of the treasure of the Church, he claimed to be on a level with St Peter, and even to have saved more souls than the apostle. Distinguished by an unblushing countenance and stentorian voice, with the papal red cross borne aloft, the papal brief prominently displayed to view, and the money-counter before him, he proclaimed aloud the merits of his paper pardons; while his companion, Friar Bartholomew, shouted always as he closed, “Come and buy! come and buy!” His mingled impudence and impiety almost baffle belief. He even went the length of saying, that “when one dropped a penny into the box for a soul in purgatory, so soon as the money chinked in the chest the soul flew up to heaven.”

When Luther heard what was going on in his neighbourhood, we can understand how his spirit was stirred in him. At first, indeed, and before the full enormities of the system became manifest, he seems to have taken it somewhat quietly. “He began,” he himself says, “to preach with great moderation, that they might do something better and more certain than buying pardons.” But when he saw the practical influence of the traffic on the members of his own flock, 68and heard of Tetzel’s blasphemies, his whole soul was roused, and he exclaimed, “God willing, I will beat a hole in his drum.” He felt the necessity of taking some decided step, as no one else seemed disposed to interfere. He took counsel with God and his own heart, with none besides; and on the eve of All Saints, when the relics, collected with great pains by Frederick for his favourite church, were exposed to view, and multitudes thronged to gaze on them, Luther appeared among the crowd, and nailed on the gate of the church his ninety-five theses on the doctrine of Indulgences, which he offered to maintain in the university against all opponents, by word of mouth or in writing. These famous propositions generally asserted the necessity of spiritual repentance, and limited the dispensing power of the Pope to those penalties imposed by himself. They did not absolutely deny the doctrine of the treasure of the Church, but only the sole authority of the Pope over this treasure, and altogether denied that this treasure had any power to absolve the sinner without contrition and amendment on his part. “If the sinner had true contrition he received complete forgiveness; if he had it not, no brief of indulgence could avail him,—for the Pope’s absolution had no value in and for itself, but only in so far as it was a mark of divine favour.”

The publication of these theses is commonly considered the starting-point of the Reformation. The excitement produced by them was intense and widespread. Luther’s diocesan, the Bishop of Brandenburg, a good easy man, expressed sympathy, but counselled silence for peace’s sake. Silence, however, was now 69no longer possible. Everywhere the excited popular feeling caught up the bold note of defiance. It seemed, in the words of Myconius, “as if angels themselves had carried them to the ears of all men.” The excitement grew and strengthened, and sympathetic voices were heard through all Germany. Tetzel retreated to Frankfort-on-the-Oder, and, with the assistance of Dr Wimpina, drew out a set of counter-theses, while he publicly committed those of Luther to the flames. But this was a game easily played at; and the students at Wittenberg retaliated, by seizing the messenger bearing the counter-theses, and burning them in the market-place. Frederick of Saxony refused to interfere. He did not encourage, he did not even promise to protect; but, what was the very best thing he could do, he let things take their course. Yet if the story of his dream be true, he must have had his own thoughts about the matter. It is told that on the night of All Saints, just after the theses were posted on the church doors, he lay at his castle of Scheinitz, six leagues distant, and as he was pondering how to keep the festival, he fell asleep, and dreamed that he saw the monk writing certain propositions on the chapel of the castle at Wittenberg, in so large a hand that it could be read at Scheinitz: the pen began to expand as he looked, and gradually grew longer and longer, till at last it reached to Rome, touched the Pope’s triple crown, and: made it totter. He inquired of the monk where he had got such a pen, and was answered that it once belonged to the wing of a goose in Bohemia. Presently other pens sprang out of the great pen, and seemed all busy writing; a loud noise was heard, and Frederick 70awoke. The dream, mythical or not, foreshadowed the great crisis at hand. The hundred years had revolved, and Huss’s saying had come true. “To-day you burn a goose;1414   The meaning of the Bohemian name “Huss.” a hundred years hence a swan shall arise whom you will not be able to burn.” The movement, long going on beneath the surface, and breaking out here and there ineffectually, had at length found a worthy champion; and all these forming impulses of the time gathered to Luther, welcomed him and helped him. The Humanists, Reuchlin, Erasmus, and others, expressed their sympathy; the war-party, Hutten and Sickingen, uttered their joy; above all, the great heart of the German people responded; and while the monk of Wittenberg seemed, as he said afterwards, to stand solitary in the breach, he was in reality encompassed by a cloud of witnesses, a great army of truth-seekers, at whose head he was destined to win for the world once more the triumph of truth and righteousness.

When the reality of the excitement produced by the theses became apparent, opposition as well as sympathy was of course awakened. Tetzel continued to rave at Frankfort-on-the-Oder; Hochstraten, professor at Cologne (the great seat of the anti-humanist reaction) and head inquisitor of Germany, clamoured for the heretic to be committed to the flames; Sylvester Prierias, the general of the Dominicans and censor of the press at Rome, published a reply in dialogue, in which, after the manner of dialogues, he complacently refuted the propositions of Luther, and consigned him to the ministers of the inquisition; and, last and most 71formidable of all, Dr Eck, a theological professor at Ingoldstadt, entered the lists against the reformer. Eck was an able man, well versed in the scholastic theology; and a warm friendship, founded apparently on genuine respect on either side, had hitherto existed between him and Luther. Now, however, instigated partly by a natural feeling of rivalry, partly by honest opposition to the sentiments of Luther, and the call of his diocesan the Bishop of Eichstadt, he attacked the ninety-five theses in a style of violence which galled. Luther, and made him strongly feel the breach of friendship, especially as Eck had given no warning of the attack.1515   “Neque monens, neque scribens, neque valedicens,” as he complains. The reformer, it may be imagined, did not spare his adversary in reply. Strong language was a difficult game to play at with Luther; and the old friends, now rival disputants, were destined ere long to meet face to face in a more memorable conflict.

At first the Pope, Leo X., took but little heed of the disturbance. He is reported, indeed, to have said, when the attack of Prierias was submitted to him, that “Friar Martin was a man of genius, that he did not wish to have him molested; the outcry against him was all monkish jealousy.” Busy with his own dilettante and ambitious schemes, his buildings and his MSS., Leo had no perception of the real state of things in Germany, and would fain have kept aloof from interference. Some of the cardinals, however, saw more distinctly the real character of the movement; the seriousness of the affair was made at length apparent even to papal indifference, and a tribunal 72was appointed to try Luther’s doctrines. At the head of this tribunal was placed Luther’s declared opponent, Prierias; and the monk received a summons to appear within sixty days at Rome to answer for his theses. Compliance with this summons would have been fatal to him. Once in the hands of the cardinals, the fate of Huss, or a secret and still more terrible one, awaited him. His university accordingly interceded, and the Elector at length took active steps, and claimed that, as a German, he should be heard in Germany rather than in Rome. This was conceded, and Luther was appointed to appear before the papal legate Cajetan, then present at the Diet of Augsburg.

But while thus seeming to yield to a fair investigation of the case, the papal court, with true Roman perfidy, had prejudged it, and despatched secret instructions to the legate to deal with Luther as a notorious heretic, and forthwith excommunicate him, unless he recanted his opinions. Unwitting of this judgment, Luther hastened to present himself before the legate, under the protection of a safe-conduct procured through the zealous intervention of his friends. Cajetan met him with the most bland and smiling kindness. The affair seemed to him only to require a little smoothness and address. The idea of conscientious conviction in a poor monk was unintelligible to him. He offered two propositions to Luther—the one as to the spiritual virtue of indulgences, and the other as to the necessity of faith to the efficacy of the sacraments and he was asked; in opposition to his supposed views, to admit the affirmative of the one and the negative of the other. Submit, and recant 73your errors, was all that the legate had to say to him. Submission without conviction, however, was about the very last idea that had entered into Luther’s mind. It is a fine and typical contrast between the moral earnestness of the Teuton, and the diplomatic accommodation of the Italian. “Most reverend father,” said Luther, “deign to point out to me in what I have erred.” “You must revoke both these errors, and embrace the true doctrine of the Church,” was all the answer. “I ask for Scripture; it is on Scripture my views are founded.” “Do you not know that the Pope is above all?” “Not above Scripture.” “Yes, above Scripture, and above councils. Retract, my son, retract it is hard for you to kick against the pricks.” It was of no use. They could not get near to one another, and never could have done. Thrice the conference was broken up, and thrice renewed. At length irritated self-esteem broke through the fair courtesy of the Italian. “Retract,” he cried, “or never appear in my presence again.” Luther retired in silence, and set forth in writing the grounds on which, while willing to acknowledge that he might have spoken unadvisedly and irreverently of the Pontiff, he could not retract his doctrines, for that would be against his conscience. Cajetan made no reply. He felt that he had been foiled, and his real feelings betrayed themselves in an unguarded moment to Staupitz. “I will not speak with the beast again; he has deep eyes, and his head is full of speculation.” What his designs were, remain unknown. Luther became convinced of his danger, hastily drew up two letters, the one to the legate, the other to the Pope, 74strongly repelling the imputation of heresy, and appealing from “Leo ill-informed to Leo well-informed;” and having procured horse and guide, he fled during the night from Augsburg, and with all speed reached Wittenberg. On his homeward way he was made acquainted with the secret instructions of the court of Rome, and with characteristic generosity offered to the Elector to retire into France till the storm had blown over. But this was not to be: God had further and higher work for him to do. The university resisted his proposal, and the Elector refused to part with him.

Baffled so far, the papal court made a further attempt at negotiation. Miltitz, himself a German, and the envoy of the Pope to the Saxon court, undertook the office of mediator. He understood the necessities of the case better than Cajetan. He even recognised the justice of the attack on the indulgence system, by bringing Tetzel to task, dismissing and disgracing him. He was content to impose silence on the offending monk, without demanding retractation, and Luther for a while consented to keep the peace. The truce, however, was hollow; it was not in the nature of things: the current of change had set in too strongly. Luther himself, while constantly reluctant to advance, felt that he was driven onward, as if by a higher power. “God hurries, drives, not to say leads me,” he wrote to Staupitz. “I am not master of myself. I wish to be quiet, and am hurried into the midst of tumults.” And so the movement gathered force under apparent repression. The current only channelled for itself a deeper and wider course, from 75being shut up and sealed from outlet for a time. The convictions of the reformer were assuming a bolder scope. “Whatever I have hitherto done against Rome,” he said, “has been in jest; soon I shall be in earnest. Let, me whisper in your ear that I am not sure whether the Pope is antichrist or his apostle.” And this, too, while he still kept appealing to the Pope in language deprecatory, and even servile in its adulation.1616   Luther’s Letters to the Pope, 3d March 1519; Opera, vol. i. p. 184—Jenæ, 1612. This inconsistency, if not defensible, was very intelligible in Luther. There was a violent conflict raging in him, between the new ideas forcing themselves upon him from all sides, and his old and natural feeling of monkish obedience. Bold as he was, there were moments when he had dark and painful misgivings, and would fain have rested quietly in the bosom of the Church. More and more, however, the new ideas gathered force and shape, and took firm possession of him. It was no longer merely the special abuse of indulgences, but the general pretensions of the hierarchical Roman system, that actuated and impelled him forward. The indulgence controversy had done its work. A glare of light had been let in upon the hideous abuses of the prevailing ecclesiasticism. A rent had been made in the great sacerdotal fabric. Miltitz cunningly sought to patch up the rent, and shut out the streaming light but the time had passed for such compromise. The spirit moved was too earnest to be thus allayed: the arm which had rudely given the shock was too brawny and restless in its youthful power to be thus stroked 76into quietness. The work of destruction went on, and through the tumbling timbers of the crazy edifice light came rushing in at all points. Luther himself was amazed at the discoveries that crowded upon him.

The Leipzig disputation with Dr Eck marks this great advance in his views. It is no longer a question merely as to indulgences and the power of the Pope on a special point, but a question as to the general supremacy of the Pope. So far as the doctrine of indulgences was concerned, Luther’s adversary gave in on almost every point; but he made a vigorous stand on general grounds in behalf of the absolute supremacy of the Pope, arguing, among other reasons, from the basis of the well-known text, Matt. xvi. 18, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church.” Luther maintained the customary Protestant version of the text, applying the rock to Christ, whom Peter had just confessed to be the Son of the living God. He claimed for Christ the sole absolute headship of the Church: although, at the same time, he did not deny the primary ecclesiastical position of the Pope, nor his right to that position as a mere constitutional arrangement. Eck tried to frighten him, and cast discredit on his doctrines, by raising the old cry of “Bohemian” against them; but Luther was not to be moved by such imputations, and did not hesitate to defend some of the articles of Huss. The controversy lasted for days, and at length terminated with the usual issue in such controversies: both sides claimed the victory. A drawn battle, however, at this crisis was for Rome equivalent to a defeat. Luther was hailed more than ever as the champion of the national indignation, rising 77always more urgently against Rome. The question of indulgences was forgotten as the tide of national feeling swelled higher, and it became more manifest every day that the real question was Germany or Rome,—national independence or hierarchical bondage; and still more deeply,—Scripture or Church,—conscience or authority. The popular sympathy showed itself eagerly in numberless satires and caricatures of Eck and his party. Even Erasmus joined in the affray with his cold glancing mockery,1717   “Don’t call him Eck; call him Geck” (fool), was the pun of Erasmus. and Hutten, after his peculiar fashion, aimed a trenchant blow at the papal champion in the “Planed-off Corner” (der abgehobelte Eck).1818   “A satire,” says Ranke, “which for fantastic invention, striking and crushing truth, and Aristophanic wit, far exceeded the ‘Epistolæ Obscurorum Virorum,’ which it somewhat resembled.” Copies of the disputation in thirty different versions were rapidly bought up. Luther was now fairly engaged in a lifelong struggle, and the fight went bravely on.

From this point onwards to the Diet of Worms the life of Luther rises to its highest pitch of heroism. No one ever stood more fully in the light of a nation’s hopes, or answered, upon the whole, more nobly to them. Recognising his great position, he stood to it like a true man; and as the battle was now joined, he spared not those “thunderbolts,”1919   “Fulmina erant linguæ singula verba tuæ.”—Melanchthon. which no one knew better how to use in a moment of need. Resting for a month or two to gather breath after his contest with Eck, in the course of the following June (1520) he published his famous address to the “Christian Nobles of Germany.” It was only a few sheets, but never did 78words tell more powerfully. “The time for silence is past,” he said, “the time to speak is come.” He struck a clear and loud note of national independence, and summoned the Christian powers of Germany to his aid. “Talk of war against the Turk,” he cried; “the Roman Turk is the fellest Turk in the world—Roman avarice the greatest thief that ever walked the earth: all goes into the Roman sack, which has no bottom, and all in the name of God too!” He reiterated in brief and emphatic language the great truth which had begun to dawn upon him at Leipzig, that all Christians are priests, and that consequently the clerical office is a mere function or order: he maintained the independence of all national churches, and the rights of national and social life, against ecclesiastical usurpation. He drew a strong picture of the miserable exactions and oppressions of the Papal See, and cast back with no measure its insolence in its very teeth. “Hearest thou, O Pope, not all-holy, but all-sinful, who gave thee power to lift thyself above God, and break His laws? The wicked Satan lies through thy throat. O my Lord Christ, hasten Thy last day, and destroy the devil’s nest at Rome.” The impression produced by such language may be more easily imagined than described. In the course of a fortnight 4000 copies of the address were sold, and before the end of the month a new edition was in print, and speedily bought up. This address was followed in October by a treatise “On the Babylonish Captivity of the Church,” in which he attacked with vigour the abuses into which its sacramental system had grown. He now looked back, as it were, with pity on his former indulgence to 79the Papacy. In the course of two years, and during his disputes with Eck, Emser, and others, his eyes had become greatly opened. After hearing and reading the “artful subtleties of these champions,”2020   “Subtilissimas subtilitates istorum Trossulorum.”—Opera, vol. ii. p. 259. he was certain that the Papacy was “the kingdom of Babylon, and the power of Nimrod the mighty hunter.” “I must now deny that there are. seven sacraments, and bind them to three—baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and penance; and even these are led by the Church of Rome into a wretched prison, and the Church is robbed of all her liberty.” He defended, as he never ceased to do, the literal reality of Christ’s presence in the Supper; but he warmly combated the Thomist definitions of that presence, resting on a supposed Aristotelic distinction of subject and accident; and he zealously maintained the right of the laity to the cup as well as the bread. These two works, with his sermon “On the Liberty of a Christian Man,” mark the very crisis of the movement. Appealing, on the one hand, to the’ excited national interests of Germany, and, on the other hand, to its reviving spiritual life, they struck, with a happy success, the two most powerful chords then vibrating in the nation. “They contain,” Ranke says, “the kernel of the whole Reformation.” They concentrate its spirit while they signalise its triumph.

The publication of the papal bull just at this time consummated the crisis. It had been obtained by the reckless importunity of Eck nearly a year before; but great difficulty had been felt in making it public, owing to the enthusiasm now so widely spread on 80behalf of the reformer. At length Eck fixed upon Leipzig as the place where he supposed that he could promulgate it most safely under the protection of Duke George; but even here, where so recently he had been hailed by the university as the champion of the Papacy, the students now seized and insulted him, and he was glad to make his escape. He fled for his life to Erfurt; but here too the students attacked him, laid hold of the bull, and threw it into the river, saying, “It is a bubble, let it swim.” These demonstrations were crowned by Luther’s own daring act on the 10th of December (1520). Assembling the doctors, students, and citizens at the Elster Gate of Wittenberg on this memorable day, a fire of wood was kindled, and Luther, clad in his cowl, and with the papal bull and decretals in his hand, approached it, and cast them into the fire, saying, “As thou hast vexed the saints of God, so mayest thou be consumed in eternal fire.” This irrevocable act severed Luther for ever from the Papacy. There was no compromise—no truce even henceforth possible. The battle must be fought out.

