Thursday, August 13, 2009

Luther Went Too Far

The following has been quoted extensively from

Luther started off OK...

Hans Hillerbrand writes that Luther had no intention of confronting the church, but saw his disputation as a scholarly objection to church practices, and the tone of the writing is accordingly "searching, rather than doctrinaire." Hillerbrand writes that there is nevertheless an undercurrent of challenge in several of the theses, particularly in Thesis 86, which asks: "Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St. Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money?"

Then he got carried away...

Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz and Magdeburg did not reply to Luther's letter containing the 95 Theses. He had the theses checked for heresy and in December 1517 forwarded them to Rome. He needed the indulgences revenue to pay off a papal dispensation for his tenure of more than one bishopric. As Luther later noted, "the pope had a finger in the pie as well, because one half was to go to the building of St Peter's Church in Rome".

Pope Leo X was used to reformers and heretics, and he responded slowly, "with great care as is proper." Over the next three years, he was to deploy a series of papal theologians and envoys against Luther, which only served to harden the reformer's anti-papal theology. First, the Dominican theologian Sylvester Mazzolini drafted a heresy case against Luther, whom Leo then summoned to Rome. The Elector Frederick persuaded the pope to have Luther examined at Augsburg, where the Imperial Diet was held. There, in October 1518, Luther informed the papal legate Cardinal Cajetan that he did not consider the papacy part of the biblical Church, and the hearings degenerated into a shouting match. More than his writing the 95 Theses, Luther's confrontation of the church cast him as an enemy of the pope. Cajetan's original instructions had been to arrest Luther if he failed to recant, but he lacked the means in Augsburg, where the Elector guaranteed Luther's security. Luther slipped out of the city at night, without leave from Cajetan.

In January 1519, at Altenburg in Saxony, the papal nuncio Karl von Miltitz adopted a more conciliatory approach. Luther made certain concessions to the Saxon, who was a relative of the Elector, and promised to remain silent if his opponents did. The theologian Johann Maier von Eck, however, was determined to expose Luther's doctrine in a public forum. In June and July 1519 he staged a disputation with Luther's colleague Andreas Karlstadt at Leipzig and invited Luther to speak. Luther's boldest assertion in the debate was that Matthew 16:18 does not confer on popes the exclusive right to interpret scripture, and that therefore neither popes nor church councils were infallible. For this, Eck branded Luther a new Jan Hus, referring to the Czech reformer and heretic burned at the stake in 1415. From that moment, he devoted himself to Luther's defeat.

Luther went from raising a discontented hand to all-out rebellion. The former was his right; the latter when the devil dragged him away.

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