The Babylonian Captivity of the Church

by Martin Luther(1520)


Martin Luther, Augustinian, to his friend.

Herman Tulich, [1] Greeting Willy nilly, I am compelled to become everyday more learned, with so many and such able masters vying with one another to improve my mind. Some two years ago I wrote a little book on indulgences, [2] which I now deeply regret having published; for at the time I was still sunk in a mighty superstitious veneration for the Roman tyranny and held that indulgences should not be altogether rejected, seeing they were approved by the common consent of men. Nor was this to be wondered at, for I was then engaged single-handed in my Sisyphean task. Since then, however, through the kindness of Sylvester and the friars, [3] who so strenuously defended indulgences, I have come to see that they are nothing but an imposture of the Roman sycophants by which they play havoc with men's faith and fortunes. Would to God I might prevail upon the booksellers and upon all my readers to burn up the whole of my writings on indulgences and to substitute for them this proposition: INDULGENCES ARE A KNAVISH TRICK OF THE ROMAN SYCOPHANTS.

  Next, Eck and Emser, with their fellows, undertook to instruct me concerning the primacy of the pope. Here too, not to prove ungrateful to such learned folk, I acknowledge how greatly I have profited by their labors. For, while denying the divine authority of the papacy, I had yet admitted its human authority. [4] But after hearing and reading the subtle subtleties of these coxcombs with which they adroitly prop their idol - for in these matters my mind is not altogether unteachable - I now know of a certainty that the papacy is the kingdom of Babylon [5] and the power of Nimrod the mighty hunter. [6] Gen. 10:9 Once more, therefore, that all may fall out to my friends' advantage, I beg both booksellers and readers to burn what I have published on that subject and to hold to this propositions: THE PAPACY IS THE MIGHTY HUNTING OF THE ROMAN BISHOP. This follows from the arguments of Eck, Emser and the Leipzig lecturer [7] on the Holy Scriptures. Now they are putting me to school again and teaching me about communion in both kinds and other weighty subjects. And I must fall to with might and main, so as not to hear these my pedagogues without profit. A certain Italian friar of Cremona [8] has written a "Revocation of Martin Luther to the Holy See" - that is, a revocation in which not I revoke anything (as the words declare) but he revokes me. That is the kind of Latin the Italians are now beginning to write. [9] Another friar, a German of Leipzig, that same lecture, you know, on the whole canon of the Scriptures, has written a book against me concerning the sacrament in both kinds, and is planning, I understand, still greater and more marvelous things. The Italian was canny enough not to set down his name, fearing perhaps the fate of Cajetan and Sylvester.[10] But the Leipzig man, as becomes a fierce and valiant German, boasts on his ample title-page of his name, his career, his saintliness, his scholarship, his office, glory, honor, ay, almost of his very clogs. [11] Here I shall doubtless gain no little information, since indeed his dedicatory epistle is addressed to the Son of God Himself. On so familiar a footing are these saints with Christ Who reigns in heaven ! Moreover, methinks I hear three magpies chattering in this book; the first in good Latin, the second in better Greek, the third in purest Hebrew.

  [12] What think you, my Herman, is there for me to do but to prick up my ears? The thing emanates from Leipzig, from the Observance of the Holy Cross. [13] Fool that I was, I had hitherto thought it would be well if a general council decided that the sacrament be administered to the laity in both kinds. [14] The more than learned friar would set me right, and declares that neither Christ nor the apostles commanded or commended the administration of both kinds to the laity; it was, therefore, left to the judgment of the Church what to do or not to do in this matter, and the Church must be obeyed. These are his words. You will perhaps ask, what madness has entered into the man, or against whom he is writing, since I have not condemned the use of one kind, but have left the decision about the use of both kinds to the judgment of the Church - the very thing he attempts to assert and which he turns against me. My answer is, that this sort of argument is common to all those who write against Luther; they assert the very things they assail, or they set up a man of straw whom they may attack. Thus Sylvester and Eck and Emser, thus the theologians of Cologne and Louvain; [15] and if this friar had not been of the same kidney he would never have written against Luther. Yet in one respect this man has been happier than his fellows. For in undertaking to prove that the use of both kinds is neither commanded nor commended, but left to the will of the Church, he brings forward passages of Scripture to prove that by the command of Christ one kind only was appointed for the laity. So that it is true, according to this new interpreter of the Scriptures, that one kind was not commanded, and at the same time was commanded, by Christ!