With such high-hearted courage and clear trust in God on the part of the reformer, there was Ito doubt on whose side the victory would declare.

The moment of Luther’s proudest triumph was now at hand. Charles V. had recently succeeded to the Empire. He was only twenty years of age, inexperienced, and unconscious of all that was going on in Germany. “He understood neither its language nor its thoughts.”2121   Ranke, vol. i. p. 519. Naturally of a superstitious temper, his sacerdotal leanings were already manifest, and the 81papal party, with Aleander (the papal nuncio) at their head, failed in no efforts to influence him against the Reformation. They urged him to take some decided step—to cause the books of Luther to be burned throughout the Empire, and so to declare his determination to uphold the cause of the Church. The inclinations of Charles admit of no doubt; but he was too ignorant of the real meaning and magnitude of the movement, and hemmed in by too many practical difficulties, to be able to adopt and carry out a clear and uncompromising policy. Opposed to the zealots of the Papacy, the extreme national party approached him with the boldest suggestions. He was pressed to call the free national party, led by Hutten and Sickingen, to his aid. Hutten himself addressed him, offering to serve him day and night without fee or reward, if only he would throw off the trammels of a foreign ecclesiastical yoke, and place himself at the head of the German people. Add to this that he was mainly indebted for his imperial dignity to Luther’s friend, the Elector Frederick, and the complexities of his position may be imagined.

After being crowned at Aix-la-Chapelle on the 28th January 1521, Charles had proceeded to Worms, where he assembled his first Diet of the sovereigns and states of Germany. It was the great object of Aleander, Eck, and the rest of the papal leaders, to have Luther condemned unheard, and with this view Aleander made a lengthened speech at the Diet. They succeeded so far as to induce the Emperor to issue an edict for the destruction of the reformer's books but the Estates refused to publish it, unless Luther had 82first an opportunity of confronting his accusers under a safe-conduct, and answering, before the Diet, to the charges preferred against him. Nothing could be more congenial to the present temper of Luther. It was exactly what he most desired—to confess the truth before the assembled powers of Germany. He made up his mind at once to obey the summons, and wrote bravely to Spalatin (the Elector’s secretary)—“I will be carried hither sick, if I cannot go sound. . . . Expect everything from me but flight or retractation.”

Nothing can well be grander—more epical in its contrasts, more scenic in its adjuncts, and more impressive in its issues—than this passage in the history of the Reformation,—the journey of Luther, with its strange and mixed incidents—his appearance in Worms—his appearance before the Diet—his prayer beforehand—his fears—his triumph—the excitements that followed his triumph—his seizure on his return, and residence in the Wartburg. It would be difficult to find anywhere a nobler subject for a great poem.

He set out on his mission on the 2d of April, with the sympathy and good wishes of all the Wittenbergers. He travelled in a carriage provided for the occasion by the town-council; and his friends of the university and others assembled to witness his departure. The imperial herald, clad in the insignia of his office, rode first, his servant followed; Luther and his comrades brought up the rear. His progress resembled a triumph. As he passed towns and villages the people came forth in numbers to greet him. At the hotels where he rested, crowds thronged to see him, and there were “drinking of healths, good cheer, 83and the delights of music.”2222   Cochlæus. As he left Nuremberg a priest sent after him a portrait of the Italian reformer Savonarola, with a letter exhorting him “to be manful for the truth, and to stand by God, and God would stand by him.” At Weimar the imperial messengers were seen posting on the walls an edict summoning all who were in possession of his books to deliver them up to the magistrates. The herald turned to inquire if he were moved by such a sign of danger. “I will go on,” he said, “although they should kindle a fire between Wittenberg and Worms to reach to heaven. I will confess Christ in Behemoth’s mouth, between his great teeth.” At Erfurt he preached, and a crowd of tender associations rushed upon his mind as he gazed at the convent, the scene of his spiritual birth; and as he stood by the grave of one of his former companions, a brother monk, “How calmly he sleeps, and I”—was his remark to Jonas, while he leaned upon the gravestone absorbed in thought, until warned of the lateness of the hour. At Eisenach, amidst the scenes of his boyhood, he was seized with a dangerous illness. His strength and spirits forsook him; but he went on in calm trust in God. At Heidelberg he held a public discussion: and undeterred by the remonstrances which were now poured upon him even from his best friends—unreduced by the well-meant intentions of Sickingen and others to retain him in safety at his castle of Ehrenberg—he approached the imperial city. Even Spalatin was alarmed, and sought to stay him. “Carry back,” was the answer, “that I am resolved to enter Worms in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, 84although as many devils should set at me as there are tiles on the house-tops.”

It has been supposed by Audin, Luther’s modern Romanist biographer, that it was on this occasion,—as the old towers of Worms came in sight, and the full greatness of the crisis rushed upon him,—that, rising in his carriage, he chanted his famous hymn, “Ein’ feste Burg isi unser Gott,” “the Marseillaise,” Audin significantly adds, “of the Reformation.” The suggestion adds a grandeur to the event; but there is reason to believe that the hymn was not composed till some years later.2323   All that is known is that the hymn appeared for the first time in a Wittemberg ‘Gesangbuch’ of the year 1529.

He entered Worms on the 16th of April, escorted by his friends and numbers of the Saxon noblemen, who had gone out to meet him. As he passed through the city, so great was the crowd that pressed to see him, that he had to be conducted through back courts to his inn. More than two thousand assembled at the Deutscher Hof where he took up his abode, and till late at night his room was thronged by nobles and clergy who came to visit him. After his room was cleared, a different picture might have been seen. The bold monk prostrated himself in an agony of prayer. His voice was heard in snatches by his friends as it rose to heaven, and it is impossible to read anything more touching and awe-inspiring than the fragments of this prayer which have been preserved.2424   There seems to be some doubt as to whether it was on this evening or on the succeeding one, after his first appearance before the Diet, that he appealed so solemnly to Heaven. The following are parts of his prayer: “My God, O Thou my God! stand by me against all the world’s reason and wisdom: Thou must do it—Thou alone, for it is not my cause but Thine. I have nothing to do for mine own self; nothing to do with these great lords of the world. I would have good peaceable days, and be free from tumult. But it is Thy cause, Lord! the true eternal cause. Stand by me, Thou true eternal God! I trust in no man. It is vain and to no purpose all that is flesh, O God! my God! Hearest Thou not, O my God Art Thou dead? No; Thou canst not die. Thou only hidest Thyself. Hast Thou chosen me to this? I ask of Thee that I may be assured thereof. I have not taken it upon myself, O God! Stand by me in the name of Thy dear Son Jesu Christ; for the cause is right, and it is Thine. I shall never be separated from Thee. Be this determined in Thy name. The world must leave my conscience unconstrained; and though it be full of devils, and my body, Thy handiwork and creation, go to the ground and be rent to fragments and dust, it is but the body, for Thy word is sure to me; and my soul is Thine, and shall abide with Thee to eternity. Amen. God help me. Amen.” On the following 85day he received intimation to attend before the Diet and in the afternoon of the same day, amidst the dark frowns of Spanish warriors and ecclesiastics, and the whisperings of affectionate and courageous sympathy, he was ushered into the imperial presence.

The scene which presented itself in the Diet was one well fitted to move the boldest heart. The Emperor sat elevated on his throne, with the three ecclesiastical Electors on his right, the three secular on his left; his brother Frederick sat on a chair of state below the throne the nobles, knights, and delegates of free cities around; the papal nuncio in front. “The sun, verging to its setting, streamed full on the scene of worldly magnificence, strangely varied by every colour and form of dress: the Spanish cloak of yellow silk, the velvet and ermine of the Electors, the red robes of cardinals, the violet robes of bishops, the plain sombre garb of deputies of towns and priests.” The monk stood alone, 86with his head uncovered, pale with recent illness and hard study, with little or none as yet of the brave rotundity2525   “Cares and studies had made him so thin,” says Cochlæus (Luther’s contemporary Romanist biographer), “that one might count all the bones in his body.” of his later age,—a pale and slight figure “encircled by the dark flashing line of the mailed chivalry of Germany.” Little wonder that at first he seemed bewildered, and that his voice sounded feeble and hesitating. His old adversary Eck was the spokesman of his party, and loudly challenged him—first, as to whether he acknowledged the books before him as his writings; and, secondly, as to whether he would retract and recall them. To the first question he replied in the affirmative; in answer to the second, he demanded a day’s delay to consider and frame an answer. Many thought he was at length frightened, and would temporise; but on the following day they were abundantly undeceived. All signs of timidity and hesitation had then vanished; he had had time to meditate an adequate reply, and in a speech of two hours, first in German and then in Latin, he expressed his determination to abide by what he had written, and called upon the Emperor and the States to take into consideration the evil condition of the Church, lest God should visit the Empire and German nation with His judgments. Being pressed for a direct answer, yea or nay, whether he would retract, he answered finally in the memorable words—“Unless I be convinced by Scripture and reason, I neither can nor dare retract anything; for my conscience is a captive to God’s word, and it is neither safe nor right to go against 87conscience. Here I take my stand: I can do no otherwise. So help me God. Amen.”

The picture is barely half sketched; many strokes half humorous, half sublime, with a touching quaintness stamping them upon the memory, would be required to complete it. Sympathy with his position, and with his grand and simple daring, expressed itself in numerous incidents. The old warrior Freundsberg, the most gallant and renowned soldier of his day, greeted him as he entered the imperial presence. “My good monk, you are going a path such as I and our captains, in our hardest fight, have never trodden. But if you are sure of your cause, go on in God’s name: fear not; He will not leave you.” On his return to his hotel, Eric, the aged Duke of Brunswick, sent him a silver can of Einbech beer, in token of his admiration and sympathy; and the weary monk, parched with thirst, raised it to his lips, and took a long draught, saying, as he set it down, “As Duke Eric has remembered me this day, so may our Lord Christ remember him in his last struggle.” Again Philip, the young Landgrave of Hesse, is seen riding into the courtyard of the inn, leaping from his horse, and as he rushes into Luther’s room, greeting him with the words, “My dear Doctor, how do matters go with you?” “My gracious lord, with God’s help all will go well,” was the reply. “They tell me,” the Landgrave added, “that you teach that, if a woman be married to an old man, it is lawful for her to quit him for a husband that is younger.” “No, no! Your highness must not say so.” “Well, Doctor, if your cause is just, may God aid you;” and seizing the reformer's 88hand, he shook it warmly, and disappeared as abruptly as he had come.

Luther tarried some days in Worms, and various attempts were made to bring him to a more submissive frame of mind, but all without success. Questioned at length as to whether any remedy remained for the unhappy dissensions which had sprung up, “I know not of any,” he replied, “except the advice of Gamaliel: ‘If this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought; but if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it.’ Let the Emperor and the States write to the Pope that they are fully assured that, if the doctrines so much decried are not of God, they will perish by a natural death within two or three years.” Strong in the confidence of the truth he taught, he fearlessly appealed to the future. He was at once courageous and humble—courageous in the face of man, and humble before God—the true spirit in which alone the world can ever be reformed.

He received instructions to depart from Worms and return home on the 25th of April. On the following day he set out. He appears himself to have been in high spirits, excited and braced by the conflict in which he had been engaged. A letter which he wrote from Frankfort to his friend Lucas Cranach, gives a lively impression of his cheerfulness in the caricature which it presents of the proceedings of the Diet.2626   Luther's Briefe, De Wette, vol. i. p. 588. “My service, dear Gossip Lucas. I supposed that his imperial majesty would have assembled some fifteen doctors or so, and have overcome the monk by argument: but no, nothing of the sort. ‘Are the books yours?’—‘Yes.’ 89‘Will you revoke or not?’—‘No.’ ‘Get you gone then.’ O blind Germans, what children we are, to let the Roman apes scoff at and befool us in this way. Give my gossip, your dear wife, my greeting; and I trust she will keep well till I have the pleasure of seeing her again. . . . For a short time we must be silent and endure. A little time, and ye shall not see me; and again a little time, and ye shall see me. I hope it will prove so with us.” These last expressions, as well as others still more explicit in the letter, show that he was cognisant of the design of his friends to seize and conceal him in some place of safety for a while; but how the design was to be carried out, or where he was to be placed, “seems to have been but indistinctly communicated to him. He has himself narrated the circumstances of his seizure. As he left Eisenach, where he had preached and solaced himself for a single day in the company of his relatives, and was passing a narrow defile near the fortress of Altenstein, two armed horsemen, with armed attendants, rushed upon him and his friends. The waggoner was thrown to the ground. His brother, James Luther, who was of the party, fled and escaped, and Amsdorf was held fast while Luther was hurried away, mount upon a horse; and after various turnings, with the view of eluding all pursuit, he was safely lodged in the old castle of the Wartburg. The affair was made to assume the appearance of violence for obvious reasons, but in reality Amsdorf was conscious of the intentions of Luther’s friends, and he and the waggoner of course were quietly permitted to pursue their way after the horsemen had departed with their prisoner.


Luther’s residence in the Wartburg forms a quiet and green resting-place in his life, while it serves to mark the two great divisions into which it falls. From the fair heights of the Wartburg and the pleasant repose of his stay there, we look back with him upon a period of advancing struggle now completed, and forward upon a period scarcely less one of struggle, though of a far less consistent character. Hitherto all the interest of the movement is concentrated in his single figure. It is the monk at Erfurt and then the preacher at Wittenberg, and then the reformer at Worms, that engage our view. In all these different aspects we see the progress of a great spiritual conflict, waged almost by a solitary arm against surrounding corruptions. There is scarcely a companion figure to distract our attention. The purely religious impulse communicated by Staupitz is beheld strengthening into the earnest activity of the opponent of indulgences, and finally expanding into a clear and firm logical conviction directed against the whole hierarchical system which sought to extinguish it. The flame, kindled at the light of Scripture quietly read in the convent library, gradually burns into zeal, and at length blazes into triumphant defiance in the face of Pope and Emperor. From this point of advance Luther now looked at once backwards and forwards, and felt that he had done enough. Never was man less of an iconoclast. He fought for certain great religious principles as he apprehended them, but he had little or no wish to destroy existing institutions. Monkery, in all its shapes, had become hateful to him, and he resolved to attack it still more definitely than he had done; but 91the old Catholic worship and system, so far as it was national and not obviously Roman, he had no intention of subverting. To such feelings we must trace in great part the marked change in his subsequent career. The principle of revolt had exhausted itself in him with his great stand at Worms, and his naturally conservative convictions began to reassert themselves. We find, accordingly, that his life on from this point presents a far more complex and inconsistent picture than that which we have been contemplating. While many whom the spirit of the times had affected were disposed to go forward in the path on which he had entered, others had already before this begun to turn, back; and he is seen occupying a position of conflict both with the one and with the other. The Papacy on one side and his single figure on the other no longer fill up the scene; but other figures, some reactionary, and others of an impatient and violent character, crowd round, and he is beheld mingling in the crowd, rather than as any longer its controller and guide.

His publication of his translation of the Scriptures; his controversy with Carlstadt and then with Erasmus; the peasant war in 1525, and his marriage in the same year; the conference at Marburg with Zwingli in 1529; and the Diet at Augsburg and residence at Coburg in the following year, mark the most important epochs in this latter part of his life. The last sixteen years of his life are comparatively unmarked by incident or controversy; but it is the Luther of this period that, after all, in some respects, we know best, 92as portrayed by himself in his letters, and especially in his Table-talk, and as surrounded by his wife, children, and friends.

In the Wartburg he tarried for about a year, attired and living in all outward appearance as a knight. He let his beard grow, wore a sword, and went by the name of Younker George. He rambled among the hills and hunted, notwithstanding that the ban of the Empire was out against him. In the hunting-field, however, he was still the theologian, and thought of Satan and the Pope, with their impious troops of bishops and divines, hunting simple souls as he saw the hare pursued by the dogs. “I saved one poor leveret alive,” he says, “and tied it in the sleeve of my coat, and removed to a little distance; but the dogs scented out their victim, sprang up at it, broke its leg, and throttled it. It is thus that Satan and the Pope rage.”2727   Briefe, vol. i, p. 44. Although grieved to be absent from the scene, he rejoiced to know that the conflict still went on; and the old walls rang with his laughter as some satirical pamphlet of Hutten or Lucas Cranach reached him in his retreat. “I sit here the whole day idle and full of meat and drink,” he writes to Spalatin ten days after his arrival; “and read the Bible in Greek and Hebrew. I am writing a sermon in German on the liberty of auricular confession; and I shall proceed with my comments upon the Psalms and with the Bible as soon as ever I have received what I want from Wittenberg.”2828   Ibid., vol. i. p. 6. It was at this time he began his greatest literary achievement—the translation of the Scriptures into his 93native language. He had few books with him, but by the indefatigable zeal and interest with which he worked, he completed his version of the whole of the New Testament during the period of his confinement (nine months). Add to this, three treatises—on Private Confession, on the Abuse of Private Masses, and on Monastic Vows—besides his commentaries and postils, and his accusation against himself of idleness will appear sufficiently strange.

