CHAPTER XI. – THE HERESIES OF THE SIXTEENTH CENTURY. – ARTICLE I. – OF THE HERESIES OF LUTHER. – I- THE BEGINNING AND PROGRESS OF THE LUTHERAN HERESY. 1. -Erasmus of Rotterdam, called by some the Precursor of Luther; his Literature. 2.-His Doctrine was not sound, nor could it be called heretical. 3.-Principles of Luther; his familiarity with the Devil, who persuades him to abolish Private Masses. 4. -He joins the Order of the Hermits of St. Augustine. 5.-Doctrines and Vices of Luther. 6. -Publication of Indulgences, and his Theses on that Subject. 7–He is called to Rome, and clears himself; the Pope sends Cardinal Cajetan as his Legate to Germany. 8.-Meeting between the Legate and Luther. 9.-Luther perseveres and appeals to the Pope. 10, 11 .-Conference of Ecchius with the Heretics. 12.-Bull of Leo X., condemning forty-one Errors of Luther, who burns the Bull and the Decretals.


  1. We have now arrived at the sixteenth century, in which, as in a sink, all the former heresies meet. The great heresiarch of this age was Luther; but many writers assert that Erasmus was his predecessor, and there was a common saying in Germany that Erasmus (1) laid the egg, and Luther hatched it (2). Erasmus was born in Holland; his birth was illegitimate, and he was baptized by the name of Gerard, which he afterwards changed to the Greek name Erasmus in Latin, Desiderius (3). At an early age he was received among the Regular Canons of St. Augustine, and made his religious profession; but weary of a religious life, and regretting having made his vows, he left the Cloister, and lived in the world, having, it is supposed, obtained a Papal dispensation.

(1) Rainald. Ann. 1516, n. 91; Bernin. t. 4, sec. 26, c. 2, p. 255. (2) Gotti, Ver. Rel. c. 108. sec, 2, n. 6. (3) Nat. Alex. t. 19, sec. 15, c. 5, art. 1, n. 12.

He would certainly have conferred a benefit on the age he lived in, had he confined himself to literature alone; but he was not satisfied without writing on Theological matters, interpreting the Scriptures, and finding fault with the Fathers; hence, as Noel Alexander says of him, the more works he wrote, the more errors he published. He travelled to many Universities, and was always honourably received, on account of his learning; but a great many doubted of his faith, on account of the obscure way he wrote concerning the dogmas of religion; hence, some of the Innovators, friends of Erasmus, often availed themselves of his authority, though he frequently endeavoured to clear himself from the imputation of favouring them, especially in a letter he wrote to Cardinal Campeggio (4).

  1. A great contest at that time was going on in Germany, between the Rhetoricians and Theologians. The Rhetoricians upbraided the Theologians with their ignorance, and the barbarism of the terms they used. The Theologians, on the other hand, abused the Rhetoricians for the impropriety and profaneness of the language they used in the explanation of the Divine Mysteries. Erasmus, who took the lead among the Rhetoricians, began by deriding, first, the style, and, next, the arguments of the Theologians; he called their Theology Judaism, and said that the proper understanding of Ecclesiastical science depended altogether on erudition and the knowledge of languages. Many writers openly charge Erasmus with heresy : he explained everything just as it pleased himself, says Victorinus (5), and vitiated everything he explained. Albert Pico, Prince of Carpi, a man of great learning (6), and a strenuous opponent of the errors of Erasmus, assures us that he called the Invocation of the Blessed Virgin and the Saints idolatry; condemned Monasteries, and ridiculed the Religious, calling them actors and cheats, and condemned their vows and rules; was opposed to the Celibacy of the Clergy, and turned into mockery Papal Indulgences, relics of Saints, feasts and fasts, auricular Confession; asserts that by Faith alone man is justified (7), and even throws a doubt on the authority of the Scripture and Councils (8).

(4) Nat. Alex. loc. cit. (5) Victor, in Scholiis ad Epist. Hier. ep. 30. (6) Rainald. & Bernin. loc. cit. (7) Alberto Pico, l. 20. (8) Alberto, l. 1l, 12.

In the preface to one of his works he says (9), it is rash to call the Holy Ghost God. ” Audemus Spiritum Sanctum, appellare, Deum quod veteres ausi, non sunt.” Noel Alexander informs us (10), that in 1527 the Faculty of Paris condemned several propositions taken from his works, and that at the Council of Trent the Cardinals appointed by Paul III. to report on the abuses which needed reformation, called on him to prohibit in the schools the reading of the Colloquies of Erasmus, in which are many things that lead the ignorant to impiety. He was, however, esteemed by several Popes, who invited him to Rome, to write against Luther, and it was even reported that Paul III. intended him for the Cardinalship. We may conclude with Bernini, that he died with the character of an unsound Catholic, but not a heretic, as he submitted his writings to the judgment of the Church, and Varillas (11) says he always remained firm in the Faith, notwithstanding all the endeavours of Luther and Zuinglius to draw him to their side. He died in Basle in 1536, at the age of 70 (12).

