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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Luther Visualized 4 – The 95 Theses

Luther Posts the Ninety-Five Theses on Indulgences

Anonymous, Elector Frederick the Wise of Saxony’s Dream in Schweinitz on October 31, 1517, woodcut, 1717

This scene, itself a recasting of an earlier one from 1617, depicts a later tradition (dating to 1591), supposedly related thirdhand, that, on the night before Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Elector Frederick the Wise had a dream which he related to his brother John the following morning. In the dream, a monk wrote something on the door of his Castle Church with a pen whose quill stretched all the way to Rome and threatened to knock the tiara from the pope’s head.

Source
Johann Georg Theodor Gräße, Der Sagenschatz des Königreichs Sachsen (Dresden: Verlag von G. Schönfeld’s Buchhandlung, 1855), pp. 29-32

Lucas Cranach the Elder, Church of the Foundation of All Saints (Castle Church), woodcut, 1509 (coloring subsequent)

On the evening of October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. Or did he? Philip Melanchthon was the first to report on the posting of the theses as we commonly depict it, but he was not in Wittenberg in 1517 and he didn’t report on the posting of the theses until after Luther’s death. The closest report we get that may have been recorded during Luther’s lifetime is a handwritten note by Georg Rörer in a 1540 copy of the New Testament that was also used by Luther for making translation revisions, but that note says that Luther posted his theses on October 31 on the doors of both churches in Wittenberg. Plus, Rörer later wrote another note that matched Melanchthon’s information, apparently after he had read Melanchthon’s account. We do know that Luther included a copy of the theses with a letter to Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz on October 31, and that he himself reckoned the “treading underfoot” of indulgences from that day, but his own correspondence from 1518 strongly implies that he did not immediately make the theses public. Historian Martin Brecht suggests that Luther did not post the theses until perhaps the middle of November 1517. This woodcut of the Castle Church appeared in Das Wittenberger Heiltumsbuch of 1509, which depicted Elector Frederick the Wise’s extensive relic collection and was illustrated with numerous woodcuts by Lucas Cranach. In 1760 the Castle Church, including the wooden doors on which Luther had allegedly posted the theses, was destroyed by fire. In 1858 commemorative bronze doors inscribed with the original Latin theses were mounted where the old wooden doors stood.

Sources
Volker Leppin and Timothy J. Wengert, “Sources for and against the Posting of the Ninety-Five Theses,” Lutheran Quarterly, vol. 29 (Winter 2015), pp. 373-398

Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: His Road to Reformation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1985), pp. 190-202

Quote of the Week – Rubbing God’s Ears

Philip Melanchthon traveled to a colloquy in Hagenau after Philip of Hesse’s bigamy became known and was causing a scandal for the Lutherans. (Luther had actually recommended this bigamy for pastoral reasons—definitely not his finest moment.) The sensitive Melanchthon was so troubled by the scandal that by the time he reached Weimar he had already become so sick that he could not continue the trip. He contracted a bad fever and was bedridden.

Luther personally went to see him and arrived in Weimar on June 23, 1540. He found Melanchthon deathly ill, unrecognizable, and unable to hear or speak. Luther later said in one of his table talks that Melanchthon’s eyes had already dimmed like a dead person’s. After Luther expressed his shock, Matthaeus Ratzeberger, court physician for Duke John Frederick I of Saxony and eyewitness to what happened, says that Luther went to the window in the room and prayed an especially bold and earnest prayer. Luther himself seems to have felt the need to explain the boldness of the prayer afterwards either to everyone in the room or privately to Ratzeberger:

Our Lord God had to stand there and take it from me there, for I threw the sack at his door and rubbed his ears with all the promises to hear and answer prayers that I could recount from Holy Scripture, so that he had to hear and answer me if I was going to trust his promises in other matters too.

Luther then took Philip by the hand and said, “Cheer up, Philip, you are not going to die.” He then gave him a short address.

Philip seemed to regain his breath at this. When Luther ran to get him something to eat, Philip refused it, so Luther threatened him: “Listen here, Philip, here’s how it is: You are going to eat for me or I am going to put you under the ban.”

Melanchthon gave in, and from then on he began to recover.

Sources
Christian Gotthold Neudecker, ed., Die handschriftliche Geschichte Ratzeberger’s über Luther und seine Zeit (Jena: Druck und Verlag von Friedrich Mauke, 1850), pp. 103,104

Weimarer Ausgabe, Tischreden 5:129, no. 5407

Quote of the Week – Grace Means Unearned

The following is taken from Philip Melanchthon’s Apology (or Defense) of the Augsburg Confession, Article IV (Justification), verses 40 and 41:

Since then no one is able to keep God’s law by his own powers, and all are under sin and deserve to be condemned to eternal wrath and death, we are therefore unable to be freed from sin or to become upright in God’s sight through the law. Instead, forgiveness of sins and righteousness is promised through Christ, who has been given for us to pay for the sins of the world and who is the only Mediator and Redeemer. And this promise does not say that you have grace, salvation, etc. through Christ if you earn it. No, he offers forgiveness of sins purely out of grace, as Paul says, “If [forgiveness of sins] is by works, then it is not grace” [Romans 11:6]. And in another place: “This righteousness that avails before God is revealed apart from law” [Romans 3:21], that is, forgiveness of sins is offered for free.

Source
Die Bekenntnisschriften der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche, 2nd ed. (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1955), p. 167,168