In fact, sedentary habits and hard study began to tell upon his health. He heard noises and seemed to see the devil in imaginary shapes as he sat at night in his room, or as he lay in bed. A bag of hazel nuts which had been brought to him by two noble youths who waited upon him with his food, was violently agitated by satanic power, one night after he retired to rest.2929   Worsley's Life, vol. i. p. 281. The nuts rolled and struck against one another with such force that they made the beams of the room to shake, and the bed on which he was lying to rattle. The same night, although the steps leading to his solitary apartment were barred fast with iron chains and an iron door, he was roused from his sleep by a tremendous rumbling up and down the steps, which he describes as though threescore casks were rolling up and down. Nothing doubting that it was the devil at work trying to molest him, he got up and walked to the stair’s head, and called aloud, “Is it thou? be it so then! I commend me to the Lord Christ, of whom it is written in the eighth Psalm, ‘Thou hast put all things under His feet.’” On another and still more memorable occasion, as he pored keenly over the pages 94of his Greek Testament, the enemy assailed him in the shape of a moth buzzing round his ears and disturbing him in his sacred task. His spirit was kindled in him by the envious pertinacity of the evil one, and seizing his inkstand he hurled it at the intruder. A hole of singularly apocryphal dimensions in the wall of the chamber which he inhabited, is pointed out to the traveller who can spare a long summer’s day to visit the Wartburg and enjoy himself on its breezy slopes, as the mark made by the reformer’s inkstand in this great encounter.

It is well to smile at such incidents, but Luther lived all his days in the most real and pervading belief of a personal and visible devil haunting him in all his work, and never ceasing to disturb and hinder him. Once, in his monastery at Wittenberg, after he had celebrated matins and begun his studies, “the devil,” he says, “came into his cell and thrice made a noise behind a stove, just as though he were dragging some wooden measure along the floor” (a mouse, probably, as one has heard the little creature in the quiet night, with no other noise in the room save the creaking of the ceaseless pen). “As I found he was going to begin again,” he adds, “I gathered together my books and got into bed.” “Another time in the night I heard him above my cell, walking in the cloister; but as I knew it was the devil, I paid no attention to him and went to sleep.” There is almost an affectionate familiarity in some of his expressions—a gentleness of chiding and humorous badinage mingling with the irony and insult, which he thinks are among the best weapons for encountering his foe. “Early this morning 95when I awoke, the fiend came and began disputing with me. ‘Thou art a great sinner,’ said he. I replied, ‘Canst thou not tell me something new, Satan?’” Again, “When the devil comes to me in the night I say to him, ‘Devil, I must now sleep; for it is the command and ordinance of God that we labour by day and sleep by night.’ If he goes on with the old story, accusing me of sin, I say to him, to vex him, ‘Holy Spirit, Satan, pray for me.’ ‘Go,’ I say to him, ‘Physician, cure thyself.’” “The best way,” he adds, “of getting rid of the devil, if you cannot do it with the words of Holy Scripture, is to rail at him and mock him: he cannot bear scorn.” A very efficient plan also is “to turn your thoughts to some pleasant subject; to tell or hear jests or merry stories out of some facetious book. Music, too, is very good, for the devil is a saturnine spirit, and music is hateful to him, and drives him far away from it.”

This sort of belief will appear superstitious in a different degree to different minds; but there are some forms which the belief assumes not only to Luther, but to the more severe and sober mind of Calvin, so absolutely credulous and fanatical as to be matters of mere amazement to us now.3030   Luther’s notions, for example, of devil-children, “called in Latin Supposititii, and by the Saxons, Kilkropff.”—Michelet’s Life, p. 325 (Bohn’s Translation); and Calvin’s apparently firm belief of a sick person being raised from his bed and transported across the Rhone by satanic agency.—Dyer’s Life, p. 205. And yet, in truth, it is rather the form of credulity that is changed than the spirit of it that is extinguished, as many things in our own day, bearing upon this very subject, plainly witness.


As Luther pursued his literary labours in the Wartburg, stimulating by his writings the spirit which his noble acts had kindled, unpleasant news reached his ears as to the progress of the Reformation in its home in Wittenberg. Carlstadt and some others, uncontrolled by his master-spirit, began to carry out to its natural consequences the spirit of negation involved in the Reformation. Monasteries were dissolved, and monks and nuns began to marry. All was in confusion without his presence, which was so urgently needed that he made a secret visit there in December. He appeared suddenly, and held three days’ close conference with Amsdorf and other intimate friends. But the crisis was still too perilous for him to remain, and he returned to his retreat to prosecute his Bible studies and translations.

In the spring of the following year (1522) Luther completed his translation of the New Testament, which may be pronounced his greatest literary work. It was almost entirely his own achievement, and he grudged no labour to make it perfect. Some of the MSS. of the work survive, and show the pains with which he corrected and recorrected many times. His aim was everywhere to catch the spirit of the original, and reproduce it as far as he could in simple, popular language. He chose a dialect, the Franconian, intelligible to High and Low German alike, and which has since remained the standard of the German tongue and a centre of literary unity for all the German peoples. The translation was first published on September 21, 1522. A second edition followed immediately, and no book has brought a greater glory 97to his name or a greater blessing to the German race. The translation of the Old Testament was a more extended and difficult undertaking, in which he called to his assistance not only the occasional advice, but the active assistance, of his friends—Melanchthon, Justus Jonas, and Bugenhagen—but even Jewish Rabbis, forming what his biographer Mathesius calls a kind of “Sanhedrim,” which met regularly once a week several hours before supper in the old Augustinian monastery at Wittenberg, which had become his house. Luther himself describes the difficulties of the task. “We are labouring hard,” he says, “to bring out the Prophets in the mother-tongue. Ach, Gott! what a great and difficult work it is to make the Hebrew writers speak German! They resist it so, and are unwilling to give up their Hebrew existence and become like Germans.” By diligent and earnest labour, however—and especially by the ever helpful and erudite co-operation of Melanchthon—this great work was also accomplished, and a translation of the whole Bible was published in 1534.

Unhappily, disturbances grew rather than abated at Wittenberg. It was only in the nature of things that the spirit of religious freedom, having rapidly spread, should burst bonds and run to excess. The popular mind, when aroused to a sense of the deceptions which had been practised upon it for centuries, broke out into extreme manifestations of hostility against the old Church system, in its forms as well as its doctrines, and a furious iconoclasm crowned the movement. It is the gift of but few minds—and never 98the gift of the mere popular and logical mind—to separate the form and the spirit, and to recognise that all reformation of any worth is in the latter and not in the former, which will by-and-by accommodate itself, without being violently cast down, to the improved and higher spirit. Carlstadt was merely a prominent expression of this popular and logical spirit. He was a species of German Puritan before that moral feeling had yet arisen, which in its strength and intensity was to become Puritanism. His projects were undoubtedly mistaken and out of place. Germany was then wholly unfitted for Puritanism, and never, in fact, has had any sympathy with it. Its higher minds, like Luther himself, were already beyond it in the breadth and tenderness of sentiment, and the richness and diversity of natural feeling which animated them. The ignorant mind again was far below it in the rudeness and lawlessness of its moral desires. Carlstadt, therefore, as the sequel sufficiently showed, could bring nothing but social disorder to Germany and disgrace to the Reformation; and Luther knew this with his clear, upright, and comprehensive appreciation of the national temper. After he fairly saw, therefore, that the danger was real, he made up his mind to quit his shelter in the Wartburg, come what would, and resume the direction of affairs at his old post.

He re-entered Wittenberg on the 7th of March 1522. In the course of his journey thither, he tarried a night at Jena, and a very interesting account has been preserved of his interview with two students on their way to Wittenberg to see him. The little parlour in 99the Black Bear, with the reformer in his knightly disguise—red mantle, trunk hose, doublet, and ridingwhip—seated at table, his right hand resting on the pommel of his sword, while his eye was directed intently to a book which turned out to be the Hebrew Psalter; the respectful demeanour of the students before the supposed knight, and their gradually opening familiarity as he offered them seats at the table, and a glass of beer; their communication to him of their intention to proceed to Wittenberg to see Martin Luther, and his pleasant fence with them on the subject; the entry of two merchants, and the free opinion which they express of Luther; the landlord’s hints and the disclosure,—all present a vivid sketch of the frank manly bearing, genuine heartiness, and humourous kindly ease of the great Augustine, that is worth a hundred descriptions.

He mounted the pulpit on the first Sunday after his return, and delivered his opinion on the principles which should guide them in the great religious changes through which they were passing—the reality of sin and salvation—the necessity of faith and love; these were the main things to be concerned about, and not mere novelties or changes for their own sake. “All things are lawful, but all things are not expedient. Some things must be, others might or might not be. Faith must be. But in such things as might or might not be, regard must be paid to the profit of others.”3131   Worsley's Life, vol. i. pp. 341-345. On Monday he again preached, particularly on the subject of the Mass. “It was bad and detestable, especially as it had claimed to be a sacrifice, and to 100stand between the people and God. His wish was that all private masses throughout the world were abolished, and only the common evangelical mass celebrated. But love must reign in the matter. No one must draw or tear another away by the hair, but leave God to do His own work, for the plain reason that no man has in his hand the hearts of others, and no man can make his words pass deeper than the ear. The Word of God must be freely preached, and this Word must be left to work in the heart. Then, and not till then, should the work of abolition begin.”3232   Worsley's Life, vol. i. p. 356. In a similar spirit he handled the monastic life and the subject of images, the sacrament in both kinds, and confession. Earnestness of principle, moderation in practice, was the key-note of all this remarkable series of sermons, listened to by crowded audiences day after day. Carlstadt and his associates were awed for the time; such images as had not been destroyed were replaced; the Latin service continued to be used, with the omission of the words which designated it a sacrifice; and peace was restored. Luther himself earnestly desired further changes, and especially that the communion service should be in the German tongue; but he would not yield as yet to Carlstadt’s principle of this being essential. “This is carrying the thing too far,” he said; “always new laws always laying down this as a necessity, and that as a sin.”3333   Michelet’s Life, p. 137. Thus the strictly Puritanical spirit was wholly alien to him; he would have nothing of it.

We cannot trace the changing relations which henceforth ensued between Luther and Carlstadt, now in 101fierce opposition, and now in comparative harmony, the latter ever and again returning to Wittenberg to shelter himself behind the good-nature and the really tolerant temper of the reformer. The seeds of fanaticism, which he and the Zwickau preachers had sown, soon began to ripen, and to assume a serious expression. The people, ignorant, oppressed, and unhappy, caught the free doctrines of the new preachers, translated them into the most crude and practical application to their own circumstances, and then proceeded by force of arms to carry them out and assert their rights. The armed peasantry, with Munzer at their head, hold a definite relation to the Zwickau fanaticism and Carlstadt; and yet there were distinct features of a purely political kind in the peasant insurrection, which it would take a long time to unravel. Nothing strikes one more remarkably in reading over the articles of complaint with which they began their movement, than the singularly moderate and sober spirit which characterises them.3434   Michelet’s Life, pp. 161-165. They move our sympathy now, and they moved Luther’s sympathy at the time, notwithstanding all his strong feelings of the duty of submission and of the horrors of insurrection. He is nowhere greater, indeed, than at this great crisis in the history of the Reformation, in the manner in which he threw himself between the opposing parties, and, on the one hand, set before the nobles and princes of Germany the unchristian cruelty of many of their actions; and, on the other hand, warned the peasantry of the disgrace and disaster that would attend the armed assertion of their 102rights. No part of Luther’s conduct was less understood or appreciated at the time. In England, by such men as Sir Thomas More, he was identified with the disorders against which he was struggling so nobly, and which, save for him, might have been tenfold more perilous to the national interests of Germany.

Words of higher wisdom than those by which he sought to restrain the approaching violence it is impossible to conceive. Addressing, in the first instance, the princes and nobles, he warns them that it was their long oppression and exactions that had roused the peasantry beyond endurance. “It is quite clear that we have no one upon earth to thank for all this disorder and insurrection but you yourselves. . . . In your capacity as secular authorities you manifest yourselves the executioners and spoilers of the poor. You sacrifice everything and everybody to your monstrous luxury, to your outrageous pride; and you have continued to do this until the people neither can nor will endure you any longer. . . . It is you, it is your crimes, that God is about to punish. If the peasants, who are now attacking you, are not the ministers of His will, others coming after them will be so. You may beat them, but you will be none the less vanquished. You may crush them to the earth, but God will raise up others in their place. It is His pleasure to strike you, and He will strike you. You fill up the measure of your iniquities by imputing this calamity to the Gospel and to my doctrine. Go on with your calumnies: you will ere long discover their injustice. You refuse to learn from me what is the 103Gospel, what my doctrine; there are others at your door who will teach you what both the one and the other are, in a way very different from mine, if you mend not speedily the error of your ways. Have I not at all times earnestly, zealously, employed myself in recommending to the people obedience to authority, to your authority, even tyrannous as it has been—intolerable as it has been? Who has combated sedition more energetically than I have always done? It is for this that the prophets of murder hate me as bitterly as they do you. You persecuted my Gospel by all the means in your power, yet all the while that Gospel called upon the people to pray for you, and aided you in supporting your tottering authority.”

Then, turning to the peasants, he exhorted them, under all their provocations, to desist from violence. “Nevertheless, though your complaints are just, and your demands reasonable, it behoves you to prosecute these demands with moderation, conscience, and justice. If you act with moderation, conscience, and justice, God will aid you; and even, though subdued for the moment, you will triumph in the end; and those of you who may perish in the struggle will be saved. . . . Put no trust, I pray you, in the prophets of murder, whom Satan has raised up amongst you, and who proceed directly from him, though they sacrilegiously invoke the name of the holy Gospel. They will hate me, I know, for the counsel I give you; they will call me hypocrite, but this I heed not a whit. What I desire is, to save from the anger of God the good and honest among you—I care not for the rest: I heed them not, I fear them not. I know One who 104is stronger than all of them put together, and He tells me, in the 3d Psalm, to do that which I am now doing. You invoke the name of God, and you say that you will act according to His Word. Has not God said, ‘They that take the sword shall perish with the sword'? And St Paul, ‘Render, therefore, honour to whom honour is due’? How can you, after reading these precepts, still pretend that you are acting according to the Gospel? Beware, beware, lest a terrible judgment fall upon you!

“But, say you, authority is wicked, cruel, intolerable; it will not allow us the Gospel; it overwhelms us with burdens beyond all reason or endurance; it ruins us, soul and body. To this I reply, that the wickedness and injustice of authority are no warrant for revolt, seeing that it befits not all men indiscriminately to take upon themselves the punishment of wickedness. Besides which, the natural law says that no man shall be the judge in his own cause, nor revenge his own quarrel. The divine law teaches us the same lesson—‘Vengeance is mine, saith, the Lord; I will repay.’ Your enterprise, therefore, is not only wrong according to Bible and Gospel law, but it is opposed also to natural law and to equity; and you cannot properly persevere in it unless you can prove that you are called to it by a new commandment of God especially directed to you, and confirmed by miracles.”3535   Michelet's Life, pp. 165-180.

These solemn words were no doubt ineffectual, but this was not Luther’s fault. He had done his duty nobly—a duty none the less magnanimous that it 105failed in his object. His mortification and grief at the result were extreme; and if we detect in his final words to the peasants—when they had proved the fruitlessness of their efforts, and the day of sanguinary disaster which he had predicted had. come and gone—a bitterness almost cruel, and a 1iarshness that grates on our feelings, we must remember that he felt most acutely the disgrace which their, movement had brought upon the Reformation. He could not see the fair work of God so marred,—the religious revival, for which he wrought, thrust back and discredited before the world,—without being deeply moved and embittered.

While Luther was thus standing in the breach, in favour of social order, against the peasants, and feeling, in the odium he thereby incurred, that he was no longer the popular chieftain he had been a few years before, he was made, at the same time, somewhat painfully to feel that he was no longer in unison with the mere literary or humanistic party in the Reformation. Erasmus, the recognised head of this party, had long been showing signs of impatience at what he considered to be Luther’s rudeness and violence. He could not sympathise in the intense earnestness of the Wittenberg reformer: the religious zeal, the depth of persuasion, and especially the polemical shape which the latter’s convictions had assumed in his doctrine of grace, were all unintelligible or positively displeasing to him. No two men could be more opposed at once in intellectual aspiration and in moral temper;—Luther aiming at dogmatic certainty in all matters of faith, and filled with an overmastering 106feeling as to the importance of this certainty to the whole religious life, with the most vivid sense of the invisible world touching him at every point, and exciting him now with superstitious fear, and now with the most hilarious confidence;—Erasmus—latitudinarian and philosophical in religious opinion, with a strong perception of both sides of any question, indifferent or at least hopeless as to exact truth, and with a consequently keen dislike of all dogmatic exaggerations, orthodox or otherwise—well informed in theology, but without any very living and powerful faith, cool, cautious, subtle, and refined, more anxious to expose a sophism, or point a barb at some folly, than to fight manfully against error and sin. It was impossible that any hearty harmony could long subsist between two men of such a different spirit, and having such different aims. To do Erasmus justice, it must be remembered that his opposition to the Papacy had never been dogmatic, but merely critical: he desired literary freedom and a certain measure of religious freedom; he hated monkery; but he had no new opinions or “truths” for which to contend earnestly, as for life or death. He was content to accept the Catholic tradition if it would not disturb him; and the Catholic system, with its historic memories and proud associations, was dear to his cultivated imagination and taste. It is needless to blame Erasmus for his moderation; we might as well blame him for not being Luther. He did his own work, just as Luther did his; and while we can never compare his character in depth, and power, and reality of moral greatness with that of the reformer’s, we do not see in 107it the same exaggerations and intolerance that offend many in Luther.

