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A History of the Reformation (Vol. 1 of 2)

Miltitz met Luther in the house of Spalatin


Miltitz got among German speaking people he found that the state of matters was undreamt of at the papal court. He was a German, and knew the Germans. He could see, what the Cardinal-Legate had never perceived, that he had to deal not with the stubbornness of a recalcitrant monk, but with the slow movement of a nation. When he visited his friends and relations in Augsburg and Nuernberg, he found that three out of five were on Luther's side. He came to the wise resolution that he would see both Luther and Tetzel privately before producing his credentials. Tetzel he could not see. The unhappy man wrote to Miltitz that he dared not stir from his convent, so greatly was he in danger from the violence of the people. Miltitz met Luther in the house of Spalatin; he at once disowned the speeches of the pardon-sellers; he let it be seen that he did not think much of the Cardinal-Legate's methods of action; he so prevailed on Luther that the latter promised to write a submissive letter to the Pope, to advise people to reverence the Roman See, to say that Indulgences were useful in the remission of canonical penances. Luther did all this; and if the Roman Curia had supported Miltitz there is no saying how far the reconciliation would have gone. But the Roman Curia did not support the papal chamberlain, and Miltitz had also to reckon with John Eck, who was burning to extinguish Luther in a public discussion.

The months between his interview at Augsburg (October

1518) and the Disputation with John Eck at Leipzig (June 1519) had been spent by Luther in hard and disquieting studies. His opponents had confronted him with the Pope's absolute supremacy in all ecclesiastical matters. This was one of Luther's oldest inherited beliefs. The Church had been for him "the Pope's House," in which the Pope was the house-father, to whom all obedience was due. It was hard for him to think otherwise. He had been re-examining his convictions about justifying faith and attempting to trace clearly their consequences, and whether they did lead to his declarations about the efficacy of Indulgences. He could come to no other conclusion. It became necessary to investigate the evidence for the papal claim to absolute authority. He began to study the Decretals, and found, to his amazement and indignation, that they were full of frauds; and that the papal supremacy had been forced on Germany on the strength of a collection of Decretals many of which were plainly forgeries. It is difficult to say whether the discovery brought more joy or more grief to Luther. Under the combined influences of historical study, of the opinions of the early Church Fathers, and of the Holy Scriptures, one of his oldest landmarks was crumbling to pieces. His mind was in a whirl of doubt. He was half-exultant and half-terrified at the result of his studies; and his correspondence reveals how his mood of mind changed from week to week. It was while he was thus "on the swither," tremulously on the balance, that John Eck challenged him to dispute at Leipzig on the primacy and supremacy of the Roman Pontiff. The discussion might clear the air, might make himself see where he stood. He accepted the challenge almost feverishly.

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