  1. While Germany was thus agitated with this dispute, the famous brief of Leo X. arrived there in 1613; and here we must introduce Luther. Martin Luther (13) was born in Eisleben, in Saxony, in 1483. His parents were poor, and when he afterwards acquired such a sad notoriety, some were not satisfied without tracing his birth to the agency of the devil (14), a report to which his own extraordinary assertions gave some colour at the time, since he said in one of his sermons to the people, that he had eaten a peck of salt (15) with the devil, and in his work ” De Missa Privata,” or low Mass, he says he disputed with the devil on this subject, and was convinced by him that private Masses should be abolished (16). ” Luther,” said the devil, ” it is now fifteen years that you are saying private Masses; what would the consequence be, if on the altar you were adoring bread and wine ? would you not be guilty of idolatry ?” ” I am a Priest,” said Luther, ” ordained by my Bishop, and I have done everything through obedience.” ” But,” added the devil, ” Turks and Gentiles also sacrifice through obedience, and what say you if your ordination be false ?”

(9) Erasm. advers. Hil. 1. 12; Bernin. loc. cit. (10) Nat. Alex. cit. art. 10, n. 12. (11) Varill. t. l, l,7,p. 322. (12) Nat, Alex. Loc. cit. (13) Gotti, Ver. Rel. t. 2, c. 108, sec. 2; Baron. Ann. 1517, n. 56; Varillas Istor. & c. t. 1, l. 3, p. 129; Hermant, Histor. Concili, t. 2, c. 227. (14) Gotti. cit. sec. 2, n. 3. (15) Nat Alex. loc. cit; Gotti, loc. cit. sec. 2, n. 2 (16) Gotti, sec. 5, n. 2.

Such are the powerful reasons which convinced Luther. Frederick Staphil (17) relates a curious anecdote concerning this matter. Luther at one time, he says, endeavoured to exorcise a girl in Wittemberg, possessed by an evil spirit, but was so terrified that he tried to escape, both by the door and window, which, to his great consternation, were both made fast; finally, one of his companions broke open the door with a hatchet, and they escaped (18).

  1. If Luther was not the child of Satan, however, few laboured so strenuously in his service. His name originally was Luder; but as the vulgar meaning of that word was not the most elegant, he changed it to Luther. Applying himself at an early age to literature, he went to Erfurt, in Thuringia, and at the age of twenty years graduated as a Master of Philosophy. While pursuing his legal and philosophical studies in that University, he happened to take a walk in the country with a fellow-student, who was struck dead by lightning at his side. Under the influence of terror, and not moved by devotion, he made a vow to enter into religion, and became an Augustineian Friar, in the Convent of Erfurt (19). “It was not,” he says, ” by my own free will I became a Monk, but terrified by a sudden death, I made a vow to that effect.” This took place in 1504, in the 22nd year of his age, and was a matter of great suprise to his father and friends, who previously never perceived in him any tendency to piety (20).
  2. After his profession and ordination he was commanded by his superiors, as an exercise of humility, to beg through the city, as was the custom of the Order at that period. He refused, and in the year 1508 left the Convent and Academy of Erfurt, in which he was employed, greatly to the satisfaction of his colleagues in that University, who could not bear his violent temper, and went to Wittemberg, where Duke Frederick, Elector of Saxony, had a little before founded a University, in which he obtained the chair of Philosophy. He was soon after sent to Rome, to settle some dispute raised in his Order, and having satisfactorily arranged every thing, he returned to Wittemberg, and received from Andrew Carlostad, Dean of the University, the dignity of Doctor of Theology.

(17) Staphil. Resp. contra Jac. Smi delin, p. 404. (18) Varillas, loc. cit. I 14, p. 31. (19) Luther Præfat. ad lib. de Vot. Mon . (20) Nat. Alex, ibid, see. 1, n. 1; Gotti, loc. cit. sec. 2.