Already, in 1524, Luther felt that there was a breach impending between him and the literary patriarch of the time. He was so far from courting it, however, that he used careful means to avoid it. Nothing but a direct attack of Erasmus would draw him into conflict; he was disposed to overlook the sundry sharp side-blows and cuts which had already come from the keen armoury of Basle, and to let alone for let alone, if the offence were not repeated and aggravated. He acknowledged the services of Erasmus in having contributed to the flourishing rise of letters and the right understanding of Scripture, and he did not expect any further assistance from him in the work of reform. For the Lord had meted out to him in this respect but limited gifts (so Luther said), and had not seen fit to bestow upon him the energy and direction of mind requisite to attack the monsters of the Papacy soundly and boldly. But if this was not the case, let him be entreated to remain at least a silent spectator of the tragedy. “Do not join your forces to our adversaries; publish no books against me, and I will publish none against you.”3636   Briefe, De Wette, vol. ii. p. 500. Such was the strain in which Luther addressed Erasmus in a remarkable letter of this year. We cannot tell how he received the remonstrance. It does not seem particularly calculated, as a whole, to smooth his vanity or stay his hand. At the very moment he was busy with his treatise ‘De Libero Arbitrio,’ and the complacent admonitions of the reformer were not 108likely to deaden any of the glancing thrusts that he was aiming at the Lutheran doctrine of grace. The treatise saw the light in the following year; and Luther, although still disinclined, saw no alternative but to come forward in defence of views which he considered to be identical with the truth of Scripture. In the course of the same year (1525) he published his counter-treatise, ‘De Servo Arbitrio,’ on which he bestowed great pains, and which he was afterwards in the habit of reckoning, along with his Catechism, as among his greatest works.

It would be idle for us to enter into the merits of this controversy, and in truth its merits are no longer to us what they were to the combatants themselves. The course of opinion has altered this as well as many other points of dispute, so that under the same names we no longer really discuss the same things. There are probably none, with any competent knowledge of the subject, who would care any longer to defend the exact position either of Luther or Erasmus. Both are right, and both are wrong. Man is free, and yet grace is needful; and the philosophic refinements of Erasmus, and the wild exaggerations of Luther, have become mere historic dust, which would only raise a cloud by being disturbed. Past polemics on such subjects become through time utterly dead and unmeaning and while we look for a living face in them, we find a mere empty skull—a hollow logical bone-work, from which the spirit has fled long years ago. There is reason to think that the controversy was far from being satisfying to Luther. He gave his adversary, indeed, as good as he got,—admitted his eloquence, but 109ridiculed his arguments, comparing them to “peasecods or waste matter served up in vessels of gold and silver.” His heavy strokes would be felt beneath all the light indifference of the scholar and he was strong in the conscious possession of a deep moral conviction that lay nearer to the truth than any self-assertion of mere Pelagian subtlety but then the torturing dilemmas of his dogmatic position, set in the clear light of common sense, and expounded by his adversary with a far more philosophic comprehension than he himself possessed, drove him into untenable and even unmoral assertions3737   As when speaking of free grace, he says, “It is not even accorded to the ardent zeal of those seeking and following after righteousness.”—De Servo Arbitrio, Opera, vol. iii. p. 225. The whole of this paragraph, and many other expressions of Luther, amply bear out the statement of the text. He speaks, for example, of God by His own will making us necessario damnabiles (p. 171); and again he compares the human will to a “pack-horse now mounted by God, and now mounted by the devil,” driven hither or thither by divine or by satanic agency, irrespective of all moral bias or character in itself (p. 172). This subject has been fully discussed in a polemic between two distinguished men—Sir William Hamilton and Archdeacon Hare. Of the two, the archdeacon shows by far the most true and profound appreciation of Luther as a whole; but in particular instances (as in his paraphrase of one of the above passages) he has failed to defend him successfully against the accusations of Sir W. Hamilton.—assertions which could scarcely have been satisfactory to his own mind at the time, and which, on cool reflection afterwards, must have appeared less and less so. He is said to have consequently never recalled with pleasure the results of the controversy, and never to have forgiven Erasmus for having forced him into it. He spoke of him afterwards as “that amphibolous being sitting calmly and unmoved on the throne of amphibology, while he cheats and deludes us by his 110double meaning, covert phraseology, and claps his hands when he sees us involved in his insidious figures of speech, as a spider rejoices over a captured fly.” This bitter feeling seems to have sprung up towards Erasmus from the determination with which he pursued the subject, and drew out in his cool and sinuous way the moral perplexities involved in Luther’s bold statements. He replied in two treatises under the name of Hyperaspistes, and sought to overwhelm the reformer by ingenious criticism, and exposures of his prolixity and misrepresentations. “That venomous serpent Erasmus,” Luther says in a letter to Spalatin, “has been once more writing against me.” And again, “The treacherous Erasmus has brought forth two books against me, as full of cunning poison as a serpent.” But perhaps the most remarkable evidence of the dislike which he henceforth cherished for his adversary is contained in a letter addressed to his son John: “Erasmus is an enemy to all religion, and a decided adversary to Christ, a counterpart to Epicurus and Lucian. This I, Martin Luther, have written to you, my dear son John, and through you to all my children and the holy Christian church.”3838   Briefe, De Wette, vol. iv. p. 497. The letter is without date.

It was in the same year, and amidst these contentions, that Luther took that step in his life which more than any other, except the affair of the Landgrave of Hesse, has exposed him to animadversion. On Trinity Sunday, the 11th of June (1525), he was married to Catherine von Bora, one of nine nuns who had escaped two years previously from the convent of Nimptsch and taken refuge in Wittenberg. His intention took 111his friends by surprise, and even alarmed Melanchthon to the point of urgent remonstrance. But Luther had made up his mind, after various delays; and although he was concerned at the disapprobation of his old friend, he was not to be moved from his purpose; and Melanchthon, when he saw this, had the good sense to change his tone, and to write to Camerarius in apology of the step. Luther does not lead us to suppose that he was moved to marriage at this time by any strong affection for the object of his choice. “I am not on fire with love,” he said, “but I esteem my wife.” In point of fact, he had originally destined Catherine for some one else, and it was only after this project fell through that he thought of marrying her himself.3939   The story represents Kate herself as rather a mover in the affair. She is said to have sought an interview with Amsdorf, and stated that “she knew Luther was intent on uniting her to Dr Glatz of Orlamunde, but that she would never consent to marry him; she did not like him. She was quite ready to marry Amsdorf or Luther himself, but she would have nothing to say to Dr Glatz.”—Worsley's Life, vol. ii. p. 76. Since the publication of, the first edition, a correspondent has kindly furnished the original authority for this story.
   “Ecce autem dum Lutherus de Catharina à Bora, virgine Vestali Doctori Glacio, Pastori Orlamundico, collocanda deliberat, venit Catharina ad Nicolaum Amsdorffium, conqueriturque; se de consilio Lutheri D. Glacio contra voluntatem suam nuptiis locandam: scire se Lutherum familiarissime uti Amsdorfio: itaque rogare, ad quævis alia consilia Lutherum vocet. Vellet Lutherus, vellet Amsdorfius se paratam cum alterutro honestum inire matrimonium: cum D. Glacio nullo modo.”—Abr. Sculteti Annales Evangelii, &c., ad ann. 1525: decas prima, p. 274.—(Ed. Heidelb., 1618.)
It is difficult, perhaps, to explain all the reasons which influenced. him. He more than once in his letters pleads the advice and desire of his father. He pleads also a sense of duty and obedience to the divine command. “I am 112anxious,” he writes to Amsdorf, “to be myself an example of what I have taught. It is the will of God I follow in this matter.”4040   Briefe, vol. iii. p. 13. Melanchthon, in the letter to Camerarius, to which we have alluded, says somewhat vaguely, “It may seem strange that Luther should marry at such an unpropitious time, when Germany has especial need of his great and noble mind. But I think the case was as follows:—You are aware that Luther is far from being one of those who hate men and fly their society; you know his daily habits, and so you may conjecture the rest. It is not to be wondered at that his generous and great soul was in some way softened.”

It was a sufficiently startling step, no doubt, for a monk to marry a nun in the face of the world—and this, too, when the cause of the Reformation was undergoing its first violent shock in connection with the outbreak of the Zwickau fanatics and the peasants’ insurrection. But when we look at it apart from these incidents, which do not essentially touch the character of the act, however they may affect our judgment of its prudence, it seems as if a very unnecessary noise had been made about the marriage of the reformer. Even if it had been more obviously imprudent than it can be fairly said to be, there is no reason why it should have invoked such harsh and invidious judgments as even Protestant writers, like Sir James Stephen, have passed upon it. If in anything a man is entitled to please himself, it is surely in taking a wife at such a mature age as that which Luther had now reached; and while certain sacred associations were no doubt outraged by 113the step, no true and natural feelings were violated. In so far as the act is to be judged by its consequences, it is well known that it proved of the happiest character. It is impossible to conceive a more simple and beautiful picture of domestic life than in the letters and Table-talk of Luther henceforth. There is a richer charm and tenderness and pathos in his whole existence,—rather enhanced than otherwise by the slight glimpses we get of the fact that Catherine had a spirit and will of her own, and that while she greatly loved and reverenced the Doctor, she nevertheless took her own way in such things as seemed good to her. Some of the names under which he delights to address her seem to point to this little element of imperiousness, though in such a frank and merry way as to show that it was a well understood subject of banter between them, and nothing more. “My Lord Kate,” “My Emperor Kate,” are some of his titles; and again, in a more circumlocutory humour, “For the hands of the rich dame of Zuhlsdorf, Doctoress Catherine Luther:” sometimes simply and familiarly, “Kate my rib.” Nowhere does his genial nature overflow more than in these letters, running riot in all sorts of freakish extravagance, yet everywhere touched with the deep mellow light of a healthy and happy affection. What a pleasant glimpse and sly humour in the following: “In the first year of our marriage my Catherine was wont to seat herself beside me whilst I was studying; and once not having what else to say, she asked me, Sir Doctor! in Russia is not the maître d’hôtel the brother of the Margrave?’” And again, in the last year of his life, and when he is on that journey of friendliness and benevolence from 114which he is never to return to his dear household, the old spirit of wild fun and tender affection survives. He writes to his “heart-loved housewife Catherine Lutherinn, Doctoress Zuhlsdorferess, Sow Marketress, and whatever more she may be, grace and peace in Christ, and my old poor love in the first place.”

Catherine is said by Erasmus to have been very beautiful.4141   “Puellam mire venustam.” If the engraving in Audin’s Life of the Reformer, vol. iii., is to be considered faithful, Catherine can scarcely be said to have deserved the appellation of Erasmus. Any beauty she had must, at least, have been of a very broad, blond, Teutonic cast—the beauty of round, full, and child-like features, rather than of graceful and winning intelligence. Likely enough, however, there is some caricature in the engraving,—so perverse is the dramatic caricature of M. Audin’s touch everywhere throughout his interesting but singularly untruthful history. Her portraits taken by Lucas Cranach represent her with a round full face, straight nose, and full tender eyes. Luther himself was greatly taken by the likeness, and threatened to send it to the Council of Mantua, to see if it would not influence the holy fathers there assembled to determine in favour of the marriage rather than the celibacy of the clergy.

Of this marriage there were born six children to Luther, and his relations to his children open up still deeper veins of love and kindness than any we have contemplated. Especially his eldest son Johnny and his daughter Magdalen seem to have been dear to his heart; and there is nothing more pathetic in any life than his wild yet resigned grief by the deathbed of the latter, who was taken from him in her fourteenth year.” “I love her very dearly,” he cried; “but, dear Lord, since it is Thy will to take her from me, I shall 115gladly know her to be with Thee.” And as he saw her lying in her coffin he said, “Thou darling Lena, how happy art thou now! Thou wilt arise again and shine as a star. I am joyful in the spirit, yet after the flesh I am very sad. How strange it is to know so surely that she is at peace and happy, and yet to be so sad.” “We have ever before us,” again he says, “her features, her words, her gestures, her every action in life, and on her deathbed, my darling, my all-beautiful, all-obedient daughter. Even the death of Christ cannot tear her from my thoughts, as it ought to do.”

The birth of his eldest son was an event of immense interest to the reformer. “I have received,” he writes to Spalatin, “from my most excellent and dearest wife a little Luther, by God’s wonderful mercy. Pray for me that Christ will preserve my child from Satan, who, I know, will try all that he can to harm me in him.”4242   Briefe, vol. iii. p. 116. And then again, in answer to Spalatin’s good wishes, and in reference to his own hopes of the same character, “John, my fawn, together with my doe, return their warm thanks for your kind benediction; and may your doe present you with just such another fawn, on whom I may ask God’s blessing in turn. Amen.”4343   Ibid. p. 119. As the little fellow grows and is about a year old, he writes to Agricola, “My Johnny is lively and strong, and a voracious, bibacious little fellow.”4444   Ibid., p. 173.

It was to this son that he wrote when stationed at Coburg, during the Diet of Augsburg, that most beautiful and touching of all child-letters that ever was written. “Mercy and peace in Christ, my dear little 116son. I am glad to hear that you learn your lessons well and pray diligently. Go on doing so, my child. When I come home I will bring you a pretty fairing. I know a very pretty pleasant garden, and in it there are a great many children, all dressed in little golden coats, picking up nice apples, and pears, and cherries, and plums, under the trees. And they sing and jump about and are very merry; and besides, they have got beautiful little horses with golden bridles and silver saddles. Then I asked the man to whom the garden belonged, whose children they were, and he said, ‘These are children who love to pray and learn their lessons, and do as they are bid;’ then I said, ‘Dear sir, I have a little son called Johnny Luther; may he come into this garden too?’ And the man said, ‘If he loves to pray, and learn his lessons, and is good, he may; and Philip and Joe too.’” And so on in the same tender and beautiful strain, mixing the highest counsel and richest poetry with the most child-like interest. Only a very sound and healthy spirit could have preserved thus fresh and simple the flow of natural feeling amid the hardening contests of the world, and the arid subtleties of theological controversy.

In the year 1527, two years. after his marriage, Luther fell into a dangerous sickness and general depression of spirits, from the latter of which he was only fully aroused by the dangers besetting the German nation, and the very integrity of Christendom itself, by the threatened advance of the Turks. This was in the year 1529—the same year in which, on the invitation of the Landgrave of Hesse, he engaged in his famous conference with Zwingli, Bucer, and 117Œcolampadius at Marburg. The Landgrave, who, whatever may have been his personal failings, was always one of the most warm and zealous, and withal energetic and intelligent, supporters of the Reformation, was hopefully eager of establishing a union between the Swiss and German Reformers. Zwingli and his party shared in his eagerness, and were willing to concede much to Luther if only he would heartily extend to them the right hand of fellowship. In the matter of the sacrament of the Supper, however, Luther was not to be moved. His mind here remained shut against all argument; and although he is supposed to have admitted, under the name of Consubstantiation, a modification of the Catholic tradition, he adhered substantially to that tradition in all its significance to the last: he held to the literal reality of the Divine presence in the Eucharist, and would recognise nothing but rationalism, or, as he called it, mathematics, in the reasonings of Zwingli and his companions.

The conference was held in an inner compartment of the castle of the Landgrave. Many who had come from distances to be present were disappointed in gaining admission. Carlstadt had requested to be allowed to attend, but Luther would on no account consent: lie remembered, no doubt, his interview with him at Jena, and the violence with which he had obtruded upon him his contradictions on this very subject. The Prince opened the audience on the morning of the 2d of October, accompanied by certain of his counsellors and courtiers, and the professors of the University. The numbers who were present vary considerably in the respective accounts—the Swiss say about twenty-118four, the German about fifty. A table covered with a velvet cloth separated the disputants; on the one side of it sat Luther and Melanchthon, on the other Zwingli and Œcolampadius. Before the discussion commenced, Luther is said to have taken a piece of chalk and written in large characters upon the velvet cloth the words, “This is My body”—not a very hopeful beginning!

The chancellor, Feige, on the part of the Prince, exhorted the disputants to approach the subject in a spirit of fairness and moderation. Luther, thereupon, after some preliminary objections to the general views of the Swiss, which were overruled, took up the keynote he had already started, and protested against the views of his opponents on the ground that the words of Scripture were explicit and conclusive, “This is My body.” Œcolampadius urged in reply that these words must be interpreted figuratively, in such a manner as other and corresponding expressions—viz., “I am the door”; “I am the true vine.” Luther admitted the figurative character of the latter expressions, but would not admit that there was an analogy between them and the solemn words he had put forward in the front of the controversy. Then they verged to a prolonged discussion as to the meaning of Christ’s language in the famous sixth chapter of St John’s Gospel. The Swiss divines maintained that the passage, “It is the spirit that quickeneth, the flesh profiteth nothing,” was conclusive against the doctrine of transubstantiation. Luther denied that it applied to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, and besides argued that the flesh did not and could not mean the 119flesh of Christ, but our own flesh. To say that “the flesh of Christ profiteth nothing,” appeared to him blasphemy. Christ Himself said, “His flesh bringeth life”; “but if there be spiritual life in Christ,” it was urged, “what does it matter to eat His flesh?” “That,” Luther replied with heat, “is a rationalistic question; it is enough that the Word of God says so: what the Word states, we are bound to believe without doubt or cavil. The world must obey God’s precepts; we must all obey His Word. Worms, listen! It is your God who speaks!” Zwingli joined in the discussion, and it waxed more vehement. He hinted, not very reverently, that Luther did nothing but repeat the same words; Christ Himself had decisively explained what He meant by His words. “Your language,” Luther retorted, “savours of the camp.”

