Jan 25, '15, 3:29 pm
Did the Catholic Church authorize the murder of Martin Luther?
It has recently been suggested that the Catholic Church conspired or indirectly authorized the immediate murder of Martin Luther after the Diet of Worms in 1521. However, I haven't been able to substantiate that anywhere on the interwebs. Poster 'benjohnson' submitted in this post on another thread that the wording at the beginning of the Edict of Worms points to this conclusion, but further examination seems to contradict the rest of the edict, which clearly states:
"For this reason we forbid anyone from this time forward to dare, either by words or by deeds, to receive, defend, sustain, or favour the said Martin Luther. On the contrary, we want him to be apprehended and punished as a notorious heretic, as he deserves, to be brought personally before us, or to be securely guarded until those who have captured him inform us, whereupon we will order the appropriate manner of proceeding against the said Luther. Those who will help in his capture will be rewarded generously for their good work." (wiki link)Am I missing something? Please discuss.
Thanks in advance.
Is There a "Catholic Answer" as to Whether Rome Wanted Luther Killed?
"Did the Catholic Church authorize the murder of Martin Luther?" This is one of the recent questions the Catholic Answers Forums folks have been addressing. By scrolling through this discussion you'll find a variety of "Catholic" answers (and a few non-Catholic answers) presented. It's always interesting to read fallible interpretations of history and theology put forth by Rome's defenders. I've contended for years that Roman Catholics are functionally Protestant: everything they say and believe, whether stated personally or put forth by their Magisterium is open to interpretation, or is itself an interpretation. Here were some interesting comments from this discussion. As far as I could tell, each of these comments comes from those committed to the supremacy of Rome:
[In regard to the declaration of the Diet of Worms], "...[T]he call was from Emperor Charles V not the Bishops of Worms. Second, it was for Fr. Martin's apprehension and detention not execution." [Source]
"I didn't know he was murdered. I thought he died a natural death." [source]
"[P]ersecution of heretics was done by the state not the Church. Lets use truth." [source]
"Again it is so EASY to blame the ONE HOLY CHURCH, for mistakes made by human leaders of its time. Just like we can blame the Pope for the Priest today who caved into evil, and of course Jesus for the sins of Judas. It all comes back to blaming Christ or his Church does it not?" [source]
"[T]he word 'outlaw' does not appear in the edict [of Worms] anywhere." [source]
"[T]he Edict called for the arrest and punishment of Luther and his followers as heretics, and only after an exhaustive attempt at the Diet of Worms to get him to soften his position. That isn't the same as the Catholic Chuch calling for the 'immediate murder' of Luther." [source]
"....[A]pproval of the Holy Office, is not EX CATHEDRA." [source]
"He was condemned for not what he said as being wrong or right, he was condemned to claiming to know the mind of God. He had no authority to speak in the name of the Spirit. Rather he was correct or incorrect, is not the question, he was condemned for claiming to know the mind of the Spirit of God, no one can do this unless they have authority from God to speak in his name. Only the Pope can do it, without the others." [source]
The last comment was the most fascinating. Another person commented on it stating that the argument Luther "was condemned for not what he said as being wrong or right, he was condemned to claiming to know the mind of God" was actually an argument possibly made by Jimmy Akin. I took a few minutes to try and find this alleged argument from Akin, but have yet to find it (if anyone comes across it, please let me know- it may not be Akin's at all). Well, whoever coined this argument, the person challenging it rightly noted its inherent anachronism.
Decret Romanum Pontificem
While the most popular declaration from Rome against Luther was Exsurge Domine (June 15, 1520), Luther was formally excommunicated via the bull Decret Romanum Pontificem (January 3, 1521, executed on January 28) by Pope Leo X (although there is some ambiguity here- see Martin Brecht, Martin Luther, His Road To Reformation, p. 442). This bull declares Luther to be a heretic and subject to punishment, as well as those who are "followers of Martin's pernicious and heretical sect, and given him openly and publicly their help." The bull refers to the church's treatment of Luther, "We would protect the herd from one infectious animal, lest its infection spread to the healthy ones." The Bull states also:
On all these we decree the sentences of excommunication, of anathema, of our perpetual condemnation and interdict; of privation of dignities, honours and property on them and their descendants, and of declared unfitness for such possessions; of the confiscation of their goods and of the crime of treason; and these and the other sentences, censures and punishments which are inflicted by canon law on heretics and are set out in our aforesaid missive, we decree to have fallen on all these men to their damnation.
We add to our present declaration, by our Apostolic authority, that states, territories, camps, towns and places in which these men have temporarily lived or chanced to visit, along with their possessions—cities which house cathedrals and metropolitans, monasteries and other religious and sacred places, privileged or unprivileged—one and all are placed under our ecclesiastical interdict, while this interdict lasts, no pretext of Apostolic Indulgence (except in cases the law allows, and even there, as it were, with the doors shut and those under excommunication and interdict excluded) shall avail to allow the celebration of mass and the other divine offices. We prescribe and enjoin that the men in question are everywhere to be denounced publicly as excommunicated, accursed, condemned, interdicted, deprived of possessions and incapable of owning them. They are to be strictly shunned by all faithful Christians.According to Gregory Sobolewski, Pope Leo X "wrote Charles V requesting enforcement of the excommunication according to imperial law" [Gregory Sobolewski, Martin Luther: Roman Catholic Prophet (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 2001), 68-69. Once Luther was deemed an official heretic, he could be immediately arrested and tried. Heiko Oberman says,
By signing the bull of excommunication, Decet Romanum Pontifcem, the pope had finally settled the Luther question- or so it appeared. After the conclusion of the ecclesiastical trial, only the administrative sequel remained: Luther was to be turned over to the secular authorities and subsequently executed.Hans Hillerbrand points out that what should have happened was that Elector Frederick of Saxony was to execute the ecclesiastical verdict, but the Luther affair ended up being directed to the upcoming imperial diet. Behind the scenes one of Luther's most vocal critics was the papal nuncio Aleander. He sought to hold the Emperor to the general understanding that a condemned heretic was not to have a further trial or hearing (Hillerbrand, p.56). The hearing was held though, and the Edict produced by it stated in part,
For this reason we forbid anyone from this time forward to dare, either by words or by deeds, to receive, defend, sustain, or favour the said Martin Luther. On the contrary, we want him to be apprehended and punished as a notorious heretic, as he deserves, to be brought personally before us, or to be securely guarded until those who have captured him inform us, whereupon we will order the appropriate manner of proceeding against the said Luther. Those who will help in his capture will be rewarded generously for their good work - The Edict of Worms [English translation]
The good news for today's ecumenically minded Roman Catholic is there is no authoritative or infallible statement from the Magisterium I'm aware of (either then or now) stating: "We want Luther killed," or, "Luther should be executed as a heretic." It was genuinely though within the realm of possibility that once Luther was declared a heretic by Rome, his sentence carried out by the Emperor could very well have been death, for Luther was then considered an enemy of the Empire. One of the strongest bits of propaganda circulating was that Luther was reviving the Bohemian heresy of Hus. Martin Brecht attempts to give some insight into Luther's thinking during the period in which he was summoned to Worms, "He was not unaware that his bloodthirsty opponents would not rest until they had killed him. But he was more concerned now that the responsibility for his death should be borne by the papists, not by the emperor" (Brecht, p. 461).