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Martin Luther, Part 4: The Reformer (continued)

Luther Meets with Cardinal Cajetan

On September 25, 1518, Luther set out on foot for Augsburg. He traveled with a friend, Brother Leonard Beier. Although he had a letter of safe conduct, Luther was troubled. He knew what it could mean for him. He said, “I have the stake before my eyes constantly.” In Weimar a Franciscan monk warned him, “Dear doctor, the Italians are learned men. I fear that you will not be able to stand your ground against them and that you will be convicted and burned.” Luther replied, “Even in Augsburg in the midst of his enemies, Christ reigns.” 

Luther did not know what to expect in his meeting with Cardinal Cajetan. The first meeting took place on October 13. The cardinal received him in a kind manner. He hoped to persuade Luther and to win him back by assuming a kind and fatherly attitude. Luther was pleased with the reception, but he was eager to discuss the matters that brought about the meeting. He wanted clarification of the misunderstanding that apparently had developed between him and some church leaders.

Cajetan then explained his reason for the meeting, “I have been ordered by the pope to require three things of you. First, you are to repent of your errors and renounce them. Secondly, you are to promise not to teach them in the future. Thirdly, you are to stop all activities that disturb the peace of the church.” Luther asked Cajetan to name the errors and to prove that they were errors indeed on  the basis of Scripture. Although the cardinal was told by the popethat he should not debate with Luther, he found himself taking part in several heated arguments during the three-day meeting. Again and again during the discussions he shouted, “Recant! Acknowledge that you are wrong. Only this will save you from the pope!” Finally, after he realized that Luther stood firm in his conviction that he had taught nothing contrary to the Bible, Cajetan cried out, “Go! Recant or never come to see me again.”

After the last meeting with Luther, Cajetan had a brief meeting with John Staupitz. He asked Staupitz to try to persuade Luther to recant. Staupitz promised nothing but agreed that he would ask Luther to write a letter to the cardinal. This Luther did. In the letter he apologized for losing his temper, but he again stated that his conscience would not permit him to recant.

There were rumors that plans had been made to arrest Luther and take him to Rome. So on the night of October 20, Luther’s  friends secretly led him out of the city of Augsburg through a small gate. A messenger was waiting there with two horses. Luther was helped into the saddle, and the two rode off toward Wittenberg. On the 31st of October, just a year after posting the Ninety-five Theses, Luther arrived in Wittenberg. He was home, but he knew he was not safe. He expected a papal “bull of excommunication” any day. His friend, John Staupitz, advised him to leave Germany and flee to France. But Luther stayed.

Luther Meets with Carl von Miltitz

Cajetan was frustrated and angry. He had failed to convince Luther that his teachings were false. He had failed to get Luther to recant. In November he wrote two letters, one to Pope Leo, the other to Elector Frederick of Saxony. In these letters he described the discussions he had had with Luther in Augsburg. He accused Luther of heresy and told the elector that he was honor-bound to arrest Luther and send him to Rome. The elector sent a copy of the letter to Luther for comments. Luther pointed out to the elector that Cajetan had neither designated the false teachings of which he was accusing him nor proved him guilty of heresy. Frederick had no thought  of delivering his university professor to Rome without a fair trial. In December he sent a letter to Cardinal Cajetan in  which he rejected Cajetan’s request to arrest Luther. The elector had taken his stand. This would mean much for Luther in the days and years ahead.

The pope was determined to have Luther delivered to Rome. Elector Frederick was just as determined that, if Luther should be tried at all, he would be tried in Germany. Pope Leo now made his move to overcome that obstacle. He chose his chamberlain, Charles von Miltitz, to persuade the elector to change his mind and persuade Luther to come to Rome to recant. When Miltitz left for Germany, he was confident that he would succeed in his mission. The pope had given him special indulgences for the elector’s Castle Church in Wittenberg. In them the pope promised greatly to reduce the years of suffering in purgatory for the Wittenbergers. That should please the elector. Miltitz was also to present Frederick with the “Golden Rose,” an honor that the pope bestowed on only a few very select people. Frederick recognized these things as bribes, and he did nothing to indicate that he was changing his mind about Luther.

The pope had ordered Miltitz not to argue with Luther but to persuade him that it would be to his advantage to come to Rome and make peace with the pope. Frederick agreed to arrange a meeting between Luther and Miltitz at Altenburg. In the meeting Luther absolutely refused to recant, but two agreements were reached that were satisfactory to all parties: First, Luther would stop all disputes about indulgences if his enemies would stop attacking him. Second, Miltitz was to ask the pope to appoint a German bishop to point out the errors in Luther’s theses. Luther also agreed to recant any proven errors.

After the conference Miltitz took Luther to dinner. During the meal he told Luther that on his journey he discovered that only two or three out of every five men he had met supported the pope. When the two men parted, Miltitz hugged Luther and gave him a kiss of peace. Later, Luther said, “I was very suspicious of his motives, but I promised nothing that would hinder me from preaching and teaching the truths of Scriptures.”


150376_featuredFrom The Life and Faith of Martin Luther, by Adolph F. Fehlauer. © 1981 Northwestern Publishing House. All rights reserved.