IN DEFENSE OF ALL THE ARTICLES OF DR. MARTIN LUTHER WRONGLY CONDEMNED IN THE ROMAN BULL 1521 [INTRODUCTION]
Source: Works of Maritn Luther Vol. III (Philadelphia edition) pp.7-10
THE work here presented bears the German title, Grund und Ursache aller Artikel D. Martin Luthers so durch romische Bulle unrechtlich verdammt sind. It is one of Luther’s four replies to the papal bull against him, which was published in Germany in the autumn of 1520.
Luther’s prosecution before the ecclesiastical authorities at Rome may be said to have begun in 1517, when John Tetzel and Albrecht of Mainz forwarded copies of the Ninety-five Theses to Rome to be examined for heresy. F1 Nevertheless, it was three full years before the formal excommunication was finally pronounced. The reason for the delay is to be sought primarily in the ecclesiastical politics of the time. It was thought in the beginning that the matter could be settled within the Augustinian Order, of which Luther was a member, and the General of the Augustinians, Gabriel della Volta, was commissioned to secure Luther’s recantation of the objectionable parts of the Theses. The result was the publication by Luther in May, 1518, of an explanation and defense of the Theses, from which it was apparent that Luther was even more heretical than had been supposed. Accordingly, in July, 1518, he was cited to appear at Rome within sixty days and answer the charges made against him.
Before the sixty days had elapsed, however, the status of the case had changed somewhat. The Diet of Augsburg convened in that year, and the papal legate, Cardinal Cajetan, was empowered to secure Luther’s recantation, failing in which, he was authorized to excommunicate Luther and his adherents, all and several, and to lay under interdict “all cities, towns, and places into which the said Martin may come.” F5 Luther’s refusal to recant without a trial and his appeal from the papal legate to a general council of the Church had the approval of the Elector of Saxony, f6 and the attitude which the Estates of the Empire had adopted toward the curia1 made it inadvisable to push the matter to extremes. The well-meant but futile efforts of Karl von Militz in 1519 to settle the question by diplomacy, and to flatter the Elector into deserting his professor, left the whole question still hanging in the air.
Meanwhile the Emperor Maximilian had died, and the curia, fearing the election of Charles, had sought to have the Elector of Saxony announce himself a candidate for the imperial throne. During the negotiations the case against Luther was allowed to rest, but when Charles had been elected Emperor (June 28, 1519), when at the Leipzig Disputation (July 4), Luther had gone farther than even his enemies had ventured to hope, and flatly denied the divine right of the papacy, and when a renewed threat of the interdict had failed to move Frederick of Saxony from his purpose to protect Luther against an unfair trial, the matter was taken up in earnest. In January, 1520, the case was put in the hands of a commission instructed to push it to a speedy issue.
During the early months of 1520 the procedure seems to have dragged, but in March John Eck went to Rome for the double purpose of pressing his claims to a benefice in Ingolstadt and pushing the prosecution against Luther. F8 Eck was the foremost Roman theologian of Germany, and had been Luther’s opponent at the Leipzig Disputation. He had previously been active in securing the condemnation of Luther’s doctrines by the faculty of the University of Louvain. F9 It is doubtless to his influence that the final decision against Luther is to be ascribed. On the 15th of June the bull was signed by the pope, and its publication in Germany was entrusted to Eck.
At the end of September, 1520, the bull was formally published in Germany.
This bull — Exsurge Domine — was not, properly speaking, a bull of excommunication, but an “admonition.” It recites forty-one errors which have been found in Luther’s writings, and condemns them as “either heretical, or scandalous, or false, or offensive to pious ears, or dangerous to simple minds, or subversive of catholic truth.” It calls upon Luther to recant these errors within sixty days on pain of excommunication, and decrees that his writings are to be publicly burned. On the 10th of December Luther burned the bull outside the gates of Wittenberg in the presence of the students of the University, having already allowed the prescribed sixty days to expire. It was not until January 3, 1521, that the second bull, Decet Romanum Pontificem, launched the curse of Rome upon the stiff-necked heretic.
It was not to be expected that Luther would allow the bull to go without some sort of public answer. As late as October 23, Aleander writes to the pope from Aix-la-Chapelle that he has as yet no certain news of the publication of the bull, but on October 11 Luther informs Spalatin that the bull has reached Wittenberg, and on November 4 he writes, again to Spalatin, “I have published the Latin Antibull, which I send; it is also being printed in German.” F13 The “antibull” is the Latin treatise Adversus exsecrabilem Antichristi bullam. F14 It was intended for learned circles and contained a detailed defense of but six of the forty-one articles condemned in the bull. The German edition is really a different work and discusses the first twelve articles at length. His friends were not satisfied, however, with a partial answer. On November 29 he writes to Spalatin, “I will soon take up and defend one by one all the articles condemned by the bull, as you wrote, and as I understand they wish,” and January 16, 1521, he writes again, “I sent some pages of my Latin Assertio before; now I send the whole of it.” This treatise is the Assertio omnium articulorum per Bullam Leonis X. novis-simam damnatorum, and is Luther’s third reply to the bull.
While the Assertio was still in press Luther began the preparation of a German version of it. Spalatin had apparently offered to translate the work, but Luther had preferred to keep it in his own hands, for the reason that Spalatin was too slavish a translator. F19 On January 21 he sent to Spalatin the first pages of the German work, expressing the opinion that it is better than the Latin. F20 On the 6th of March he forwarded the complete work, which had come from the press on the 1st of March. This German version of the Assertio, “smoother and simpler” than the Latin, is the Grund und Ursach aller Artikel, here presented to English readers, the editors believe, for the first time.
The text of the treatise is found in Weimar Ed., VII, 308 ff.; Erl. Ed2., XXIV, 56; St. Louis Ed., XV, 1476 ff. The translators have followed the text of O.CLEMEN, LutherWerke in Auswahl, II, 70 ff., to whose notes they are indebted for many readings of obscure passages. For literature on Luther’s excommunication the reader is referred to theBIOGRAPHIES, especiallyKOSTLIN-KAWERAU,2 I, 350 ff., 365 ff.;BOHMER,3 72 ff.; SMITH, 95 ff.; H. E.JACOBS, 168 ff.; andMCGIFFERT, 181 ff. The full text of the bull is translated in JACOBS, Luther, Appendix I. CHARLES M. JACOBS. LUTHERAN THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY, MOUNT AIRY,PHILADELPHIA.