The announcement of dinner fortunately-interrupted the disputants for the time. After dinner the debate was resumed, and carried on throughout the forenoon and afternoon of the following day. Zwingli became metaphysical and argumentative. “A body,” he said, “cannot be without place; but Christ’s body is in heaven, therefore it cannot be in the bread of the Eucharist.”4545   And yet he elsewhere accuses the Zwinglians of want of logic, which, he says, makes it impossible to convince them; “for one can I neither teach nor dispute without dialectics, and Zwingli knows no more about them than an ass.” Luther was not to be moved from his point by such an argument, although he afterwards acknowledged its force. When pressed by Zwingli’s dialectics, he exclaimed, “I will have nothing to do with your mathematics: God is above mathematics!” 120“The body of Christ,” he held, “was in the bread as the sword in the scabbard, or the Holy Ghost in the dove;” and finally, rising from his seat, he tore the velvet cloth from the table, and held up before the Assembly the large letters, “This is My body,” as an unassailable watchword to be received in evidence of his doctrine by all good Christians.

It was obvious that continued discussion could lead to no good. Luther’s dogmatism was unyielding. All his deepest feelings, as well as his theological reputation, were involved in his maintaining his ground. He had taken his stand, as he supposed, upon the Word of God, and nothing should make him swerve from that. It was proposed by the Landgrave that the conference should terminate by a declaration from both sides that, although they disagreed in this particular, they concurred in the essentials of faith, and recognised each other as Christian brethren. The Zwinglian party eagerly embraced the proposal; but Luther hesitated: he would not acknowledge a hearty brotherhood where there were variances on so vital a point as the Sacrament of the Altar. Zwingli was affected to tears by this coldness. Luther said, “We cannot accept you as brethren, but we are willing to hold out to you the hand of charity.” The warmheartedness of the Swiss responded cordially even to this offer, and the conference terminated with apparent good-will and commendatory prayers on both sides.

Upon the whole, Luther appears nowhere less admirable than in this famous conference—not, indeed, for the opinion which he defended, but for the irate 121and dogmatic spirit in which he defended it. He kept ever singing the same song, as Zwingli said, “This is My body.” His tone was very unreasoning and arbitrary, and there is scarcely any absurdity that might not be based on Scripture in the manner in which he used it, and considered it enough to use it, on this occasion. There is something, moreover, painful and unworthy of him in the terms in which he characterised the Swiss divines in his letters,4646   Briefe, vol. pp. 216-513; vol. iv. pp. 28, 29. and in the unbending, unkindly temper in which he met the warmly proffered friendship of Zwingli. The character of the latter—frank, gallant, fearless,—a soldier-reformer, with his Greek Testament, and nothing else, in his hand—appears in a far higher light throughout the debate. But he and Luther never could understand one another; and when, in the end of this very year, the German heard of the death of the brave Swiss on the sanguinary field of Cappel, fighting for the liberties of his country, there is. no sympathy, but a grating harshness, in the tone in which he received the sad news. The Marburg Conference, however, was not without some friendly and conciliatory results even in matters of doctrine, as the fourteen articles, which were at length signed on both sides, testify. It did not serve to unite Luther and the Swiss more cordially, for he continued to write with an increasing vehemence against them;4747   His well-known and often-quoted saying sufficiently shows the intense dislike with which he continued to regard them,—“Happy is the man who has not been of the Council of the Sacramentarians; who has not walked in the ways of the Zwinglians.” 122but it served to show, in all things save that of the Eucharist, a substantial unity of doctrine in the two great branches of the Reformation, meeting locally together at so many points.

In the following year we find Luther at Coburg during the memorable meeting of the Diet at Augsburg. The reformer had proposed to attend the Diet in company with the Elector, but a letter met them at Coburg intimating that the ban of the Empire was still in force against him, and it was therefore wisely resolved that he should not make his appearance at the Diet, but leave the conduct of affairs in this great crisis to Melanchthon, whose more courtly manner and cooler judgment were in any case supposed to be more fit for bringing the pending negotiations to some favourable termination. Luther, however, removed to Coburg to be conveniently at hand for consultation; and, secure in the strong fortress of the Elector there, he abandoned himself to a most joyful interest in nature, and a variety of literary studies, while the news of the Diet floated to his solitude; and, in return, he counselled, encouraged, and warned Melanchthon. On the 22d of April he writes: “I have at length arrived at my Sinai, dear Philip; put of this Sinai I will make a Sion: I will raise thereon three tabernacles—one to the Psalmist, one to the Prophets, and one to Esop. It is truly a pleasant place, and most agreeable for study, unless your absence saddens me. . . . I reside in a vast abode which overlooks the castle; I have the key of all its apartments. There are about thirty persons together, of whom twelve are watchers by night, and two sentinels 123besides, who are constantly posted on the castle heights.”4848   Briefe, vol. iv. pp. 2, 3. On the 29th of June, while matters are proceeding, and Melanchthon writes complaining of his difficulties, he replies, “To-day your last news has reached me, in which you advise me of your labours, your dangers, your tears, as if I were ignorant of these things, or sat in a bed of roses, and bore no part of your cares. Would to God my cause were such as admitted of tears!”4949   Ibid., p. 52. When he hears of the Confession being read in open Diet, he is in great spirits; but the fears and anxieties of Melanchthon, who desired not merely to maintain the reformed doctrines, but to effect a reconciliation with the Romanists, speedily bring disquiet to him. He fell back upon that in which he was always stronger than Melanchthon—Faith. “Our cause is deposited,” he said, “in a commonplace not to be found in your book, Philip; that commonplace is Faith.” And in the same grand strain he wrote to the chancellor, Bruck: “I was lately looking out of my window, when I beheld two wonderful sights. First, I saw the stars and God’s fair bright firmament, but nowhere any pillars on which the Master-builder had poised this lofty frame; yet the heavens did not fall in, and the firmament stood quite fast. But there are some who search for such pillars, and would anxiously grasp and feel them, and because they cannot do this, fear and tremble lest the heavens should fall. The other spectacle I saw was a great dense cloud floating over us, so charged and burdened that it might be likened to a mighty sea, and yet I could perceive nothing on which it 124rested, no coffer in which it was enclosed and yet it fell not, but, greeting us with a black frown, passed on. When it had passed, a rainbow appeared—a weak, thin, and slight bow, which soon vanished into the clouds. Now, there are some who think more of the dense cloud than of the dim and slender bow, and are in great terror lest the clouds should pour down an eternal deluge. . . . I write to your worship in this familiar yet serious style, because I rejoice to hear that your courage has not failed. Our rainbow, indeed, appears a frail hope on which to rest, and their clouds are dark and lowering; but in the end it will be seen who will gain the victory.”5050   Briefe, vol. iv. pp. 128, 129.

In this confident manner Luther encouraged his friends, and feared for himself no evil. It is a grand and heroic spectacle this solitary man in the old fortress of Coburg, looking out upon nature and the world with such a calm clear trust in God, interested in the proceedings at Augsburg, yet feeling, with the fulness of a living faith, how much greater was Providence than the negotiations of princes,—and with what mysterious safety the wheels of the world’s progress were revolving, whatever the poor pride of man might counsel or devise. The jackdaws and rooks, as they convened in circling crowds in front of his window, seemed to him not an unfitting emblem of the “magnanimous kings, dukes, and nobles,” consulting over the affairs of the realm at Augsburg. As he watched their movements, and saw them “flap their wings and strut with mimic majesty, not clad in royal attire, but glossy black or 125dark grey, having eyes of ashy paleness, and singing the same unvarying song, diversified only by the weaker tones or more discordant notes of the young or inexperienced,” he thought of the great princes and lords busying themselves with pompous and weak inconsequence over the movements of the world, which they vainly imagined within their control. The fresh and living glance with which he looked from his high and lonely windows upon the heavens above, and the joyous creatures of nature around, compare well with the hesitations and uncertainties which marked the proceedings at Augsburg, even on the part of his friends.

The result justified the confidence of Luther. Melanchthon, both from natural timidity and an ardent love of peace, would have made too many concessions—concessions which in the end would not have proved effectual. The favourable reception which his Confession at first met with, had encouraged not only him but Jonas and others to believe that a modus vivendi might be found between the Lutherans and the adherents of the Papacy within the Empire. “Christ,” cried Jonas, “is in the Diet, and He does not keep silence; the Word of God is indeed not to be bound.” For a moment even Luther seemed to see a prospect of conciliation, and in his enthusiasm wrote a letter of entreaty to Cardinal Albert. “Do not let us fall out. Do not let us ruin Germany. Let there be liberty of conscience, and let us save our fatherland.” But when it was proposed to unite, at the sacrifice of the truth, and even to grant the supremacy of the Pope (for so far was Melanchthon disposed to yield), 126Luther’s heart rose high within him, and he would brook no such policy. “You have begun a marvellous work,” he wrote to his friend, “to make Luther and the Pope agree together; but the Pope will say that he will not, and Luther begs to be excused. Take care. Your negotiations have no chance of success unless the Pope renounces Papacy.” The demands of the Romanists increased with Melanchthon’s concessions, until at length even he would go no farther. He shrank from all acknowledgment of private masses, auricular confession, and the merit of good works. The negotiations came to an end. Threats were made, and the imperial troops called within the free city of Augsburg; but Luther cried from his watch-tower, “Threats will not kill. There will be no war.” His friends escaped, all hope of reconciliation terminated, and threatening as the danger seemed, it passed away. The truth was, as Luther saw, that the Emperor was in no position to make war upon the Protestant princes. The Turks were hovering on the borders of the Empire. Henry VIII. of England and Francis were in alliance, watching their opportunity of breaking down Charles’s power. The Emperor, and even his brother Ferdinand of Austria, acknowledged the difficulties of the crisis, and the political compromise was allowed to remain as it was.

The Diet at Augsburg marks a turning-point in the history of the Reformation and in the career of the reformer. The Confession then presented by Melanchthon, known as the Confessio Augustana, remains the great dogmatic monument of German Protestantism. It is rightly associated with the name of 127Melanchthon, who digested its contents into their final form but the substance of the articles was Luther’s. He had written them on various occasions, and they embraced all the main points of his theology, positive and negative, from the doctrine of the Trinity to his disavowal of the special tenets of Romanism. The first part enumerates the “chief articles of faith” held by the princes and churches that had embraced the Reformation—twenty-one articles in all, stated with clearness, brevity, and moderation. The second part, under the distinct heading of “Articles in which are recounted the abuses which have been changed or corrected,” extends to only seven articles—the Lord’s Supper, the marriage of priests, the sacrifice of the mass, auricular confession, fasts and traditions, monastic vows, ecclesiastical power—points all of which had called forth the reformer’s polemical energy, and which are accordingly stated with much more detail and amplitude. They occupy more than double the space of the preceding articles.

But it is not only as marking definitely the dogmatic significance of the Reformation that the Diet of Augsburg is important. It marks also a significant political epoch. In the Preface to the Confession, addressed to the Emperor, attention is specially called to the two preceding Diets at Spires, in 1526 and 1529, when the Protestant States rightly believed they had gained a definite standing-ground from which they could not be fairly displaced. At the former of these Diets the Emperor had specially conceded that the matters in dispute were beyond his own jurisdiction. He was neither willing nor able to 128conclude anything touching them, but to endeavour to obtain the sanction of the Roman Pontiff to the assembly of a General Council; “every State in the meantime to live, rule, and bear itself, as it shall be ready to answer for to God and his Imperial Majesty.” The same promise of a General Council had been repeated at the second Diet of Spires, held only the year before, notwithstanding that the Emperor was then in a far less tolerant humour, and disposed to abrogate the Act of Toleration passed in 1526. A majority of the Diet in fact virtually did this, by falling back upon the Edict of Worms, and proposing its enforcement wherever it was practicable. It was then that the minority prepared the famous Protest, from which the name Protestant has come. “The Diet has overstepped its authority,” they said; “our acquired right is that the Decree of 1526, unanimously adopted, remain in force until a Council can be convened. Up to this time the Decree has maintained the peace, and we protest against its abrogation.” At the Augsburg Diet the same ground was taken up, and the same protest renewed. “To the convention of a General Council, as also to your Imperial Majesty, we have, in the due method and legal form, before made our protestations and appeal in this greatest and gravest of matters. To which appeal, both to your Imperial Majesty and a Council, we still adhere; nor do we intend, nor would it be possible for us to forsake it, unless the matter between us and the other party should, in accordance with the latest Imperial citation, be composed, settled, and brought to Christian concord in friendship and love; 129concerning which appeal we here also make our solemn and public protest.”

From this point, accordingly, the political attitude of the Protestant States was really changed. They were already banded together in their defence before the league of Schmalkald united them. The religious difference had merged into a difference in the great political body of which they were members. So long as the head of the empire held the balance between the Pope and the insurgent States, some compromise seemed possible, but now that he had entered into affiance with Rome, they were threatened with exclusion not only from the Catholic Church but from the Public Peace, as the shelter of the Empire was called. The crisis in every respect was a grave one; and it bespeaks much for the courage of the protesting minority that they resolved to face it, and “never to abandon the religious position which they had taken up, and the importance of which filled their whole souls.”5151   Ranke, vol. iii. p. 336. It was in the last days of the same memorable year that John of Saxony, Ernest of Lüneburg, Philip of Hesse, Wolfgang of Anhalt, the Counts of Gebhard and Albrecht of Mansfeld, and delegates from George of Brandenburg and several cities, assembled at Schmalkald, and, amidst the severities of winter, entered into the great league which bound them to support one another in the event of any hostile movement of the Emperor. Happily, any such movement was thwarted by another Turkish invasion, which divided the attention of Charles, and, with other causes, gave peace during the remainder of Luther’s life. The civil war, 130however, came at last, and in the most terrible form, and no country ever paid more dearly than Germany for religious freedom.

It was some dim forethought of all this that changed Luther much during the last sixteen years of his life. Courageous against the Pope and the devil, he shrunk now again, as in the time of the peasants’ war, from all civil commotion. To his simple German heart the empire was a sacred reality, far more sacred than the Pope. He could only contemplate with the utmost reluctance any alliance against the imperial power. From this time, therefore, Luther is found comparatively withdrawn from public life. He is no longer leader of the movement in the sense in which he has hitherto stood forth as its public champion on all occasions. He seems to have felt that his part of the work was done. He lacked sympathy, unhappily, with both the political and Zwinglian side of the Reformation, which called forth the strong interest of Philip of Hesse and others. He stood aloof from further projects of reform, and the conservative elements of his large and many-sided nature gathered force with advancing years. The wild excitements of the times—the terrifying advance of the Turks, and the dreadful excesses of the Anabaptists, which broke out afresh in the north, under the leadership of John of Leyden—all tended to moderate and somewhat sadden his spirit. To crown all, the affair of the Landgrave of Hesse, who married, in 1536, a second wife while his first was still living, proved to him, as to Melanchthon (whom it nearly killed), a dark and humiliating trial, and left, as his letters show, a 131gloomy shadow on his temper and the prospects of the cause so dear to him. “Who is not now ruffled by the folly of Luther?” he wrote, in bitterness of spirit, to a friend who asked him to be present at his marriage, while excusing his absence.

There were special causes, also, in his own immediate experience, during the year which followed the Diet of Augsburg, which gave a pensive cast to his life. His dear and illustrious friend, the Archduke John, died in the autumn of 1532. Luther and Melanchthon were suddenly summoned to his bedside, but he was unconscious before they arrived. Luther preached his funeral sermon at Wittenberg, as, seven years before, he had performed the same office for his brother, and, according to Spalatin, was deeply moved and wept as a child. The good Archduke had stood firm in the great cause in the hour of danger, and well earned for himself the epithet of “Steadfast.” The reformer traced in his character, above all, the simple attributes of piety and goodness, as in his brother those of wisdom and understanding. “Had these qualities only been united in one person,” he said, “it would have been a miracle.” Along with such changes, Luther felt in himself a growing sense of old age and weakness. He complained in his letters of dizziness and unfitness for his work in the morning. “I am become so useless,” he says, “that I hate myself. I hardly know how the time passes, and I do so little. I am dying slowly, not of years, but of decay of strength.” His physical suffering culminated in a serious attack of illness at Schmalkald in 1537. He had come there on one of the many projects of a union among all 132Protestants which occupied these years. He had preached a powerful sermon, “not so much speaking as thundering from heaven in the name of Christ,” and immediately afterwards he was seized with violent pain. Physicians were called from Erfurt to attend him; but he disliked doctors, and they did him no good. He could find no relief, and his body swelled till he thought his end was at hand. “They made me drink,” he afterwards said, “as if I was a great ox.” In immediate prospect of death, he cried to God—"I die a foe of Thy foes, under the curse and ban of Thine enemy, the Pope. May he too die under Thy ban, and we both appear before Thy judgment seat.” The young Elector, son of the good John, stood by his bedside, lamenting that God would take away with him his dear Word. Luther quieted him with the assurance that God would raise up many true men to defend the good cause, and committed to him the care of his wife and children. As Melanchthon began to weep, he could not restrain some of his old humour, reminding him of a saying of one of their friends, that there was no art required in drinking good beer, but only beer that was sour; and recalling to him the words of Job, “‘Have we received good from the Lord, and shall we not also accept evil.’ The wicked Jews had stoned the holy Stephen, but his stone, the villain, was stoning him” (Ihn steinige sein Stein, der bösewicht). He never lost his confidence in God, to whom he repeatedly committed his soul. At length, as none of the physicians of Schmalkald did him any good, they resolved to remove him to Coburg; and, happily, on the way thither, the rough jolting in the 133carriage which conveyed him did for him what medical skill had failed to do. He obtained relief, and immediately felt his whole body lightened, and was filled with thankful joy. “I was dead,” he wrote at once to his wife, “and had committed you and the dear children to God, but He has had compassion upon me for your sakes.”

