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A Monthly Magazine for Sunday Reading.
NOVEMBER, 1883. [All Rights Reserved.
The Personal Life of Martin Luther.
PART I. T DESIRE in the following pages to tell the main 1 incidents in the life of the great German Reformer. I have endeavoured to do so as far as possible in his own words. 1 have made copious use of Principal Tulloch's graphic sketch of Luther, in his Leaders of the Reformation; and also of Mr. J. A. Froude's recent able articles in the Contemporary Review; and have not hesitated to employ the language of both these writers, when it seemed to add directness and picturesqueness to the narrative.
On the 10th of November, 1483, 400 years ago, on the eve of the saint after whom, the day following his birth, he received his name, Martin Luther was born at Eisleben, where his parents—his father a miner, his mother a peasant—had gone to attend a fair. His education began at the Latin School, at Mansfield, where the family lived ; and the discipline both of the school and of the home life seems to have been somewhat severe, though we have a pretty picture of the father carrying his little boy in his arms to and from school. Subsequently he went to the school of the Franciscans, at Magdeburg, and then at Eisenach, where, singing one day on the streets for bread, as was the custom at that time in Germany, he attracted the attention of a lady of the name of Cotta, who became his warm friend and comfortably housed him during his further school days. At the age of eighteen he entered the University of Erfurt as a law-student, and four years later took his degree of Doctor of Philosophy. His legal studies influenced his future thought, but during his college days other influences were at work,
which were not only to change the current of his own but of the world's history. A dangerous illness, the death of a dear friend, the discovery that there were more gospels and epistles than those given in the lectionaries of the Church, an interested perusal of the Bible, all helped to strengthen the resolution to which he felt himself impelled. “His mode of carrying it out was characteristic. One evening he invited some of his fellow students to supper, gives them of his best cheer: music and jest enliven the company, and the entertainment closes in a full burst of merriment. The same night there is a solitary knock at the door of the Augustine Convent, and the student, who has just gaily parted from his companions, two volumes alone in his hand, a Virgil and a Plautus, passes beneath its portal. He has separated from the world, and devoted himself to God, as he and the world then understood devotion.”
Here at Erfurt, in the convent which he had thus voluntarily made his home, the seeds of thought that came to bear so much fruit sprang up in his heart, and he began the struggle which was to issue in such tremendous results. Here his intellectual and moral nature were aroused, and the result was dissatisfaction with the thought, the teaching, and the practices of the Church, and intense dissatisfaction with his own spiritual condition. He could find no real peace for his soul in the ways to which his Church pointed. “If ever monk could have got to heaven by monkery I might have done so," he said. I wore out my body with watching, fasting, praying, and other works.” It was of no use. His sins were ever before him. The clouds of judgment were in the sky above him. One day at Mass they seemed to be enveloping him, and he cried aloud-" It is not I. It is not I!”
Fortunately for him, just at this time the darkness was deepest, he made the acquaintance of Staupitz, the Vicar-general of the Augustines, who came to inspect the Convent at Erfurt. “Through him," says Luther, “the light of the Gospel first dawned out of the darkness on my heart." He had said to him : “It is in vain that I promise to God: sin is always too strong for me;" and Staupitz bad replied, and we must all feel the truth of his words—"I have vowed more than a thousand times to lead a holy life, and as
often broken my vows. I now trust only in the mercy hearing the words thundering in his ears—“The just and grace of God in Christ. Look at the wounds of shall live by faith,”—he gave up the task. Christ. See the Saviour bleeding upon the cross, and Returning home, his preaching became more real believe in the mercy of God. There is no true repen and living than ever. His subjects were sin and atonetance but that which begins in the love of God and of ment, human wretchedness, and the mercy and grace righteousness. Conversion does not come from such of the Almighty, and "his impassioned words, were works as you have been practising. Love Him who drawn fresh through his own heart, from the Epistles has first loved you !" How Luther welcomed such of St. Paul. His look, his manner, his demonic eyes, teaching as that, and in the light and love of it his brilliant black, with a yellow rim round the iris, like gloom was gradually dispelled. One day when he had a lynx's, were startling and impressive.” He attracted partially lost the comfort he had felt, he wrote, “My sins | the attention of the Elector, and Spalatin his secre--my sins;" and Staupitz replied, “It is just your sins táry and chaplain, became his friend. In 1512 he that make you an object of salvation. Would you be only was made a Doctor of Theology, and had to swear the semblance of a sinner, and have only the semblance on the Bible that he would “study and preach it all of a Saviour ? Jesus Christ is the Saviour of those his life, and maintain the Christian faith against all who are real and great sinners.” Another day, when heretics,”—an oath which is said to have been a he was very full of gloom and fear, and an old monk great source of comfort to him in after years. was repeating the Creed to him, the words “I believe Leo the Tenth was now Pope. He needed money, in the forgiveness of sins,” fell upon his ear, like the for he wished to signalise his reign by building the music he loved so well. “I saw the Scripture in an | most magnificent church in the world. He resolved entirely new light, and straightway I felt as I were to raise the necessary funds by a general sale of born anew_it was as if I had found the door of indulgences throughout Catholic Europe. The ComParadise thrown wide open."