The entire expense of taking his degree was borne by the Elector, who conceived a very great liking for him (21). He was certainly a man of fine genius, a subtle reasoner, deeply read in the Schoolmen and Holy Fathers, but, even then, as Cochleus tells us, filled with vices proud, ambitious, petulant, seditious, evil-tongued and even his moral character was tainted (22); he was a man of great eloquence, both in speaking and writing, but so rude and rugged, that in all his works we scarcely find a polished period; he was so vain of himself, that he despised the most learned writers of the Church, and he especially attacked the doctrines of St. Thomas, so much esteemed by the Council of Trent.

  1. Leo X. wishing, as Hermant tells us (23), to raise a fund for the recovery of the Holy Land, or, according to the more generally received opinion (24), to finish the building of St. Peter’s Church, commenced by Julius II. , committed to Cardinal Albert, Archbishop and Elector of Mayence, the promulgation of a Brief, granting many Indulgences to those who contributed alms for this purpose. The Archbishop committed the publication of these Indulgences to a Dominican Doctor, John Tetzel, who had already discharged a similar commission in aid of the Teutonic Knights, when they were attacked by the Duke- of Muscovy, and who was reputed an eloquent preacher. This was highly displeasing to John Staupitz, Vicar-General of the Augustinians, and a great favourite of the Duke of Saxony; he, therefore, with the Duke’s permission, charged Luther with the duty of preaching against the abuse of these Indulgences. He immediately began to attack these abuses, and truth compels us to admit that abuses had crept into the mode of collecting these alms, which scandalized the people. He, however, not only preached against the abuses which existed, but against the validity of Indulgences altogether, and immediately wrote a long letter to the Archbishop of Mayence, in which he gave an exaggerated account of the errors preached in their distribution, such as, that whoever took an Indulgence was certain of salvation, and was absolved from all punishment and penalties of sin, and to this letter he tacked ninety-five propositions, in which he asserted that the doctrine of Indulgences altogether was a very doubtful matter.

(21) Hermant, Histor. Conc. t. 1, c. 228; Nat. Alex. t. 19, art. 11, sec. 1, n. 1; Van Ranst Hær. p. 298; Gotti Ver. Rel. c. 108, sec. 2, n. 6. (22) Nat. Alex. sec. 1, n. 3; Hermant, loc. cit.; Van Ranst, loc. cit. (23) Hermant, loc. cit. c. 227. (24) Nat. Alex. Gotti, Van Ranst, Bernino, &c

He did not rest satisfied with sending them to the Archbishop; he posted them on the doors of the Church of All Saints in Wittemburg, sent printed copies of them through all Germany, and had them publicly sustained by his scholars in the University. He was answered by Father Tetzel in Frankfort, who proved the doctrine of the Church, and as he was armed with Inquisitorial powers, condemned these propositions as heretical. When this came to Luther’s ears, he retorted in the most insolent manner, and from these few sparks, that fire was kindled which not only ran through Germany, but through Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and the most remote countries of the North (25)

  1. In the year 1518, Luther sent his conclusions to the Pope, in a pamphlet, entitled “Resolutiones Disputationum de Indulgentiarum virtute ;” and in the preface, he thus addresses him : ” Holy Father, prostrate at your Holiness feet, I offer myself, with all I possess; vivify or destroy, call, revoke, reject, as you will, I recognise your voice as the voice of Christ, presiding and speaking in you; if I deserve death, I refuse not to die” (26). With such protestations of submission did he endeavour to deceive the Pope, but as Cardinal Gotti (27) remarks, in this very letter, he protests that he adopts no other sentiments than those of the Scriptures, and intends merely to oppose the Schoolmen. Leo X. having now received both Luther’s and Tetzel’s writings, clearly saw the poison which flowed from the pen of the former, and accordingly summoned him to Rome, to defend himself.

(25) Hermant, c. 228; Van Ranst, p. 299; Gotti, c. 108, sec. 3, n. 3. (26) Ap. Van Ranst, His. p. 300. (27) Gotti, sec. 2, n. 8.

Luther excused himself on the plea of delicate health, and the want of means to undertake so long a journey, and added, that he had strong suspicions of the Roman judges; he also induced the Duke of Saxony, and the University of Wittemberg, to write to his Holiness to the same effect, and to request him to appoint judges in Germany to try the cause (28). The Pope dreaded to entrust the case to the decision of the Germans, as Luther already had a powerful party in his own country; he, therefore, sent as his Legate, a latere, Thomas Vio, called Cardinal Cajetan, commissioning him to call on the secular power to have Luther arrested, to absolve him from all censures, in case he retracted his errors; but should he obstinately persist in maintaining them to excommunicate him (29).