 This novel sort of argument is, as you know, the particular forte of the Leipzig dialecticians. Did not Emser in his earlier book [16] profess to write of me in a friendly spirit, and then, after I had convicted him of filthy envy and foul lying, did he not openly acknowledge in his later book, [17] written to refute my arguments, that he had written in both a friendly and an unfriendly spirit? A sweet fellow, forsooth, as you know. But hearken to our distinguished distinguisher of "kinds," for whom the will of the Church and a command of Christ, and a command of Christ and no command of Christ, are all one and the same! How ingeniously he proves that only one kind is to be given to the laity, by the command of Christ, that is, by the will of the Church. He puts it in capital letters, thus: THE INFALLIBLE FOUNDATION. Thereupon he treats John vi with incredible wisdom, in which passage Christ speaks of the bread from heaven and the bread of life, which is He Himself. The learned fellow not only refers there words to the sacrament of the altar, but because Christ says, (John 6:35, 41, 51) "I am the living bread," and not, "I am the living cup," he actually concludes that we have in this passage the institution of the sacrament in only one kind for the laity. But there follow the words, -- (John 6:55) "My flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed," and, (John 6:53) "Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood"; and when it dawned upon the good friar that these words speak undeniably for both kinds and against one kind - presto! How happily and learnedly he slips out of the quandary by asserting that in these words Christ means to say only that whoever receives the one kind receives under it both flesh and blood. This he puts for the "infallible foundation" of a structure well worthy of the holy and heavenly Observance. Now prithee, herefrom learn with me that Christ, in John vi, enjoins the sacrament in one kind, yet in such wise that His commanding it means leaving it to the will of the Church; and further, that Christ is speaking in this chapter only of the laity and not of the priests. For to the latter the living bread from heaven does not pertain, but presumably the deadly bread from hell! And how is it with the deacons and subdeacons, who are neither laymen nor priests?

  [18] According to this brilliant writer, they ought to use neither the one kind nor both kinds! You see, dear Tulich, this novel and observant method of treating Scripture. But learn this, too, -- that Christ is speaking in John vi of the sacrament of the altar; although He Himself teaches that His words refer to faith in the Word mad flesh, for He says, (John 6:29) "This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent." But our Leipzig professor of the Scriptures must be permitted to prove anything he please from any Scripture passage whatsoever. For he is an Anaxagorian, or rather an Aristotelian [19] theologian, for whom nouns and verbs, interchanged, mean the same thing and any thing. So aptly does he cite Scripture proof-tests throughout the whole of his book, that if he set out to prove the presence of Christ in the sacrament, he would not hesitate to commence thus: "Here beginneth the book the Revelation of St. John the Divine." All his quotations are as apt as this one would be, and the wiseacre imagines he is adorning his drivel with the multitude of his quotations. The rest I pass over, lest you should smother in the filth of this vile cloaca. In conclusion, he brings forward 1 Corinthians xi, where Paul says (1 Cor. 11:23) he received from the Lord, and delivered to the Corinthians, the use of both the bread and the cup. Here again our distinguisher of kinds, treating the Scriptures with his usual brilliance, teaches that Paul did not deliver, but permitted both kinds. Do you ask where he gets his proof? Out of his own head, as he did in the case of John vi. For it does not behoove this lecturer to give a reason for his assertions; he belongs to the order of those who teach and prove all things by their visions. [20] Accordingly we are here taught that the Apostle, in this passage, addressed not the whole Corinthian congregation, but the laity alone - but then he "permitted" nothing at all to the clergy, and they are deprived of the sacrament altogether! -- and further, that, according to a new kind of grammar, "I have received from the Lord" means "It is permitted by the Lord," and "I have delivered it to you" means "I have permitted it to you." I pray you, mark this well. For by this method, not only the Church, but every passing knave will be at liberty, according to this magister, to turn all the commands, institutions and ordinance of Christ and the apostles into a mere "permission." I perceive, therefore, that this man is driven by an angel of Satan, and that he and his partners seek but to make a name for themselves through me, as men who were worthy to cross swords with Luther. But their hopes shall be dashed: I shall ignore them and not mention their names from henceforth even for ever. This one reply shall suffice me for all their books. If they be worthy of it, I pray Christ in His mercy to bring them to a sound mind; if not, I pray that they may never leave off writing such books, and that the enemies of the truth may never deserve to read any others.

  It is a popular and true sayings, This I know of a truth - whenever with filth I contended, Victor or vanquished, alike, came I defiled from the fray. And, since I perceive that they have an abundance of leisure and of writing-paper, I shall see to it that they may have ample opportunity for writing. I shall run on before, and while they are celebrating a glorious victory over one of my so-called heresies, I shall be meanwhile devising a new one. For I too am desirous that these gallant leaders in battle should win to themselves many titles and decorations. Therefore, while they complain that I laud communion in both kinds, and are happily engrossed in this most important and worthy matter, I will go yet one step farther and undertake to show that all those who deny communion in both kinds to the laity are wicked men. And the more conveniently to do this, I will compose a prelude on the captivity of the Roman Church. In due time I shall have a great deal more to say, when the learned papists have disposed of this book. I take this course, lest any pious reader who may chance upon this book, should be offended at my dealing with such filthy matters, and should justly complain of finding in it nothing to cultivate and instruct his mind or even to furnish food for learned thought.

