Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Luther's Letter to Pope Leo X , May 30, 1518

To POPE LEO X.

Luther writes submissively to the Pope, in whose justice and love of truth he seems to have implicit confidence. May 30, 1518.

Martin Luther, Augustinian monk, desires everlasting salvation to the Most Holy Father, Leo X. I know, most holy father, that evil reports are being spread about me, some friends having vilified me to your Holiness, as if I were trying to belittle the power of the Keys and of the Supreme Pontiff, therefore I am being accused of being a heretic, a renegade, and a thousand other ill names are being hurled at me, enough to make my ears tingle and my eyes start in my head, but my one source of confidence is an innocent conscience. But all this is nothing new, for I am decorated with such marks of distinction in our own land, by those honourable and straightforward people who are themselves afflicted with the worst of consciences. But, most holy father, I must hasten to the point, hoping your Holiness will graciously listen to me, for I am as awkward as a child.

Some time ago the preaching of the apostolic jubilee of the Indulgences was begun, and soon made such headway that these preachers thought they could say what they wished, under the shelter of your Holiness's name, alarming the people at such malicious, heretical lies being proclaimed to the derision of the spiritual powers. And, not satisfied with pouring out their venom, they have disseminated the little book in which their malicious lies are confirmed, binding the father confessors by oath to inculcate those lies upon their people. I shall not enlarge upon the disgraceful greed, which can never be satisfied, with which every syllable of this tiny book reeks. This is true, and no one can shut his eyes to the scandal, for it is manifest in the book. And they continue to lead the people captive with their vain consolation, plucking, as the prophet Micah says, " their skin from off them, and their flesh from off" their bones," while they wallow in abundance themselves. They use your Holiness's name to allay the uproar they cause, and threaten them with fire and sword, and the ignominy of being called heretics ; nay, one can scarcely believe the wiles they use to cause confusion among the people. Complaints are universal as to the greed of the priests, while the power of the Keys and the Pope is being evil spoken of in Germany. And when I heard of such things I burned with zeal for the honour of Christ, or, if some will have it so, the young blood within me boiled ; and yet I felt it did not behove me to do anything in the matter except to draw the attention of some prelates to the abuses. Some acted upon the hint, but others derided it, and interpreted it in various ways. For the dread of your Holiness's name, and the threat of being placed under the ban, was all-powerful. At length I thought it best not to be harsh, but oppose them by throwing doubts upon their doctrines, preparatory to a disputation upon them. So I threw down the gauntlet to the learned by issuing my theses, and asking them to discuss them, either by word of mouth, or in writing, which is a well- known fact.

From this, most holy father, has such a fire been kindled, that, to judge from the hue and cry, one would think the whole world had been set ablaze. And perhaps this is because I, through your Holiness's apostolic authority, am a doctor of theology and they do not wish to admit that I am entitled, according to the usage of all universities in Christendom, openly to discuss, not only Indulgences, but many higher doctrines, such as Divine Power, Forgiveness, and Mercy. Now, what shall I do ? I cannot retract, and I see what jealousy and hatred I have roused through the explanation of my theses. Besides, I am most unwilling to leave my corner only to hear harsh judgments against myself, but also because I am a stupid dunderhead in this learned age, and too ignorant to deal with such weighty matters. For, in these golden times, when the number of the learned is daily increasing, and arts and sciences are flourishing, not to speak of the Greek and Hebrew tongues, so that even a Cicero were he now alive would creep into a corner, although he never feared light and publicity, sheer necessity alone drives me to cackle as a goose among swans. So, to reconcile my opponents if possible, and satisfy the expectations of many, I let in the light of day upon my thoughts, which you can see in my explanation of my propositions on Indulgences. I made them public that I might have the protection of your Holiness's name, and find refuge beneath the shadow of your wings. So all may see from this how I esteem the spiritual power, and honour the dignity of the Keys. For, if I were such as they say, and had not held a public discussion on the subject, which every doctor is entitled to do, then assuredly his Serene Highness Frederick, Elector of Saxony, who is an ardent lover of Christian and apostolic truth, would not have suffered such a dangerous person in his University of Wittenberg. And also, the beloved and learned doctors and magisters of our University, who cleave firmly to our religion, would certainly have expelled me from their midst. And is it not strange that my enemies not only try to convict me of sin and put me to shame, but also the Elector, and the whole University? Therefore, most holy father, I prostrate myself at your feet, placing myself and all I am and have at your disposal, to be dealt with as you see fit. My cause hangs on the will of your Holiness, by whose verdict I shall either save or lose my life. Come what may, I shall recognise the voice of your Holiness to be that of Christ, speaking through you. If I merit death, I do not refuse to die, for " the earth is the Lord's," and all that is therein, to whom be praise to all eternity ! Amen. May He preserve your Holiness to life eternal. MARTIN LUTHER [Source]


Alternate translation:

I have heard a very evil report of myself, Most blessed Father, by which I understand that certain persons have made my name loathsome to you and yours, saying that I have tried to diminish the power of the keys and the authority of the Supreme Pontiff, and therefore accusing me of being a heretic, an apostate and a traitor, besides branding me with an hundred other calumnious epithets. My ears are horrified and my eyes amazed, but my conscience, sole bulwark of confidence, remains
innocent and at peace. . . .

In these latter days a jubilee of papal indulgences began to be preached, and the preachers, thinking everything allowed them under the protection of your name, dared to teach impiety and heresy openly, to the grave scandal and mockery of ecclesiastical powers, totally disregarding the provisions of the Canon Law about the misconduct of officials. . . . They met with great success, the people were sucked dry on false pretences . . . but the oppressors lived on the fat and sweetness of the land. They avoided scandals only by the terror of your name, the threat of the stake and the brand of heresy ... if,indeed, this can be called avoiding scandals and not rather exciting schisms and revolt by crass tyranny: . . .

I privately warned some of the dignitaries of the Church. By some the admonition was well received, by others ridiculed, by others treated in various ways, for the terror of your name and the dread of censure are strong. At length, when I could do nothing else, I determined to stop their mad career if only for a moment; I resolved to call their assertions in question. So I published some propositions for debate, inviting only the more learned to discuss them with me, as ought to be plain to my opponents from the preface to my Theses. Yet this is the Same with which they seek to set the world on fire! . . .

Now what shall I do? I cannot recall my Theses and yet I see that great hatred is kindled against me by their popularity. I come unwillingly before the precarious and divided judgment of the public, I, who am untaught, stupid and destitute of learning, before an age so fertile in literary genius that it would force into a corner even Cicero, no mean follower of fame and popularity in his day.

So in order to fulfil the desire of many and appease ray opponents,I am now publishing a little treatise to explain my Theses. To protect myself, I publish it under the guardianship of your name and the shadow of your protection. . . .

And now, Most Blessed Father, I cast myself and all my possessions at your feet; raise me up or slay me, summon me hither or thither, approve me or reprove me as you please. I shall recognize your words as the words of Christ, speaking in you. If I have deserved death, I shall not refuse to die. For the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof ; blessed be he forever. Amen. May he always preserve you. Amen. [Source]