Martin Luther III
A Theological Debate Leads to the German Revolt


The practical consequence [of the wide publication of Luther's Theses] was that the sales of indulgences fell off noticeably. The archbishop of Magdeburg, disappointed in his financial expectation, complained to Rome; the Curia ordered the general of the Augustinians to keep his monk quiet; and thus the trouble started.

For if anything is characteristic of the Reformation, it is that nobody could keep quiet, or could be kept quiet. Tetzel, the Dominican in charge of the sale, had nothing better to do than to publish countertheses; Eck wrote a tract against Luther; Luther answered. One of the inquisitors, Mazzolini, wrote a tract on the power of the pope against Luther. The Augustinians, at their chapter in Heidelberg of 1518, discussed the issue, and not all of them could agree with their brother; and, of course, the brother had to answer them in print.

Luther, in order to be silenced, was summoned to Rome; this brought into play the elector of Saxony, who considered the summons an affront against his university and did not want to jeopardize the life of his famous professor. Besides he had his personal sentiments against the indulgences in the concrete instance because the Brandenburgs had replaced the Saxon princes in the archbishoprics in question; and he had not permitted the sale of the indulgence in his territory to begin with.

Therefore, Pope Leo X had to revoke the summons, for the elector of Saxony could not be affronted considering the impending election of a new emperor. Instead it was arranged that Luther should appear before the papal legate to the diet at Augsburg, the Cardinal Cajetan; the interview did not go too well; and the situation was not improved when Luther published an account of this attempt to silence him.

The subsequent peace mission of the papal chamberlain von Miltitz was almost a success, for Luther promised to keep quiet unless attacked; but then the officious Eck started the provocation that resulted in the previously discussed Disputation at Leipzig of 1519 [Not quoted here. See p 220 id.].

The war of pamphlets and sermons went on into 1520, the year that brought the decisive writings of Luther, as well as the papal bull Exsurge Domine against him, and finally the burning of the bull in December 1520. Within three years, the tiff over indulgences had developed into a German national revolution against Rome; and the positions of the opponents had been fixed to such a degree that a withdrawal was hardly possible.

CW VOL 22 (HPI IV),
Part Five—The Great Confusion
Chapter 1—The Great Confusion I: Luther and Calvin
§4. The Ninety-Five Theses,
pp 230-231.

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