missioner for Germany was Albert, Archbishop of In 1507 he was ordained a priest, and in two years Mayence, Cardinal and Prince of the Empire, a he took the degree of Bachelor of Theology at Witten youth of twenty-seven years of age, loose, luxuriberg, and began to lecture on theology, “that theology | ous, sensual. His agent in Saxony was John Tetzel, which seeks out the kernel from the nut, and the flour and thus at Juterboch, a few miles from Wittenfrom the wheat, and the marrow from the bones." | berg, a “ shameless traffic" fell into the hands The nature of these lectures may be inferred from what of a man “conspicuous for shamelessness of tongue, the Rector of the University said about them—“This and who scrupled not at any blasphemy to exalt monk will puzzle all our doctors, and bring in a new the value of his wares.” “Come and buy, come and doctrine, and reform the whole Roman Church, for he | buy,” he called to all. “When one drops a penny takes his stand on the writings of the Apostles and into the box for a soul in Purgatory, so soon as the Prophets, and on the Word of Jesus Christ.” His money chinks in the chest the soul flies up to heaven.” preaching produced a similar impression and many It may well be imagined how Luther's indignation was flocked to hear the words which, as Melancthon said, aroused, especially when we consider that he had were “born not on his lips but in his soul.”
already said of many of the practices of the Church, In 1511, along with another monk, he was sent to “The whole ground was covered, nay heaped up, with Rome on business. He approached the great city with the rubbish of all manner of strange doctrines and emotion so intense that on beholding it he flung himself superstitions so that the word of truth can barely on his knees in a transport of feeling. He left it in shine through; nay, in many places, not a ray of disgust and disappointment, but the visit was pregnant it is visible.” At first, indeed, he only warned his with results. “I would not take 100,000 florins not people that “they might do something better and to have seen Rome. I might have thought else that I more certain than buying pardons." But as the evil did the Pope injustice. I have said many masses increased and the noise of Tetzel's infamous traffic there, and heard many said, so that I shudder when I sounded louder in his ears, he called forth—“God think of it. There I heard, among other coarse jests, willing, I will beat a hole in his drum." He courtiers laughing at table and bragging that some said determined to avail himself of the practice, then commass and repeated these words over the bread and wine mon in Germany, in regard to disputed points, and on
-Panis es panis manebis; vinum es vinum manebis— the 31st of October, 1517, he affixed to the door of “ Bread thou art and bread thou remainest; wine thou Wittenberg Church ninety-five theses, affirming the art and wine thou remainest.” Here too it was while necessity of spiritual repentance, and calling in quesessaying to mount the stairs of the Sancta Scala, that tion the Pope's right to traffic in indulgences. “If the sinner had true contrition,” he maintained, “he John Eck, who had previously attacked the original received complete forgiveness; if he had not,'no brief theses. Both sides claimed the victory. The real of indulgence could avail him, for the Pope's absolu question at issue emerged into the light of day. They tion had no value in and for itself, but only in so far were “Germany or Rome, national independence, or as it was a mark of Divine favour.”