  1. On the Legate’s arrival in Augsburg, he summoned Luther before him, and imposed three commandments on him : First – That he should retract the propositions asserted by him. Secondly – That he should cease from publishing them, and finally, that he should reject all doctrines censured by the Church. Luther answered that he never broached any doctrine in opposition to the Church, but Cajetan reminded him that he denied the treasure of the merits of Jesus Christ, and his Saints, in virtue of which, the Pope dispensed Indulgences, as Clement VI. declared in the Constitution Unigenitus; that he also asserted that to obtain the fruit of the Sacraments, it was only required to have the faith of obtaining them. Luther made some reply, but the Cardinal, smiling, said he did not come to argue with him, but to receive his submission, as he had been appointed (30). Luther was alarmed at finding himself in Augsburg, then totally Catholic, without a safe conduct (although Noel Alexander (31) says, he obtained one from Maximilian; Hermant, Van Ranst, and Gotti, deny it (32), and Varillas wonders at his boldness in presenting himself without it), and asked time for reflection, which was granted him, and on the following day he presented himself before the Legate, together with a Notary Public, and four Senators of Augsburg, and presented a writing signed with his own hand, saying that he followed and revered the Roman Church in all her acts and sayings, past, present, and to come, and that if ever he said anything against her, he now revoked and unsaid it.

(28) Gotti, ibid, n. 9, & Van Ranst, loc cit. (29) Nat. Alex. t. 19, or. 11, sec. 4; Gotti, loc. cit. sec. 2, n. 20; Hermant. t. 2, c. 229. (30) Hermant, c. 230. (31) Nat. Alex. loc. cit. sec. 4. (32) Hermant, cit. c. 230; Van Ranst, p. 302; Gotti, sec. 3, n. 10.

The Cardinal, well aware that he had written several things which were not in accordance with the Catholic Faith, wished to have a still more ample retractation, but still he flattered himself that the one obtained was so much gained. Luther, however, soon slipped through his fingers, for he then persisted that he had neither said nor written anything repugnant to the Scriptures, Fathers, Councils, Decretals, or reason; that his propositions were true, and that he was prepared to defend them, but, nevertheless, that he would submit them to the judgment of the three Imperial Academies of Basle, Fribourg, and Louvain, or of Paris (33).

  1. The Cardinal still insisted on the three primary conditions. Luther asked time to answer in writing, and the next day presented a document, in which he advanced many opinions, not only against the value of Indulgences, but also against the merits of the Saints, and good works, propping up his opinions by false reasoning, Cardinal Cajetan heard him out, and then told him not again to appear before him, unless he came prepared to retract his heresy. Luther then left Augsburg, and wrote to the Cardinal, saying that his opinions were founded on truth, and supported by reason and Scripture, but, notwithstanding, it was his wish still to subject himself to the Church, and to keep silence regarding Indulgences, if his adversaries were commanded to keep silent, likewise (34). The Cardinal gave him no answer, so Luther, fearing sentence would be passed against him, appealed from the Cardinal to the Pope, and had the appeal posted on the church doors (35). Van Ranst censures Cajetan for not imprisoning Luther, when he had him in Augsburg without a safe conduct, knowing him to be a man of such deceitful cunning, and so extinguishing, in its commencement, that great fire, which consumed so great a part of Europe, by introducing to the people a religion so much the more pernicious, as it was so favourable to sensual licence.

(33) Nat Alex. or. 11, sec. 4, n. 1; Gotti, c. 108, sec. 3, n. 10. (34) Nat. Alex, loc.cit.; Van Ranst, p. 302. (35) Van Ranst, p 302.

Luther himself, afterwards, deriding the whole transaction, says (36) : ” I there heard that new Latin language, that teaching the truth was disturbing the Church, and that denying Christ was exalting the Church.” It is then he appealed, first to the Pope, and afterwards from the Pope to the Council (37).

  1. The Legate, seeing the obstinacy of Luther, wrote to the Elector Frederick, telling him that this friar was a heretic, unworthy of his protection, and that he should send him to Rome, or at all events banish him from his States. The Elector immediately transmitted the letter to Luther, who, on his escape from the power of the Legate, began to make the most rabid attacks on the Pope, calling him tyrant and Antichrist : “He (the Pope) has refused peace,” said he, ” then let it be war, and we shall see whether Luther or the Pope shall be first hurt.” Notwithstanding his boasting, the Legate’s letter to the Elector terrified him, and he indited a most humble letter, declaring himself guiltless of any crime against Faith, and praying for a continuance of his protection (38). Hermant says the Elector protected Luther, not only on account of his affection for his newly founded University of Wittemberg, on which he shed so much lustre, but also through hatred to the Elector Albert, of Mayence, Luther’s most determined enemy (39). This protector of Luther, however, met with a dreadful death, as if to mark the judgment of God. While hunting, he was attacked with apoplexy, accompanied with dreadful convulsions; Luther and Melancthon immediately posted off to assist, or rather to ruin him, in his last agony, but they could not obtain from him a single word; he had lost the use of all his senses, the most dreadful convulsions racked every one of his limbs, his cries were like the roar of a lion, and he died without Sacraments, or without any signs of repentance.
  2. On the 9th of November, 1518, Leo X. published a Bull, on the validity of Indulgences, in which he declared that the Supreme Pontiff alone had the right of granting them without limitation, from the treasures of the merits of Jesus Christ; that this was an article of Faith, and that whoever refused to believe it, should be excluded from the communion of the Church.