If these latter years of Luther’s life are comparatively deficient in stirring incident, they enable us to see the man in his home-life, among his friends and his children, more clearly than in previous years. They were years also of good, if less notable, work. Although the higher projects, which he never cherished with much confidence, of formal union among the branches of the Reformation, miscarried or never came to anything, the time was, upon the whole, a prosperous one for that branch of the Church in which he was specially interested. In the face of the dangers threatening his own power, and even Christendom, Charles recognised the necessity of keeping peace with his Protestant subjects. The truce of Nuremberg followed the league of Schmalkald, and the Protestant states rested from their fears, and rapidly grew in numbers. Würtemburg became genuinely Protestant. Even the Elector-Archbishop of Cologne inclined to the new movement and the apprehension of such a defection, amidst his other difficulties, was enough to keep Charles in check. Luther was satisfied with the progress he had made. He continued his labours at Wittenberg, publishing various expositions or lectures on portions of Scripture, particularly on the Epistle to the Galatians and the Psalms of Degrees. 134As already mentioned, he had the joy of seeing, in 1534, the first entire translation of the Old as well as the New Testament made public, and a new edition of the Wittenberg Hymn-book appeared in the following year. His weapons of controversy against both Roman Catholics and Zwinglians were not stayed but controversy formed a far less important element of his life. He lived happily with his wife and children in the old cloister on the banks of the Elbe, which had been his first lodging when he came from Erfurt. His salary was not large, but many presents were sent to him, not only by the Elector, but by the free cities, and men of all lands looked to him with respect and admiration. He was able at last to buy a small house in the country and farm, which his “heartily beloved housewife Catherine, Lady Luther, Lady Doctor, Lady Zuhlsdorf, Lady of the. Pigmarket, and whatever else she may be,” managed for him with much thrift and profit. He was never tired of commending matrimony and its blessings. “The state of matrimony,” he says, “is the chief in the world after religion.” Again, “How great, how rich, and how noble are the blessings God gives in marriage! what a joy is bestowed on man through his children—the fairest and sweetest of all joys.” “God’s best gift is a pious, cheerful, God-fearing, home-keeping wife, to whom you can trust your goods and body and life.” Like all large-hearted men, he was never so happy as when in his country home, surrounded by his family. He wrote to Spalatin with delighted enthusiasm of his garden and his fountain, his lilies and roses. As, one day, his children were standing round the table, 135looking eagerly at the grapes and peaches on it, he said, “He who would know what it is to rejoice in hope, may see a perfect counterpart of it here.” Everything in nature charmed his imaginative sense, and brought out the poetry as well as the piety of his life. When, one day, two birds kept flying into his garden, where they had made a nest, but were repeatedly scared away by the steps of passers-by, he exclaimed, “Oh you dear little birds, do not fly away; I mean you well, from the bottom of my heart, if you could but believe it. Just so do we refuse to trust and believe in our Lord God, who yet means us and shows us all kindness.”

We have already described his deep affection for his children. He remembered, perhaps, the hardness of his own youth, and the occasional severity of his father, and he resolved to make his own home bright, sunny, and cheerful, full of satirical frolic and unfailing gentleness and love. “Natural merriment,” he said, “is the best food for children.” He would joke with his well-beloved Catherine over her thrifty carefulness, calling her a “Martha” more than a “Mary,” and quietly touching, with a tender stroke, her love of profit and business. Yet he prized her worth above all price—“more highly than the kingdom of France or the empire of the Venetians,” as he phrased it. “Everywhere among married people he heard of much greater faults and failings than any she had.” “She is more to me than I dared to hope, thanks be to God.”

These latter years also are the years of the ‘Tischreden’ or ‘Table-Talk,’ which bring us so near to him in 136his familiar thoughts. He was open-handed in his hospitality, and his table was always furnished for friends and guests as well as the members of his own family. Never man had more numerous and warm-hearted friends—some who had struggled with him from the beginning in “the good cause,” and younger disciples who gathered round him with admiring veneration in his later years, who came to listen to his talk, and take notes of the many wise and racy sayings that dropped from his lips. It is to the notes of two of these younger friends that we owe the remarkable volume of ‘Table-Talk’5252    Anthony Lauterbach and John Aurifaber. which has done more than any of his works to make his name known, not merely as a theologian but as a humourist and close observer of man and nature. It reveals more than all else the dramatic breadth of his intellect, his hearty interest in life, and wise, pathetic, and droll insight into its heroisms and follies. It is stamped with genius throughout, and retains its vivacity and readableness when so much that he has written remains covered with the dust of centuries, untouched save by the student of polemical theology. In this volume, more than in any other, the German people of divers kinds have found a point of sympathy with his life, its poetry and music, its affection and free-heartedness, its deep piety and earnest aspiration. His reporters have been too indiscriminate in their notes, as he himself told them they, were. They beset him too closely, not merely at his table, but on his walks, and in the discharge of his duties. “They were with him,” it is said, “at his down-sitting and uprising; they looked over his shoulder as he read 137or wrote his letters: did he utter an exclamation of pain or of pleasure, of joy or of sorrow, down it went; did he aspirate a thought above breath, it was caught by the intent ear of one or other of the listeners.” But if they have added some crude pieces to the heap of his sayings, and filled the volume here and there with repetitory notes, it has also given freshness and genuineness to them, and served to bring out his intellect and character in vivid mass, with something of the natural bulk and fulness with which Cranach has presented his person in his well-known portrait of Luther standing with the Bible in his hands.

The first edition of the ‘Tischreden’ was published twenty years after his death—in 1566—and successive editions were immediately called for. It has been partially translated in our own language, among others by William Hazlitt;5353   Mr Froude, in his recent papers in the Contemporary Review, founded on Julius Köstlin’s life, and since republished as “a short biography” of Luther, has translated some of the most characteristic sayings of the ‘Tischreden.’ and some of its best sayings have been widely circulated. It will interest our readers, however, and serve to vivify our sketch, to present a brief selection. His simple faith; his hatred of the Pope and of all lies; his high estimate of his friend and fellow-labourer, Melanchthon; his dislike of Erasmus; his love of nature, birds, and children; his humorous sense, as he looked abroad upon life in all its civil and domestic aspects,—all appear in rich and unguarded language, here and there touched with exaggeration, such as naturally 138falls from a great mind freely ranging over many topics. A great proportion of the Table-Talk sayings are of course theological, and we may begin with these. As might be expected, he exalts greatly Holy Scripture. “Homer, Virgil, and other noble and profitable writers,” he says, “have left us books of great antiquity, but they are nothing to the Bible. The books of the heathen contemplate only the present. Look not therein for aught of trust or hope in God. But see how the Psalms and the Book of Job treat of faith, hope, resignation, and prayer,—in a word, the Holy Scripture is the highest and best of books, abounding in comfort under all afflictions and trials. It teaches us to see, to feel, to grasp, and to comprehend faith, hope, and charity far otherwise than mere human reason can; and when evil oppresses us, it teaches us how these writers threw light upon the darkness, and how, after this poor miserable existence of ours on earth, there is another and eternal life. . . . A theologian should be thoroughly in possession of the basis and source of faith—that is to say, the Holy Scriptures. . . . He who wholly possesses the text of the Bible is a consummate divine. . . . Let us not lose the Bible, but with diligence, in fear and invocation of God, read and preach it. While that remains and flourishes all will be well with the state; ‘tis head and empress of all arts and faculties. Let but divinity fall, and I would not give a straw for the rest.”

“The School Divines, with their speculations in Holy Writ, deal in pure vanities. Bonaventura, who is full of them, made me almost deaf. I sought to learn in his book how God and my soul had become 139reconciled, but got no information from him. They talk much of the union of the soul and the understanding, but ‘tis all idle fantasy. The right practical divinity is this—Believe in Christ, and do thy duty in that state of life to which God has called thee.”

“I have grounded my preaching on the Divine Word. Although I am an old doctor of divinity, to this day I have not got beyond the children’s learning—the Ten Commandments, the Creed, and the Lord’s Prayer; and these I understand not so well as I should, though I study them daily, praying with my son John and my daughter Magdalene.”

“Forsheim said that the first of the five books of Moses was not written by Moses himself. Dr Luther replied, What matters it even though Moses did not write it?”

We have spoken of his high esteem of Melanchthon. His admiration of him as a theologian never failed, even when he deplored his lack of faith and courage. Every student of theology, he said, should read over and over again Melanchthon’s ‘Loci Communes’ “until he has it by heart. Once master of these two volumes, he may be regarded as a theologian whom neither devil nor heretic can overcome. Afterwards he may study Melanchthon’s ‘Commentary on the Romans,’ and mine on Deuteronomy and the Galatians.”

Again, “we possess no body of Christian theology like Melanchthon’s ‘Commonplace Book.’” “All the fathers, all the compilers of sentences, are not to be compared with this book. ’Tis, after the Scriptures, the most perfect of works.”


There is at times a harshness in his ready and emphatic speech, as when he pronounced the Epistle of St James to be a “strawy epistle” and in such a sentence as the following. “When one asked where God was before heaven was created, St Augustine answered: He was in Himself. When another asked me the same question, I said: He was building hell for such idle, presumptuous, flattering, and inquisitive spirits like you. . . . How should God deal with us? Good days we cannot bear, evil we cannot endure. Gives He riches unto us? then are we proud so that no man can live by us in peace; nay, we will be carried upon head and shoulders, and will be adored as gods. Gives He poverty unto us? then are we dismayed, impatient, and murmur against Him. Therefore nothing were better for us than forthwith to be covered with the shovel.

“Since God knew, said some one, that man would not continue in a state of innocence, why did He create him at all? ‘Be sure,’ Dr Luther said, laughing in reply, ‘God knew quite well what He is about. Let us keep clear of such abstract questions, and consider the will of God as it has been revealed to us.”

“God only, and not wealth, maintains the world; yet is the world so mad that it sets on riches all its joy and felicity.”

“There is no greater anger than when God is silent and talks not with us, but suffers us to go on in our sinful works, and to do all things according to our own passions and pleasures.”

“Melanchthon asked Luther if this word ‘hardened,’ ‘hardeneth whom He will,’ were to be understood 141directly as it sounded, or in a figurative sense. Luther answered, ‘We must understand it specially, and not operatively; for God works no evil. Through His almighty power He works all in all; and as He finds a man, so He works in him, as He did in Pharaoh, who was evil by nature, which was not God’s but his own fault.”

“Christ lived three-and-thirty years, and went up thrice every year to Jerusalem—making ninety-nine times He went thither. If the Pope could show that Christ had been but once at Rome, what a bragging and boasting would he make! Yet Jerusalem was destroyed to the ground.”

“When Jesus was born, doubtless he cried and wept like other children, and his mother tended him as other mothers tend their children. As he grew up he was submissive to his parents, and waited on them, and carried his supposed father’s dinner to him; and when he came back, Mary no doubt often said, ‘My dear little Jesus, where halt thou been?’ He that takes no offence at the simple, lowly, and mean life of Christ is endowed with high divine art and wisdom—yea, has a special gift of God in the Holy Ghost.”

“We cannot vex the devil more than by teaching, preaching, singing, and talking of Jesus. Therefore I like it well when, with sounding voice, we sing in the church, ‘Et homo factus est; et verbum caro factum est.’ The devil cannot endure those words, and flies away.”

“I expect more goodness from Kate my wife, from Philip Melanchthon, and from other friends, than 142from my sweet and blessed Saviour Christ Jesus; and yet I know for certain that neither she nor any other person on earth will or can suffer that for me which He has suffered. Why, then, should I be afraid of Him? This very foolish weakness grieves me much.”

“When Jesus Christ utters a word, He opens His mouth so wide that it embraces all heaven and earth, even though that word be but a whisper. The word of the emperor is powerful, but that of Jesus Christ governs the whole universe.”

Luther’s powers as a preacher were universally recognised. God gave especially to him the word of power to the God-fearing and the ungodly alike. He was once reproached by a popish priest because he reproached the people with such passion and vehemence. He answered: “Our Lord God must first send a sharp pouring shower with thunder and lightning, and afterwards cause it mildly to rain, as then it wets finely through. I can easily cut a willow or a hazel wand with my trencher-knife; but for a hard oak a man must use the axe, and little enough to fell and cleave it.”

He gives many excellent advices as to preaching; as for example—

“I would not have preachers torment their hearers and detain them with long and tedious preaching, for the delight of hearing vanishes therewith, and the preachers hurt themselves. . . . But to speak deliberately becomes a preacher, for thereby he may the more effectually and impressively deliver his sermons. Seneca writes of Cicero that he spake deliberately from the heart. . . . We ought to direct ourselves 143in preaching according to the condition of the hearers; but most preachers commonly fail herein: they preach that which little edifies the poor simple people. To preach plainly and simply is a great art.”

“The defects of a preacher are soon spied. Dr Justus Jonas has all the good virtues and qualities a man may have; yet merely because he hums and spits, the people cannot bear that good and honest man.”

“Luther’s wife said to him, Sir, I heard your cousin John Palmer preach this afternoon in the parish church, whom I understood better than Dr Pommer, though the Doctor is held to be a very excellent preacher. Luther answered, John Palmer preached as ye women use to talk—for what comes into your minds ye speak. A preacher ought to remain by the text and deliver that which he has before him, to the end people may well understand it. But a preacher that will speak everything that comes in his mind is like a maid that goes to market, and meeting another maid, makes a stand, and they hold together a goose-market.”

“A preacher must be both soldier and shepherd. He must nourish, defend, and teach; he must have teeth in his mouth, and be able to bite and to fight. There are many talking preachers, but there is nothing in them save words. They can talk much, but teach nothing rightly.”

“I would not have preachers in their sermons use Hebrew, Greek, or foreign languages, for in the church we ought to speak as we are wont to do at home—the plain mother-tongue. . . . To be condemned are all preachers who aim at high and hard 144things. When I preach I sink myself down. I regard neither doctors nor magistrates—but the multitude of young people, children, and servants, of whom are more than two thousand. Will not the rest hear me? The door stands open, they may be gone. . . . When preachers come to me, as Melanchthon and Dr Pommer, let them show their cunning, how learned they be. They shall be well put to their trumps. But to sprinkle Hebrew and Greek in their public sermons savours much of show, according with neither time or place.”

“I have more than once heard him say at table,” Mathesius says, “how that in the Schools it was proper to dispute and bring forward acute arguments to confute the adversaries; but that in the pulpit those are the best preachers who discourse in a childlike, ordinary, simple style, intelligible to the common people.”

We have already spoken of Luther’s view of the devil. Whatever Luther learned to doubt of the medieval theology, he certainly retained its strong faith in the existence and constant work of an evil personality fighting against God and the kingdom of God. This persuasion made him also believe in witchcraft, with its attendant horrors. He was in many ways the child of his time, much as he rose above it in some things. “I should have no compassion on these witches,” he says. “I would burn all of them.” “Witchcraft is the devil’s own work.” “The devil is so crafty a spirit that he can ape and deceive our senses. He can cause one to think he sees something which he sees not; that he hears thunders or a trumpet 145which he hears not.” “When I could not be rid of the devil with sentences out of Holy Scripture, I made him often fly with jeering words. Sometimes I said to him, Saint Satan! if Christ’s blood which was shed for my sins be not sufficient, then I desire that thou wouldst pray to God for me.”

In contrast with such superstitions, which plainly tended to darken the Reformer’s views of life, and even to degrade his conception of Christianity, may be placed his keen love of nature, of music, and all the brighter aspects of social fellowship. He not only delighted in nature, but he was almost scientifically observant of its phenomena—their beautiful order, their ministries of service. “God’s power and wisdom,” he says, “are shown in the smallest flowers. Painters cannot rival their colour, nor perfumers their sweetness: green and yellow, crimson and blue and purple, all growing out of the earth. And we do not know how to use them to God’s honour. We trample on lilies as if we were so many cows.” “Could a man make a single rose we should give him an empire; but these beautiful gifts of God come freely to us, and we think nothing of them. The most precious of things is nothing, if it be only common.”

In the spring time his heart rose to God in grateful joy as he saw the green life again appearing on the earth. “Praise be to God the Creator, that now in this time of Lent out of dead wood makes all alive again. Look at that bough, as if it were with child, and full of young things coming to the birth. It is a figure of our faith: winter is death, summer is the resurrection.”


“Look at a pair of birds,” he said; “they build a neat little nest and drop their eggs on it, and sit on them. Then come the chicks. There is the creature rolled up inside the shell. If we had never seen such a thing before, and an egg was brought from Calicut, we should be all wondering and crying out. Philosophers cannot explain how the chick was made. God spake and it was done. He commanded and so it was.”

