May 30, 1518, Martin Luther wrote General Vicar Johann von Staupitz, his immediate superior and mentor, a letter accompanying the tract ‘Resolutions’; both letter and tract were later printed together. ‘Resolutions’ was a tract intended to elaborate on his 95 theses. Among many clarifications Luther emphasized his 95 theses were not pure assertions; they were offered as subjects of inquiry inviting debate. Luther was not rampaging through the vineyard. He followed protocol. First, he obtained permission from his more than reluctant bishop Jerome Schulte of Brandenburg who warned him he ‘was touching the Church’. Then Staupitz was to forward the Resolutions to none other than Pope Leo X.
Pope Leo X by Raphael
courtesy MBell1975 (Flickr)
Accompanying Resolutions was a letter directly to the pope, Luther’s personal appeal to Leo X. Luther began in his usual colorful vein, ie, “I am accused of heresy, apostasy, and perfidy, and am called by six hundred other names of ignominy. My ears shudder and my eyes are astounded.” Luther reasoned to the pope that if he had acted improperly with his theses, would not Frederick the Wise (“Most Illustrious Prince Frederick, Duke of Saxony, Imperial Elector”), a lover of catholic and apostolic truth, have condemned him? Would not Luther’s university colleagues have condemned him? Luther was so naïve in politics. These arguments alone flagged him as an extreme danger to the Roman church. Luther finished, “In your voice I shall recognize the voice of Christ directing you and speaking in you. If I have deserved death, I shall not refuse to die.” Oh my!
What a burden to Frederick the Wise. In February 1518, his secretary Spalatin had first read the 95 theses to Frederick. The ageing sovereign must have sighed as he grumbled, “You will see that the pope will not like this.” And how Frederick the Wise must have bristled when he learned Luther in his letter to Leo X defended himself through a convoluted argument that enmeshed him and his university as well. Frederick himself used silence like a sledge hammer.
‘Resolutions’ satisfied no one and probably alarmed even Luther’s supporters. In August 1518, raging against Luther were both emperor Maximilian (Luther was a ‘pernicious author’) and pope Leo X (Luther was a ‘son of iniquity’), no doubt both prompted by high-ranking clerics. By October Leo X had promoted Luther to the ‘only son of Satan’. The power alone of Frederick the Wise, magnified even more by Maximilian’s grave health and imminent replacement, staved off Luther’s deportation and execution.
Sources: Principal are Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: His Road to Reformation, 1483-1521 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1985) and Gottfried G. Krodel, ed., Letters I, volume 48 in Luther’s Works (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963). The letters written by Leo X and emperor Maximilian are in Preserved Smith, Luther’s Correspondence and other Contemporary Letters, Volumes I and II (Lutheran Pub. Society, 1911, 1918). Smith is particularly entertaining because he has translated not only Luther’s letters but the letters of important contemporaries.
Q: Is it possible ‘naïve’ Martin Luther deliberately pulled Frederick the Wise into his camp?