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

In the years between 1517 and 1521


It

is perhaps difficult for us now to comprehend the state of mind which longed for the new and yet clung to the old, which made the two Nuernberg families, the Ebners and the Nuetzlers, season the ceremonies at their family gathering to celebrate their daughters taking the veil with speeches in praise of Luther and of his writings. Yet this was the dominant note in the vast majority of the supporters of Luther in these earlier years.

Men who had no great admiration for Luther personally had no wish to see him crushed by the Roman Curia by mere weight of authority. Even Duke George of Saxony, who had called Luther a pestilent fellow at the Leipzig Disputation, had been stirred into momentary admiration by the _Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation_, and had no great desire to publish the Bull within his dominions; and his private secretary and chaplain, Jerome Emser, although a personal enemy who never lost an opportunity of controverting Luther, nevertheless hoped that he might be the instrument of effecting a reformation in the Church. Jacob Wimpheling of Strassburg, a thoroughgoing mediaevalist who had manifested no sympathy for Reuchlin, and his friend Christopher of Utenheim, Bishop of Basel, hoped that the movement begun by Luther might lead to that reformation of the Church on mediaeval lines which they both earnestly desired.

Perhaps no one represented better the attitude of the large majority

of Luther's supporters, in the years between 1517 and 1521, than did the Prince, who is rightly called Luther's protector, Frederick the Elector of Saxony. It is a great though common mistake to suppose that Frederick shared those opinions of Luther which afterwards grew to be the Lutheran theology. His brother John, and in a still higher degree his nephew John Frederick, were devoted Lutherans in the theological sense; but there is no evidence to show that Frederick ever was.

Frederick never had any intimate personal relations with Luther. At Spalatin's request, he had paid the expenses of Luther's _promotion_ to the degree of Doctor of the Holy Scriptures; he had, of course, acquiesced in his appointment to succeed Spalatin as Professor of Theology; and he must have appreciated keenly the way in which Luther's work had gradually raised the small and declining University to the position it held in 1517. A few letters were exchanged between Luther and Frederick, but there is no evidence that they ever met in conversation; nor is there any that Frederick had ever heard Luther preach. When he lay dying he asked Luther to come and see him; but the Reformer was far distant, trying to dissuade the peasants from rising in rebellion, and when he reached the palace his old protector had breathed his last.

The Elector was a pious man according to mediaeval standards. He had received his earliest lasting religious impressions from intercourse with Augustinian Eremite monks when he was a boy at school at Grimma, and he maintained the closest relations with the Order all his life. He valued highly all the external aids to a religious life which the mediaeval Church had provided. He believed in the virtue of pilgrimages and relics. He had made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and had brought


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