Of music he often spoke. “I always loved music,” he said; “whoso has skill in that art is of a good temperament fitted for all things. We must teach music in schools; a schoolmaster ought to have skill in music. Neither should we ordain young men as preachers, unless they have been well exercised in music. Music is one of the best of arts; the notes give life to the text; it expels melancholy, as we see in King Saul. Satan hates music, because it drives away evil thoughts. We read in the Bible that the good and godly kings maintained and paid singers. Music is the best solace for a sad and sorrowful mind; by it the heart is refreshed and settled again in peace. It is a discipline too; for it softens us, and makes us temperate and reasonable. I have no pleasure in any man who, like the fanatics, despises music. It is a gift from God to drive away the devil, and make us forget our anger, and impurity, and pride, and evil tempers. I place music next to theology. I can see why David and all the saints put their choicest thoughts into song.”

There are many miscellaneous sayings in the ‘Table-Talk’ of great value—many serious thoughts and many 147wise and merry sayings. All who would know Luther must study them, and see how much more than a mere ecclesiastic or theologian he was,—how he had in him the elements of a great statesman and “dramatist,” as Mr Froude says, as well as of a large-minded Christian thinker. This latter he was too; yet clearness and rationality of thought were by no means his most characteristic powers. He was stronger in his estimates of men and religion in the concrete, as represented in the family, in society, and in the Church, than he was in any mere abstract questions. In pure thinking the medieval trappings of his mind clung to him more closely than when he looked with broad open eyes at life, and the necessities whether of political or Christian society. War he hated, although he did not shrink from it when inevitable in the interests of civil order or the defence of Christendom. “War,” he said, “is one of the greatest plagues that can afflict humanity; it destroys religion, it destroys states, it destroys families. Any scourge, in fact, is preferable to it. Famine and pestilence become as nothing in comparison with it. Pestilence is the least evil of the three, and ’twas therefore David chose it, willing rather to fall into the hands of God than into those of pitiless man.” While detesting war, he loved and admired soldiers. “A great soldier is the man; he has not many words; he knows what men are, and holds his tongue; but when he does speak, he acts also. A real hero does not go about his work with vain imagination. . . . A valiant and brave soldier seeks rather to preserve one citizen than to destroy a thousand enemies. He begins not a war lightly or without 148an urgent cause. . . . Certain ages seem more fruitful in great men than others. When I was a boy there were a great many—the Emperor Maximilian in Germany, Sigismund in Poland, Ladislaus in Hungary, Ferdinand, Emperor Charles’s grandfather, in Spain—pious, wise, noble princes. There were a good many bishops, too, who would have been with us had they been alive now. There was a bishop of Würzburg who used to say, when he saw a rogue, ‘To the cloister with you—thou art useless to God or man.’”

His ill feeling to Erasmus, to whom he was certainly far from just, appears in the following: “In the year 1536 Luther wrote on his tablets, Res et verba Philippus; verba sine re Erasmus; res sine verbis Lutherus; nec res, nec verba Carolostadius; that which Philip Melanchthon writes has hands and feet, the matter is good and the words are good. Erasmus Roterodamus writes many words, but to no purpose; Luther has good matter but the words are wanting; Carlstadt has neither good words nor good matter.”

His love of fun is never far away. “A student of Erfurt,” he tells, “desiring to see Nuremberg, departed with a friend on a journey thither. Before they had walked half a mile, he asked his companion whether they would soon get to Nuremberg, and was answered, ‘’Tis scarce likely, since we have only just left Erfurt.’ Having repeated the question another half mile further on, and getting the same answer, he said, ‘Let us give up the journey, and go back, since the world is so vast.’”

Again, “There are poets who affect to be carried away by their enthusiasm. There was Richius, for 149example. I remember him sitting with his legs out of his window pretending to be in a fit of poetic fury against the devil, whom he was abusing and vilifying with long roundabout phrases. Strigel, who chanced to pass under, for sport suddenly took hold of the brawling poet’s legs and frightened him heartily—the poor man thinking the devil had come to carry him off.”

“I am a great enemy to flies, quia sunt imagines diaboli et hæreticorum. When I have a good book they flock upon it, and parade up and down upon it, and soil it. ‘Tis just the same with the devil; when our hearts are purest, he comes and soils them.”

“An idle priest, instead of reciting his breviary, used to run over the alphabet, and then say, ‘Oh my God! take this alphabet, and put it together how you will.’”

With one other saying, the substance of which is as old as Solomon, but the application of which is ever new, we must conclude these illustrative extracts. “The multitude of books is a great evil. There is no measure nor limit to this fever for writing. Every one must be an author,—some out of vanity to acquire celebrity, others for the sake of lucre and gain. The Bible is now buried under so many commentaries, that the text is nothing regarded. I could wish all my books were buried nine ells deep underground, by reason of the ill example they will give.”

Luther’s last years were, upon the whole, peaceful, with a thread of sadness in them as he looked beyond his own happy home and Wittenberg, and saw how 150unsettled the prospect was for the good cause in Germany. It was well for him that he had a happy home, and good wife and children and friends, in whose society he could solace himself as he saw the gathering darkness about to descend on his country. “I love my Catherine,” he says. “I love her more than I do myself, for I would die rather than any harm should happen to her or her children.” But the long-delayed rupture in the Empire was steadily approaching. He was mercifully to be spared the sight of it, though he could not but see it coming. When the year 1544 brought peace with France, it was clear that the issue must be tried between the old and the new forces. The Pope once more began urging the Emperor to put down toleration, and compel the Protestants to a surrender. The promised “free and Christian Council,”5454   Augsburg Confession—Preface. which was to compose religious differences, after a fair hearing of both sides, had become a mere Roman council, before which the Evangelical party were summoned to appear as culprits. The Protestant princes and theologians, as may be imagined, refused to appear; and from the date of its summons at Trent, December 13, 1545, war seemed imminent, although still postponed. Luther felt himself growing old: he had begun to lose his eyesight, and he had wished to leave his work at Wittenberg and return permanently to his farm,—“old, spent, worn, weary, cold, and with but one eye to see with,” as he spoke of himself. But the perfidy of the Papacy at the last moment roused him to indignant earnestness. He was like an old lion stirred in his lair, and he gave forth his last thunders in his terrible 151pamphlet, ‘Against the Papacy in Rome, founded by the Devil.’ The “Aller heiligst” became the “Aller höllischst vater,” the “most holy” the “most hellish father.” So he closed his career, though in sterner tones, very much as he began it, with the exposure of the pretensions of the Papacy to represent Christendom. The conservatism of his later years had made him in no degree more tolerant of Rome. He saw the bloodthirsty designs it cherished against his native land, and he raised his last voice against it.

The circumstances of his death were befitting his noble life. On the 23d of January 1546, he left Wittenberg on a mission of conciliation between the Counts of Mansfeld, the lords of his native soil, who had long been at variance with one another, but had offered to submit their dispute to the reformer’s arbitration. For some time previously his mind had been filled with thoughts of death, and, on his journey presentiments of his approaching end haunted him. “When I come back from Eisleben, I will lay me in my coffin: the world is weary of me, and I of the world: pray God that He will mercifully grant me a peaceful death.” The prayer was granted. On the 14th of February he wrote to his “dear Ketha” that his work of peace was all but concluded. Two days after, he was overheard in earnest prayer while standing, as he was wont to do, in the window. The next day he was unwell, and the idea of death again came vividly to his mind. “I was born and baptised here in Eisleben; what if I am likewise to die here?” He was still able, however, the same day to dine and sup with his friends, and somewhat enjoy himself. During 152the night his illness increased. He suffered from oppression of the chest and severe pains. He was joined by his friends in alarm, a soothing draught was administered to him, and he murmured, “If I could fall asleep for half an hour, I think it would do me good.” Sleep came for a little, but did not bring him relief. During the whole of the next day, his friends, and his two sons who were with him, watched by his bedside as he gradually sank. “Do you die in the faith of Christ and the doctrine you have preached?” he was asked by Dr Jonas, as consciousness was departing. He answered “Yes,” closed his eyes, and fell asleep; and then, with one deep sigh, slept his last. By the command of the Elector his body was brought in solemn procession from Eisleben to Wittenberg, and laid in the church whose walls had so often resounded with his eloquence. Melanchthon pronounced an oration over his tomb; and sobs and tears from the congregated thousands,—men, women, and children, who had loved the great monk, mingled with the words of the admiring and faithful friend.

The character of Luther, as presented in our rapid survey, is especially distinguished for its broad and massive manliness. Everywhere and pre-eminently Luther is a man with a heart alive to all true human feeling, and burning with the most earnest and passionate aspirations after human good. When we remember that he was trained a monk, and was in fact a monk till he was about forty-two years of age—that books rather than men were his chief study during 153the most fresh and formative period of life—it is truly wonderful to recognise in him such a breadth and intensity, such a variety and richness of human interest and affection. Scholastic in the spirit of his theology, sacerdotal to the last in many of his convictions, he was of all the reformers the least technical and narrow and ecclesiastical in feeling. His genial and vivifying humanity broke through all conventional bounds, brushed them aside, and more than anything else, except the spiritual truth which he preached, brought him near to the heart of the German people. Had he been less of a man and more of a scholar, less animated by a common and popular sympathy, and more animated by mere intellectual impulse, he could never have achieved the work that he did. It is but a poor and one-sided criticism, therefore, which delights to expose Luther’s intellectual inconsistencies, unscholarly temper, and unphilosophical spirit.5555   Hallam has perhaps given the tone to this criticism in England—although, in what he says of Luther, it is more the depreciatory spirit of his statements than their substantial injustice that is remarkable. They are cold and unsympathetic, and inadequate to the subject; but, from his point of view, less unfair than to some they may appear. The truth is, that Luther was not characteristically a scholar, not even a divine, least of all a philosopher. He was a Hero with work to do; and he did it. His powers were exactly fitted to the task to which God called him. As it was of Titanic magnitude, he required to be a Titan in human strength, and in depth and power, and even violence of human passion, in order to accomplish it. The mere breadth and momentum of his humanity would not, indeed, have sufficed by 154themselves, but inspired and swayed by Divine truth they were irresistible. Both conditions were equally necessary to his success—the energy, vehemence, and pith of the man; the animation, control, and sway of the Divine Spirit. Had the instrument been less powerful and varied, less full-toned and responsive to all the rich wavering breath of human emotion, the Spirit might have breathed in vain, and the full chorus of resounding triumph from many gathering voices never have been raised. To initiate the reform movement, which was destined to renew the face of Europe, and to give a higher impulse and nobler and more enduring life to all the Saxon nations, required a strong and gigantic will like that of Luther, which, instead of being crushed by opposition or frightened by hatred, only rose in the face of both into a prouder and grander attitude of daring. As he himself said, “To clear the air and to render the earth more fertile, it is not enough that the rain should water and penetrate its surface—there needs also the thunder and lightning;”5656   Briefe, vol. iv. p. 149. and he acknowledged himself to be the impersonation of the latter.

And yet, with all this manly energy and vehemence of character, Luther, we have already seen, was no Radical in his reforms. His moderation was at least as conspicuous as his energy, and we shall greatly misapprehend both him and his work if we do not perceive this. He was very little of a theorist. He fought for the truth as God had revealed it to him. But of all the reformers, except Latimer, none fought less for mere schemes or devices of his own to supplant 155the old fabric of the Church. He would rather rebuild and purify it than supersede it. In his own language, “he was never for throwing away the old shoes till he had got new ones.” Iconoclasm of every kind he abhorred. “It must be a bad spirit,” he said, “which can show its fruit only by breaking open churches and cloisters, and burning images of saints.” Of a certain preacher who was flying high, and carrying things out in a violent spirit of innovation, he writes: “What good can result from all this precipitation? I myself preached nearly three years before I touched such questions, while these people think to settle the whole business in half an hour. I beg you will enjoin the preacher to observe more moderation in future, and to begin with making his people thoroughly understand Jesus Christ.”5757   Briefe, vol. ii. p. 423. It was this spirit of moderation that set him resolutely against Carlstadt. Innovation for its own sake—innovation for the sake of uniformity in different churches—all that marks so intensely the later history of Protestantism in Geneva and elsewhere, was unintelligible, and would have been thoroughly uncongenial to him.

So far, and as a mere practical method, his moderation appears entirely commendable; but it is impossible to deny that he carried his moderation farther than this. He not only did not like changes, but he naturally shrank from new views. His mind as well as his practice was strongly conservative; the truth only reached him at first through a struggle and wrench of his whole being so violent that he could 156not bear to repeat the process. After admitting one streaming flood of light, he shut himself closely against its further ingress. He possessed none of that calmly speculative and inquiring spirit, which is ever going out in search of truth in all directions, and unfolding itself more and more to the sunlight of discovery. He was both too logical and too practical, too dogmatic and too immediate in his judgments, to permit of such a consistent intellectual progress. His mind required to be girded by clear and strong convictions, within the sphere of which his activity knew no bounds; but no soaring aspirations after a higher truth than that which had first seized him, as it were, by divine violence, haunted his spiritual imagination, and he would have thought it mere idle vanity to dream of any larger and more comprehensive view than that which seemed so plain and open to himself. It is this which constitutes at once the disappointment of his later years, and his, weakness and defects as a mere theologian. He would not advance with Carlstadt; and so far he was right. He would have nothing to do with Zwingli and the Sacramentarians, and so far he was honest. We respect his independence in both cases. But he would not only not advance with others—he would not advance at all. He would not open his mind to the free air of heaven as it breathed in Scripture; and he was angry and violent with all who went beyond himself. He spoke with contemptuous dogmatism of the Swiss divines, and he had little patience even with Melanchthon’s cautious and well-balanced progress, and his more subtle and comprehensive insight 157into the dogmas of the Reformation. If we regard Luther, therefore, as a mere theologian, it is fair enough to object to his violence, his narrowness, his one-sidedness; but it is far from fair to regard him merely or mainly in this point of view. As a theological thinker he takes no high rank, and has left little or no impress upon human history. The very qualities, however, which made his weakness as a thinker, were so far from retarding that they helped Ms work of reform. His impatience, his intensity, and crudeness of apprehension, and his coarseness of handling, are but poor arms of reason; but they are manful and honest weapons in a struggle for life or death, and they carried him triumphantly through, when others of a less robust and hardy texture would have yielded and been overpowered.

If we add to this strong manliness the most simple and pure affectionateness, a rich and powerful humour, an exquisite tenderness of feeling under all his occasional coarseness of language, and the most vivid appreciation of life and nature, the outline of his character is only partially filled up. It is impossible to conceive any nature more frank, open, and genial than that which the domestic history of the reformer discovers. He lays bare his heart with the most guileless and winning simplicity; he has the most gay and jovial relish of all that is pure and good, however trivial, in life,—sharing in the amusements of his children, counselling with his wife how to reward an old servant, entering with the most earnest cordiality into the joys of his friends, and sharing his warm tears with them in their sorrows. None but 158a man of the most genuine kindliness could have ever bound fast to him so many friends as Luther did—old schoolfellows, such as Nicolas Emler and John Reinacke; brother monks, such as John Lange, whom he made Prior of Erfurt; and all his more immediate fellow-labourers in Wittenberg—Amsdorf, Justus Jonas, Bugenhagen, Lucas Cranach, and Melanchthon,—not to speak of the Electors Frederick and John, and their secretary Spalatin. It was no mere bond of interest or of accident that bound these brave men together, but above all, the great heart and diffusive kindliness of Luther, as the central figure around whom they gathered. How exquisite the kindly hilarity and tender-heartedness with which he wrote to Spalatin after his marriage! “If you will come to me, you will see some monument of our old love and friendship. I have planted a garden and built a fountain, both with great success. Come, and you shall be crowned with lilies and roses.”

Intimately allied with, and springing out of, both his affectionateness and manliness, was his humour, the rich emollient softening all his asperities, and dropping like a pleasant balm in the midst of his harshest controversies. The difference between Erasmus and him is somewhat the difference between wit and humour. Not that the author of the Colloquies can be said to want humour in his sly sallies at the follies of monkish superstition; yet that depth and richness of sympathy which is the most characteristic difference of humour from wit, is comparatively wanting in Erasmus. No contrast can be more marked than the covert and ingenious 159sarcasm, the subtle point and pungent dilemmas of the one, and the riotous attack, open-eyed gaiety, and hilarious laughter of the other. In Luther’s humour, powerful as it is, there mixes no bitterness. He is blunt, but never cynical. He dislikes intrusion and laughs at ignorance, but never in a harsh way. A man once came from the Low Countries to dispute with him about all sorts of things. He remarks, “When I saw what a poor ignorant creature he was, I said to him, ‘Hadn’t we better dispute over a can or two of beer?’” His heart is not pained and fretted by the contrasts which touch his imagination. They sometimes weary, but seldom chafe or vex him; more frequently they only kindle in him a wild spirit of glee, which breaks forth in sparkles of laughter or shouts of defiant jollity. But beneath all his uproarious fun there lie depths of tenderness and sadness, a passionate unrest and “unnameable melancholy.” The pathos, and distance, and gentleness of many of his allusions show that he had a saddened and shadowed heart that felt unutterably the awful mystery of life and death. The thoughts of his daring and strange career would sometimes awaken this hidden chord of grief. As he and Catherine were walking in the garden one evening, the stars shone with unusual brilliancy. “What a brilliant light!” said Luther, as he looked upward; “but it burns not for us.” “And why are we to be shut out from the kingdom of heaven?” asked Catherine. “Perhaps,” said Luther, with a sigh, “because we left our convents.” “Shall we return, then?” “No,” he replied, “it is too late to do that.”