(36) Luther, t. I; Oper. p. 208. (37) Gotti, sec. 3, n. 11. 4, (38) Gotti, c. 108, sec. 3, n. 12; Van Ranst, p. 302; Nat. Alex. sec. 4, n. 1; Hermant, c. 229. (39) Hermant, c. 229; Nat. Alex. sec. n. 1; Van Ranst, p. 302.

Ecchius, a man of great learning, and Pro-Chancellor of Ingoldstad, began to write about this time, and subsequently, in 1519, he had a conference with Luther, through the instrumentality of Duke George, Uncle of the Elector Frederick, a good Catholic. This conference took place in Duke George’s city of Leipsic, and in his own palace. After debating on many questions there, they agreed to leave the whole matter to the decision of the Universities of Erfurt and Paris. The University of Paris, after an examination of the writings on each side, received the doctrine of Ecchius, and condemned that of Luther. One hundred and four of his propositions were censured, which excited his ire to a great pitch against that University. The following year there was another conference between Luther, accompanied by Carlostad and Ecchius, in which, in six discussions, the doctrines of free-will, of grace, and of good works, were argued by Carlostad. Luther followed, and disputed on Purgatory, the power of absolving sins, reserving cases, the primacy of the Pope, and Indulgences. In this conference, his doctrines were not so heretical as soon after the dispute, for then the force of truth obliged him to admit the Papal primacy, though he said it was of human, not divine right; he also acknowledged a Purgatory, and did not altogether reject Indulgences, solely condemning the abuse of them. The same year his doctrines were condemned by the Universities of Cologne and Louvain (40).

  1. In the year 1519, the Emperor Maximilian I. died, and there was an interregnum of six months, daring which Luther gained many adherents in Wittemberg, not only among the youth of the University, who afterwards scattered themselves through all Saxony, but some of the Professors, and even some of the clergy, secular and regular, became his disciples. Leo X. seeing his party every day gaining strength, and no hope of his retractation, then published in Rome his famous Bull, ” Exurge Domine,” in which he condemned forty-one of his principal errors as heretical (see third part of this history), and sent his Commissaries to publish it in Germany, ordering, at the same time, his books to be publicly burned in Rome. His Holiness, however, even then exhorts Luther and his followers to return to the fold, and promises to receive with clemency whoever returns before the expiration of two months, at the expiration of which, he orders his Commissaries to excommunicate the perverse, and hand them over to the secular power.

(40) Van Ranst, p. 303; Varillas, l. 3, p. 48.

The two months being passed, he published another Bull, declaring Luther a heretic, and also that all who followed or favoured him, incurred all the penalties and censures fulminated against heretics (41). Luther, as soon as he heard of the publication of the first Bull of 1520, and the burning of his books in Rome, burned in the public square of Wittemberg, the Bull, and the Book of the Decretals of the Canon Law, saying : ” As you have opposed the Saints of the Lord, so may eternal fire destroy you ;” and then in a voice of fury, exclaimed : ” Let us fight with all our strength against that son of perdition, the Pope, the Cardinals, and all the Roman sink of corruption; let us wash our hands in their blood (42).” From that day to the day of his death, he never ceased writing against the Pope and the Catholic Church, and from the year 1521 to 1546, when he died, he brought to light again in his works, almost every heresy of former ages. Cochleus, speaking of Luther’s writings, says (43) : “He thus defiled everything holy; he preaches Christ, and tramples on his servants; magnifies faith, and denies good works, and opens a licence to sin; elevates mercy, depresses justice, and throws upon God the cause of all evil; finally, destroys all law, takes the power out of the hands of the magistrate, stirs up the laity against the clergy, the impious against the Pope, the people against princes.”

(41) Hermant, t. 1, c. 230. (42) Gotti, c. 108, n. 13. (43) Cocleus de act, & Script

. Luth. Ann. 1523