hierarchcal bondage, and still more deeply Scripture or And now the great battle began in earnest. Tetzel Church, conscience or authority ? That Luther was answered that the Pope was infallible, and publicly drifting further and further from all hope of compromise burned the theses of Luther. The students of Witten with the Church of Rome, may be gathered from some berg burned the theses of Tetzel Pope Leo seemed of his sayings at this period. “The time for silence at first only amused. “It is only a quarrel of envious is past. The time to speak is come. Talk of war monks ;” but when he saw the theses he said, “A against the Turk? The Roman Turk is the fellest Turk drunken German has written these, when he is sober in the world. Roman avarice, the greatest thief that he will be of another mind.” After a year he dis ever walked the earth. All goes into the Roman sack, patched a legate to Germany, and by his desire a Diet which has no bottom—and all in the name of God, of the Empire was summoned to meet at Augsburg, in too! Hearest thou, 0, Pope !_not all holy, but all August, 1518, and Luther was required to attend. By | sinful—who gave thee power to lift thyself above God, this time the Reformer found that he had been as a and break His laws? The wicked Satan lies through magnet, attracting to himself men who had only been thy throat. O, my Lord Christ! Hasten the last day, waiting for some one to give expression to their long and destroy the devil's nest at Rome.” “I must now pent up thoughts and wishes. “The Humanists, deny that there are seven Sacraments, and bind them Reuchlin, Erasmus, and others, expressed their sym to three-Baptism, the Lord's Supper, and Penancea pathy; the war party, Hutten and Seckingen uttered and even these are led by the Church of Rome into a their joy; above all the great heart of the German wretched prison, and the Church is robbed of all her people responded; and while the monk of Wittenburg liberty." After such language as this we are quite seemed, as he said afterwards, to stand solitary in the | prepared to hear that the Pope condemned Luther's breach, he was in reality encompassed by a cloud of writings to the fire, and equally prepared to hear that witnesses, a great army of truthseekers, at whose Luther retaliated on the 10th of December, 1520, by head he was destined to win for the world once more solemnly burning at Wittenberg a copy of the Papal the triumph of truth and righteousness."
decretals. “Because thou hast troubled the Lord's On Luther's appearing at the Diet of Augsburg, saints, let eternal fire consume thee ?” he said, as he Cajetan, the Pope's legate, found that he had no ordi consigned them to the flames. Round the flames these nary person to deal with; that the young peasant student's sang the Te Deum, and the rejoicing grew preacher was not to be cajoled into silence or retraction. louder as the Bull brought by Eck was added to the fire. Retract he would not against his conscience. Cajetan The deed was done-Luther, timorous at first, was now tried to frighten him into submission. It was in vain. strong. A storm had now burst which, he said, would “ Think you,” he said, “that the Pope cares for the not end till the day of judgment. He and all his opinions of Germany? Think you that the princes will followers were excommunicated. take up arms for you? No, indeed; and where will The German people were on his side. What about you be then ?” “Under Heaven!” replied Luther. I the German Emperor ? Maximilian had died in
Feeling that he was in danger, he escaped to January 1519, and Charles the V., a young man of Wittenberg “in a monk's gown and unbreeched." | twenty years, had succeeded him. He knew little of Settling down again, he wrote an account of the German life or thought. It is said he did not even proceedings at Augsburg, and a tract on the Papal understand its language. “He represented the institusupremacy. He appealed to a General Council. The tutions of 1500 years, which if corrupt in some parts Pope saw that further negotiations were necessary, of Europe, in others had not lost their old vitality, and and Militz, his Chamberlain, a Saxon nobleman, was were bearing fruit still in brave and noble forms of chosen for the purpose. He tried to temporise, to human nature.” And now he was not only “ Emperor cajole, to flatter, but still in vain. Militz discovered of the Germany of Luther, but he was also King of to his amazement that three-fourths of Germany were the Spain of St. Ignatius. By nature and instinct upon Luther's side. He was discomfited.
Charles the V. belonged to the side of authority and The next passage of arms between the contending interest. Indeed, necessity combined to hold him to parties was, in the summer of 1519, at Leipzig, before it. In Germany he was king of kings, but of kings Duke George of Saxony. Luther's opponent was Dr. over whom, unless he was supported by the Diet, his