Luther Visualized 7 – Trial and Excommunication

The Papal Bull Threatening Luther’s Excommunication

Manuscript of the papal bull Exsurge Domine in which Luther is threatened with excommunication (Vatican Secret Archives, Reg. Vat., 1160, f. 251r)

This is a manuscript of the infamous papal bull (edict) threatening to excommunicate Martin Luther, proclaimed on July 24, 1520. It begins:

Leo etc. For future memory of the matter. Arise, O Lord, and judge your cause. Recall to memory your reproaches of those things that are perpetrated by senseless men all day long. Bend your ear to our prayers, for foxes have arisen seeking to demolish the vineyard whose winepress you alone have trodden. … A wild boar from the forest is endeavoring to destroy it…

Luther had 60 days from September 29 to send a certified retraction of his errors to Rome. Instead, on December 10, Luther appeared with the bull, trembling and praying, before a pyre lit in the carrion pit at Holy Cross Chapel outside the eastern gate of Wittenberg. He cast the bull into the fire with the words, “Because you have confounded the Holy Place [or truth] of God, today he confounds you in this fire [or may eternal fire also confound you]. Amen.”

Pope Leo X issued the actual bull of excommunication, Decet Romanum Pontificem (It Is Proper for the Roman Pontiff), on January 3, 1521.

Sources
Vatican Secret Archives, “The Bull Exsurge Domine by Leo X with Which He Threatens to Excommunicate Martin Luther”

Weimarer Ausgabe 7:183ff

Max Perlbach and Johannes Luther, “Ein neuer Bericht über Luthers Verbrennung der Bannbulle,” in Sitzungsberichte der königlich preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (Berlin, 1907), 1:95ff

Luther’s Works 48:192

The Vineyard of the Lord

Lucas Cranach the Younger, The Vineyard of the Lord, oil on panel, 1569 (photo by the Stiftung Luthergedenkstätten in Sachsen-Anhalt)

When Paul Eber (8 Nov 1511 – 10 Dec 1569) was 13, his horse bolted, throwing him from the saddle and dragging him along on the ground for half an hour, leaving him somewhat crooked for the rest of his life. He went on to be professor of Latin at the University of Wittenberg (1541), head preacher at the Castle Church (1557), head pastor of the City Church and general superintendent of the district (1558), and the most influential hymn writer of the Reformation after Luther. When he died, his children commissioned an epitaph from Lucas Cranach the Younger, who chose a vineyard as the theme of the accompanying painting (pictured), which is still on display in the City Church (St. Mary’s) in Wittenberg. In the painting, Eber and his family, including 13 children, are kneeling at the fence on the right hand side. Eber, whose name means “wild boar” (from the Latin aper meaning the same), is holding an open Bible which he has helped to translate. Luther (called a “wild boar” in the papal bull above), Melanchthon, Bugenhagen, and other fellow reformers labor faithfully in the Lord’s vineyard, while the pope and his cardinals, bishops, monks, and nuns do their best to ruin the vineyard.

For more on this painting, read here.

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Quote of the Week – Please Prove Me Wrong

This week’s quote comes from a long letter Martin Luther wrote to Elector Frederick the Wise, Duke of Saxony, on November 19, 1518. Luther historian Martin Brecht says that it is “without a doubt one of the greatest Luther letters” (Martin Luther: His Road to Reformation, p. 262). In it, Luther recounts his hearing before Cardinal Thomas Cajetan and defends his own words and actions there. After his accounting, and asserting that there was nothing he neglected to do except fulfill the cardinal’s demand to recant, he continues:

As for the rest, let the most honorable Legatine Lord [i.e. Cardinal Cajetan] or the supreme Pontiff himself condemn, teach, and interpret, but they should not merely say, “You have erred. What you said is wrong.” They should rather point out the error in my writings; they should show what I said that was wrong, cite the proof that they have, reply to the Scripture passages I have quoted; they should do the teaching they boastfully say they have done; they should instruct the man who desires, begs, wishes, and longs to be taught. Not even a [Muslim] Turk would deny me these things. When I am led to see that matters need to be understood in a different way than I have understood them, if I do not recant and do not condemn myself then, most illustrious Prince, then let your Highness be the first to persecute me, to expel me; let the men of our university [in Wittenberg] repudiate me; indeed, I invoke heaven and earth against myself, and may my Lord Jesus Christ himself destroy me. I too speak on the basis of certain knowledge, and not on the basis of opinions. I want neither the Lord God nor any creature of God to be favorably disposed toward me, if I do not conform after someone has taught me better than what I have learned.

Source
Dr. Wilhelm Martin Leberecht de Wette, ed., Dr. Martin Luthers Briefe, Sendschreiben und Bedenken (Berlin: G. Reimer, 1825), no. 95, p. 184

Cf. St. Louis Edition of Luther’s Works, vol. 15, no. 238, col. 650.