The sights and sounds of nature all touch him, now 160with joy and now with pathetic aspiration. Of all the reformers, we see in him alone this elevated susceptibility to natural grandeur and beauty. In the view of these, his poetic depth and richness of feeling come strongly into play. The flowers, the birds, the “bounteous thunder shaking the earth and rousing it, that its fruits may come forth and spread a perfume;” the troubled sky, and the dark and heaving clouds poised overhead, and guided by the swift and invisible hand of God; the quiet loveliness of the harvest-fields on his return home from Leipzig; the little bird perching at sunset in his garden, and folding its wings trustfully under the care of the Almighty Father; the first song of the nightingale,—all touch him with emotion, and awaken his tender or solemn interest. The sprouting branches of his garden trees, “strong and beautiful, and big with the fruit that they shall bring forth,” make him think of the resurrection, and of the awakening of the soul after the wintry sleep of death. Luther was in truth a poet, gifted not only with the keen appreciation and life of feeling that constitute poetic sensibility, but, moreover, with that mastery of melodious expression which makes the fulness of the “gift and faculty divine.” His love of music, his love of nature and liberty, and, above all, his heroic faith, inspire his hymns with a rapture of lyrical feeling and excellence rarely reached. These beautiful and stirring utterances, escaping from him, as Heine says, “like a flower making its way between rough stones, or a moonbeam glittering amid dark clouds,”5858   Revue des Deux Mondes, March 1834. finely grace the grand and rugged life of 161this man, and shed a joy of harmony amid all its mighty discords.

Upon the whole, we have before us a tender as well as energetic character—softness mingling with strength—sadness with humour—gentleness with power. History presents many more complete or symmetrical characters; few greater; none more rich in diverse elements of human feeling and moral aspiration. No selfishness, nor vanity, nor mere vulgar ambition, meet us, amid all his proud consciousness of power or most high-handed dogmatism; but everywhere, even when we can least sympathise with him, we see an honest and magnanimous nature swayed by a living faith and glowing earnestness—a great soul moved by passionate conviction and sublimed by divine thought.

It remains for us to inquire concerning the main thought that moved Luther, and animated him in all his work. It requires but little penetration to discover that he was possessed by such a thought—that a profound principle—a single inspiring spiritual idea—ran through the whole of this great movement, and, more than anything else, gave direction and strength and triumph to it.

Many other influences, as we have seen, were at work. With the commencement of the sixteenth century there was a dawning life of national feeling and of literary culture all through the southern and western nations of Europe: Germany was in a special manner moved and agitated by such influences. They prepared the soil and rendered it receptive. Erasmus turned the ploughshare of his sharp intelligence into 162it, and cast it up, and made it quick with an unwonted movement of intellectual life. Reuchlin and his Humanist coadjutors, in their famous conflict with the monks of Cologne, not only strengthened the labours of Erasmus, but in a very clear and decisive manner proved the hopeless ignorance and incapacity of their opponents; the free secular or war party, headed by Franz von Sickingen and Hutten, and afterwards by the Landgrave of Hesse, rallied to their aid a strong political feeling, bursting forth on all sides against the ecclesiastical oppressions and unnational bigotries of Rome. These literary and political powers are all distinctly seen working throughout Germany at this time. A satirical pen was the chosen weapon of the one, a sword the proffered weapon of the other; and the fearless and hapless Ulrich von Hutten is found equally ready with his pen or with his sword. He is a strange, restless, and gallant figure, this knight of the Reformation—the co-operator both of Humanists and Secularists—and, more than any one else, the bond of connection between both and Luther. Luther could not approve of his projects, but he liked his independence and courage, and he mourned his early death, while the cold sarcasms of Erasmus cast bitter ashes over his grave.5959   Hutten’s life has been recently written with great fulness and skill by Strauss. He died in 1523. In the same year appeared Erasmus’s attack upon him under the title of Spongia, &c.—provoked, no doubt, by Hutten’s own virulence in his Expostulatio cum Erasmo Rotterodamo. But no one nor all of these influences concurrently can be held as adequately accounting for the Reformation.


Starting from the midst of them, stimulated and no doubt greatly aided by them, it had its real origin deeper below the surface than either Humanism or Nationalism. It was characteristically a spiritual revolt—an awakening of the individual conscience in the light of the old Gospel, for centuries imprisoned and obscured in the dim chambers of men’s traditions, but now at length breaking forth with renewed radiance. This was the life and essence of Luther’s own personal struggle, and it was this which formed the spring of all his labours, and gave them such a pervading and mighty energy. The principle of moral individualism—of the free responsible relation of every soul to God—stamps the movement with its characteristic impress, and, more than any other thing, enables us to understand its power and success. In theological language this principle is known as the doctrine of justification by faith alone; but we prefer to apprehend it in this more general and ethical form of expression.

It was this element of individualism that had become especially corrupted during many centuries of ecclesiastical bondage. Scholastic subtlety on the one hand, and monkish superstition on the other, had crushed it out of sight. A vast system of traditional authority, covering with its ample and insinuating folds every sphere of thought and every phase of society, left no room for any fresh and healthy individual life. It encompassed and restrained all the movements of opinion and action within a monotonous and rigid routine. Scholasticism and monkery as its two great expressions remain, beyond doubt, among 164the most marvellous monuments of human energy that the world has ever witnessed,—the one a gigantic structure of logical enthusiasm, and the other a picturesque and stirring drama of missionary adventure, to which there can scarcely be said to be any modern parallels; yet in neither was there any real freedom of mental or spiritual life. The vast energies which they engaged, operated within artificial and prescribed limits—with a power and results at which we wonder—but beneath an incubus of priestly tradition, which left the soul confined, and at a distance from God. The individual was nothing, the School or the Church was everything; and during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries this moral stagnation had deadened into absolute corruption. Farther and farther the scholastic doctrine had separated itself from Scripture, and the monastic piety from the life of faith. The one, in such representatives as Eck and Emser, had degenerated into a dogmatism at once fierce and frivolous; the other, as in Luther’s brother monks at Erfurt, into an asceticism at once pretentious and ridiculous. In various forms the smouldering life of these centuries had continued to show itself; it had burst forth in the magnanimous intrepidity of Huss and of Jerome, and the beautiful mysticism of Tauler and the Theologia Germanica; but now at length the fire of a strong spiritual conviction was kindled in the convent at Erfurt, which was destined to break forth into light, and cover with its glory the face of Europe.

Luther had tried scholasticism and tried monkery, and found both to be wanting. So far from bringing 165him near to God, they had hid God from him, and left him miserable in his weakness and sinfulness. The poor priest, thirsting for righteousness, found himself fed on “sentences.” The great human heart of Luther, full of spiritual depths and sensibilities, could not nourish itself on the writings of the schoolmen; and his frequently expressed bitterness against Scotists and Thomists is not to be regarded as mere vehemence of temper, but as the strong reaction of his intellectual and spiritual nature against the useless subtleties in which he had once sought satisfaction. Monkery had failed even more signally in his experience. He had sought spiritual peace, through its moat painful observances, with a single-hearted earnestness. Its distant heaven, whose interval was spanned by a bridge of painful and sore travel, he had spared no toil or weariness to reach. His body and soul were reduced to the last extremity by fastings and penances, and the heaven of his desires seemed as far off as ever. Cherishing the most profound faith in the supposed spiritual guardianship of the Church, he had passed within its pale an abject worshipper, craving salvation by the most humiliating submissions and earnest prayers; and yet he had not found it. “Sin was always too strong for him,” as he said; he could not expel it by the most untiring vigils or the most unrelenting mortifications. He was driven, therefore, to seek strength and comfort elsewhere; and the words of Staupitz and of the aged monk came to him as life from the dead. Gradually the words of Scripture revealed to him a new righteousness, and it became the one pervading and triumphant joy of his 166heart. He felt that the divine way of salvation was not as that of man. Works of the Church, works even of piety, sunk out of sight before the overmastering and glad conviction of God’s free grace to the soul—to the individual.

It is remarkable how completely Luther apprehended his new creed in this polemical form—how it shaped itself in his mind doctrinally as an opposing tenet to the “Aristotelic” principle with which he had been working,—which had expressed itself dominantly at once in his scholastic training and his ascetic discipline—the principle, viz., “that a man becomes just by doing just acts.” “We must first be just,” he said in one of his earliest vindications of his favourite doctrine, “and then we shall do just actions.” The heart must be changed—the result will follow. “Without faith in Christ men may become Fabricii. or Reguli, but can no more become holy than a crabapple can become a fig.” Righteousness, in short, is from within, not from without—a divinely implanted life of faith, and not a formal life of works. It springs directly out of the relation of the soul to God, and not out of any outward mortifications, or tentative moral habits.

This bare assertion of individualism does not indeed exhaust the doctrine of Luther. There was poor comfort to him rather—the most gloomy misery—so long as he merely felt that all his penances were worthless, and that God could alone save him. He only got peace when at length he recognised how God is in Christ a Saviour—when the forgiveness of sins became to him a divine fact, clearly and completely expressed 167in Christ. Then he realised that righteousness not only could not begin from without, but not even from within, in any partial or selfish sense, but from Christ within—from the union of the divine and human—from the heart apprehended by Christ, and apprehending Him as the source of all strength and salvation. And this is the full doctrine of justification by faith, when the immediate responsibilities of the soul to God are met and consummated in Christ. Then only does the bondage of sin fall away from it, and the joy of a divine righteousness becomes its portion.

It was this reality of moral freedom in Christ—this undoing of the heavy burdens that had lain on the human conscience, that, more than all else, gave impulse and triumph to the Reformation. The hearts of men were weary with seeking salvation in the way of the priests; and as the voice of the monk of Wittenberg was heard crying, “No priest can save you!—no masses or indulgences can help you! But God has saved you! He Himself, and no mediatory saints, no holy Mother of God even, but God Himself, the Divine Son, has redeemed you!”—this, which in its first and most powerful utterance was no mere dogma,—no dry formula, which it so soon became, but a living voice of “Help from Heaven”—seized the great heart of the German people, and mightily swayed it. Brushing by the faltering and unsteady steps of Humanism, this faith in a divine righteousness near to every soul made for itself a joyful way among the nations, and carried with it, wherever it went, liberty and strength. It was this, and no mere destructive zeal, nor yet polemical logic, that “shook the ancient cathedrals to their inmost 168shrines,” and spread a moral renovation throughout Europe.

The spiritual principle is eternally divine and powerful. It is a very different thing when we turn to contemplate the dogmatic statements of Luther. So soon as Luther began to evolve his principle, and coin its living heart once more into dogma, he showed that he had not risen above the scholastic spirit which he aimed to destroy. It was truly impossible that he could do so. Not even the massive energy of Luther could pierce through those intellectual influences which had descended as a hoary heritage of ages to the sixteenth century. Like the mists cleared away by the morning sun, they had retired before the fresh outburst of the Sun of Righteousness, as the preaching of Luther kindled by its stirring words many lowly hearts looking upwards; but when the first glow of the warming sun had spent itself, the mists, which had only retreated and not disappeared, were seen creeping backward, and although no longer obscuring, yet spreading confusion and dimness over the illumined scene. It was not enough for Luther to proclaim a free righteousness in Christ for all, but he must, as a theologian, lay down his distinctions and enter into minute and arbitrary definitions of the divine if act of righteousness. Faith is not enough, but he further inclines to the assurance of faith, with its tendency to a rapid translation into mere barren self-confidence. Undeniably there grew up in his mind a reaction against the popish tenet of works, so extreme as frequently to leave him in his doctrinal statements on the verge of Antinomianism. The harmony of 169spiritual truth is broken up, and one side of it—the opposite to that in which as a monk he had been educated—is seized with such force and crudeness as to turn a free salvation scarcely less into a mechanism than the old doctrine of works. It is in vain for the most ardent admirers of Luther to deny this tendency to an unmoral view of the doctrine of grace in many of his expressions, although it is easy enough for them to prove against calumnious criticism, that this was not the substance but the mere reactionary shadow of his doctrine, thrown over it by those very mists of scholasticism in which his intellectual life had been nursed.

The Reformation, in its theology, did not and could not escape the deteriorating influences of the scholastic spirit, for that spirit survived it and lived on in strength, although in a modified form, throughout the seventeenth century. In one important particular, indeed, the Scholastic and Protestant systems of theology entirely differed: the latter began their systematising from the very opposite extreme to that of the former—from the divine and not from the human side of redemption—from God, and not from man. And this is a difference on the side of truth by no means to be overlooked. Still the spirit is the same—the spirit which does not hesitate to break up the divine unity of the truth of Scripture into its own logical shreds and patches,—which tries to discriminate what in its moral essence is inscrutable, and to trace in distinct dogmatic moulds the operation of the divine and human wills in salvation,—while the very condition of all salvation is the eternal mystery of their union 170in an act of mutual and inexpressible love. This spirit of ultra-definition,—of essential rationalism,—was the corrupting inheritance of the new from the old theology; and it is difficult to say, all things considered, as we trace the melancholy history of Protestant dogmas, whether its fruits have been worse in the latter or in the former instance. The mists, it is true, have never again so utterly obscured the truth, but their dimness, covering a fairer light, almost inspires the religious heart with a deeper sadness.

But there is a further principle which claims our consideration in connection with the Lutheran Reformation—a principle which was by no means consistently expressed, but which still had its imperfect birth, then. It was very far from Luther’s intention, when he entered on his contest with the Church of Rome, to assert what. has been called the right of private judgment in matters of religion. Even in the end he did not fully understand or admit the validity of this principle; yet so far there was no other resting-ground for him. He was driven to claim for himself freedom of opinion in the light of Scripture as the only position on which, with any consistency, he could stand. Accordingly, when pressed to retract his views at Worms, when it was clearly made manifest that authority—Catholic and Imperial—was against him, he boldly took his ground here, in magnanimous and always memorable words. For himself, he said, “Unless I be convinced by Scripture or by reason, I can and will retract nothing; for to act against my conscience is neither safe nor honest. Here I stand.” On Scripture and on reason he based his convictions, 171and would recognise the right of no mere external authority to control him. Not what the Emperor said—not what the Doctors said—not what the Church said,—but only what his own conscience owned to be true in the light of Scripture, would he acknowledge to be the truth. Nothing else could move him—so help him God. It is impossible to conceive a more unqualified assertion of the right of private judgment—of the indefeasible privilege of the individual reason to know and judge the truth for itself; and the Reformation only had a rational and consistent basis in so far as it took up this position in so far as Luther, for himself at least, felt its force and conclusiveness.

It is too well known, however, that neither he nor any of his fellow-reformers recognised the full meaning and bearing of his position. They knew what their own necessities demanded,—but that was all. They raised the ensign of a free Bible in the face of Rome, but they speedily refused to allow others to fight under this banner as well as themselves. What Luther claimed for himself against Catholic authority he refused to Carlstadt, and refused to Zwingli, in favour of their more liberal doctrinal views. He failed to see that their position was exactly his own, with a difference of result,—which indeed was all the difference in the world to him. Against them he appealed not merely to Scripture, but to his own obstinate views of certain texts of Scripture; and gradually he erected a new authority, which to him, and still more to his followers, became absolute as Scripture itself. Scripture, as a witness, disappeared behind the Augsburg Confession as a standard; and so it happened more or less with 172all the reformers. They were consistent in displacing the Church of Rome from its position of assumed authority over the conscience, but they were equally consistent all of them in raising a dogmatic authority in its stead. In favour of their own views, they asserted the right of the private judgment to interpret and decide the meaning of Scripture, but they had nevertheless no idea of a really free interpretation of Scripture. Their orthodoxy everywhere appealed to the Bible, but it rested in reality upon an Augustinian commentary of the Bible. They displaced the medieval schoolmen, only to elevate Augustine. And having done this, they had no conception of any limits attaching to this new tribunal of heresy. Freedom of opinion, in the modern sense, was utterly unknown to them. There was not merely an absolute truth in Scripture, but they had settled by the help of Augustine what this truth was, and any variations from this standard were not to be tolerated.

The idea of a free faith associated with very different dogmatic views, and yet equally Christian—the idea, of spiritual life and goodness apart from theoretical orthodoxy—had not dawned in the sixteenth century—nor long afterwards. Heresy was not a mere divergence of intellectual apprehension, but a moral obliquity,—a statutory offence,—to be punished by the magistrate, to be expiated by death. It is a strange and saddening spectacle to contemplate the gradual process by which the human mind has emancipated itself from the delusion that intellectual error is a subject of moral offence and punishment. Freedom, of opinion has won its way but slowly; and hindrances 173and conflicts yet await it. Men learn with difficulty that there is a temporary narrowness in their most consecrated traditions—that even the highest expressions of the most enlightened dogmatism are in their very nature but partial representations of the Divine Will—deflected rays from a light in its perfection inaccessible and full of glory, which no man hath seen, neither indeed can see. It required the lapse of many years to make men begin to feel—and it may still require the lapse of many more to make them fully feel— that they cannot absolutely fix in their feeble symbols the truth of God,—that it is ever bursting with its own free might the old bottles in which they would contain it; and that, consequently,—according to that very law of progress by which all things live,—it is impossible to bind the conscience by any bonds but those of God’s own wisdom (Word) in Scripture—a spiritual authority addressing a spiritual subject—a teacher not of “the letter which killeth, but of the Spirit which giveth life.”

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