  For you know how impatient my friends are because I waste my time on the sordid fictions of these men, which, they say, are amply refuted in the reading; they look for greater things from me, which Satan seeks in this way to hinder. I have at length resolved to follow their counsel and to leave to those hornets the pleasant business of wrangling and hurling invectives. Of that friar of Cremona I will say nothing. He is an unlearned man and a simpleton, who attempts with a few rhetorical passages to recall me to the Holy See, from which I am not as yet aware of having departed, nor has any one proved it to me. He is chiefly concerned in those silly passages with showing that I ought to be moved by the vow of my order and by the fact that the empire has been transferred to us Germans. [21] He seems thus to have set out to write, not my "revocation," but rather the praises of the French people and the Roman pontiff. Let him attest his loyalty in his little book; it is the best he could do. He does not deserve to be harshly treated, for methinks he was not prompted by malice; nor yet to be learnedly refuted, for all his chatter is sheer ignorance and simplicity.[22] At the outset I must deny that there are seven sacraments, and hold for the present [23] to but three - baptism, penance and the bread. [24] These three have been subjected to a miserable captivity by the Roman curia, and the Church has been deprived of all her liberty. To be sure, if I desired to use the term in its scriptural sense, I should allow but a single sacrament, [25] with three sacramental signs; but of this I shall treat more fully at the proper time.

FOOTNOTES[ 1] Born at Steinheim, near Paderborn, in Westphalia; a proofreader in Melchior Lotter's printing-house at Leipzig, with whose oldest son he went to Wittenberg in 1519; professor of poetry at the university; rector of the same, 1525; one of Luther's staunchest supporters; rector of the school at Luneberg, 1532 until his death in 1540. Compare ENDERS, Luther's Briefwechsel, II, 490; TSCHACKERT, op. cit., 203, and literature in CLEMEN, I, 426. [ 2] Resolutiones disputationum de indulgentiarum virtute, 1518; others think refers to the Sermon von Ablass und Gnade, of the same year. [ 3] Sylvester Prierias and the Dominicans. Comp. KOSTLIN-KAWERAU, Luther, I 189 ff. [ 4] Resolutiones super prop. xiii., 1519. [ 5] Comp. The Papacy at Rome, Vol. .I, p. 392. [ 6] Comp. FR. LEPP, Schlagworter des Ref. Zeitalters (Leipzig, 1908), p. 62. [ 7] The Franciscan Augustin Alveld. See Introduction, and compare LEMMENS, Pater Aug. V. Alveld (Freiburg, 1899). [ 8] Isidoro Isolani. See Introduction. [ 9] Luther pokes fun at the use of revocatio with an objective genitive. [10] See above, p. 58, and compare PRESERVED SMITH, Luther's Correspondence, Vol. I., letter no. 265. [11] Cf. The Papacy at Rome, Vol. I, p. 337. The title-page of Alveld's treatise contained twenty-six lines. [12] A satiric reference to a section in Alveld's treatise, on the name of Jesus which he spells IHSVH and brings proofs for this form from the three languages mentioned. See SECKENDORF, Hist. Luth., lib. I, sect. 27, & lxx, add. ii. [13] Alveld calls himself, on his title-page, Franciscanus regularis observantiae Sanctae Crucis. The Observantines were Franciscan monks of the stricter rule, who separated from the Conventuals in the XV. Century. See Prot. Realencyklopdie, Vi, 213 ff. [14] In the Treatise on the Blessed Sacrament; see above, p. 9. [15] The universities of Cologne and Louvain had ratified Eck's "victory" over Luther at the Leipzig Disputation. See KOSTLIN-KAWERAU, I, 266, 298. [16] De disputatione Lipsicensi, 1519. [17] A venatione Lutheriana Aegocerotis assertio, 1519. [18] Some theologians - e.g., Cajetan and Durandus - doubted whether the Sacrament of Order was received by deacons; the Council of Trent decided against them. - Cath. Encyclop., IV, 650. [19] For Luther's opinion of Aristotle see above, pp. 146 f. [20] The Franciscans are meant. The allusion may be to the seraphic vision of St. Francis. [21] See above, pp. 153 ff. [22] A less lenient view was taken by Boniface Amerbach, writing to his brother Basil at Basle, October 20, 1520; "The good man (Luther) was not a little injured by the libel of a poor impostor, who by pretending that Martin had recanted, brought back even those who had entered upon the way of truth of their former errors." See SMITH, op. cit., I, no. 316. [23] The present did not last very long; see below, p. 292. [24] So called because of the withholding of the wine from the laity. [25] Cf. 1 Tim. 3:16. See KOSTLIN, Theology of Luther (E. Tr.), I, 403; and below, pp. 258 f. Vol. II. -- 12


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