Home

Directory Index

 

  Martin Luther

 

_Letter to Pope Leo X,

Accompanying the "Resolutions"

to the XCV Theses_

by Dr. Martin Luther,

1518

Published in:

_Works of Martin Luther_

Adolph Spaeth, L.D. Reed, Henry Eyster Jacobs, et Al., Trans. & Eds.

(Philadelphia: A. J. Holman Company, 1915),

Volume 1, pp. 44-48

 

LETTER TO POPE LEO X, ACCOMPANYING

THE "RESOLUTIONS" TO THE XCV THESES

1518

To the

Most Blessed Father,

LEO X.

Martin Luther,

Augustinian Friar,

wisheth everlasting welfare.

I have heard evil reports about myself, most blessed Father,

by which I know that certain friends have put my name in very

bad odor with you and yours, saying that I have attempted to

belittle the power of the keys and of the Supreme Pontiff.

Therefore 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. But the one thing in which

I put my confidence remains unshaken -- my clear and quiet

conscience. Moreover, what I hear is nothing new. With such

like decorations I have been adorned in my own country by

those same honorable and truthful men, i.e., by the men whose

own conscience convicts them of wrongdoing, and who are trying

to put their own monstrous doings off on me, and to glorify

their own shame by bringing shame to me. But you will deign,

blessed Father, to hear the true case from me, though I am but

an uncouth child.

It is not long ago that the preaching of the Jubilee

indulgences was begun in our country, and matters went so far

that the preachers of indulgences, thinking that the

protection of your name made anything permissible, ventured

openly to teach the most impious and heretical doctrines,

which threatened to make the power of the Church a scandal and

a laughing-stock, as if the decretals De abusionibus

quaestorum did not apply to them.

Not content with spreading this poison of theirs by word of

mouth, they published tracts and scattered them among the

people. In these books -- to say nothing of the insatiable and

unheard of avarice of which almost every letter in them vilely

smells -- they laid down those same impious and heretical

doctrines, and laid them down in such wise that confessors

were bound by their oath to be faithful and insistent in

urging them upon the people. I speak the truth, and none of

them can hide himself from the heat thereof. The tracts are

extant and they cannot disown them. These teachings were so

successfully carried on, and the people, with their false

hopes, were sucked so dry that, as the Prophet says, "they

plucked their flesh from off their bones"; but they themselves

meanwhile were fed most pleasantly on the fat of the land.

There was just one means which they used to quiet opposition,

to wit, the protection of your name, the threat of burning at

the stake, and the disgrace of the name "heretic." It is

incredible how ready they are to threaten, even, at times,

when they perceive that it is only their own mere silly

opinions which are contradicted. As though this were to quiet

opposition, and not rather to arouse schisms and seditions by

sheer tyranny!

None the less, however, stories about the avarice of the

priests were bruited in the taverns, and evil was spoken of

the power of the keys and of the Supreme Pontiff, and as

evidence of this, I could cite the common talk of this whole

land. I truly confess that I was on fire with zeal for Christ,

as I thought, or with the heat of youth, if you prefer to have

it so; and yet I saw that it was not in place for me to make

any decrees or to do anything in these matters. Therefore I

privately admonished some of the prelates of the Church. By

some of them I was kindly received, to others I seemed

ridiculous, to still others something worse; for the terror of

your name and the threat of Church censures prevailed. At

last, since I could do nothing else, it seemed good that I

should offer at least a gentle resistance to them, i.e.,

question and discuss their teachings. Therefore I published a

set of theses, inviting only the more learned to dispute with

me if they wished; as should be evident, even to my

adversaries, from the Preface to the Disputation.

Lo, this is the fire with which they complain that all the

world is now ablaze! Perhaps it is because they are indignant

that I, who by your own apostolic authority am a Master of

Theology, have the right to conduct public disputations,

according to the custom of all the Universities and of the

whole Church, not only about indulgences, but also about God's

power and remission and mercy, which are incomparably greater

subjects. I am not much moved, however, by the fact that they

envy me the privilege granted me by the power of your

Holiness, since I am unwillingly compelled to yield to them in

things of far greater moment, viz., when they mix the dreams

of Aristotle with theological matters, and conduct nonsensical

disputations about the majesty of God, beyond and against the

privilege granted them.

It is a miracle to me by what fate it has come about that this

single Disputation of mine should, more than any other, of

mine or of any of the teachers, have gone out into very nearly

the whole land. It was made public at our University and for

our University only, and it was made public in such wise that

I cannot believe it has become known to all men. For it is a

set of theses, not doctrines or dogmas, and they are put,

according to custom, in an obscure and enigmatic way.

Otherwise, if I had been able to foresee what was coming, I

should have taken care, for my part, that they would be easier

to understand.

Now what shall I do? I cannot recant them; and yet I see that

marvelous enmity is inflamed against me because of their

dissemination. It is unwillingly that I incur the public and

perilous and various judgment of men, especially since I am

unlearned, dull of brain, empty of scholarship; and that too

in this brilliant age of ours, which by its achievements in

letters and learning can force even Cicero into the corner,

though he was no base follower of the public light. But

necessity compels me to be the goose that squawks among the

swans.

And so, to soften my enemies and to fulfil the desires of

many, I herewith send forth these trifling explanations of my

Disputation; I send them forth in order, too, that I may be

more safe under the defense of your name and the shadow of

your protection. In them all may see, who will, how purely and

simply I have sought after and cherished the power of the

Church and reverence for the keys; and, at the same time, how

unjustly and falsely my adversaries have befouled me with so

many names. For if I had been such a one as they wish to make

me out, and if I had not, on the contrary, done everything

correctly, according to my academic privilege, the Most

Illustrious Prince Frederick, Duke of Saxony, Imperial

Elector, etc., would never have tolerated such a pest in his

University, for he most dearly loves the Catholic and

Apostolic truth, nor could I have been tolerated by the keen

and learned men of our University. But what has been done, I

do because those most courteous men do not fear openly to

involve both the Prince and the University in the same

disgrace with myself.

Wherefore, most blessed Father, I cast myself at the feet of

your Holiness, with all that I have and all that I am.

Quicken, kill, call, recall, approve, reprove, as you will. 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. For the earth is the Lord's and the fulness

thereof. He is blessed forever. Amen.

May He have you too forever in His keeping. Amen.

ANNO MDXVIII.