In George Spalatin’s house in Altenburg,[1] Luther meets with the special nuncio Karl von Miltitz, who held minor positions in the Roman Curia, but was the son of Saxon nobility and had family connections to Frederick the Wise. Miltitz came equipped with both positive and negative tools to influence Frederick: indulgences, new papal privileges for Frederick’s relic collection (increasing the reduction of time in Purgatory per relic venerated), the anointed golden rose [2], but also the authority to impose a ban against Luther and the interdict (suspension of all church ministries except baptism and last rites) against all of Saxony. Miltitz’s instructions were clear: convince Frederick to arrest Luther and send him to Rome for trial. Apparently, on his journey from Rome (particularly in Nuremberg), Miltitz learned that there was strong German popular support for Luther’s cause.[4] Miltitz then decided that the better course would be to persuade Luther to let the whole controversy die quietly.

On Jan 5 or 6, Luther writes to Frederick the Wise, reporting the outcome of the first day of his negotiations with Miltitz.

Quotation:

Most serene, highborn Prince, most gracious Lord!

It overwhelms me to think how far your Grace has been drawn into my affairs, but as necessity and God so dispose it, I beg your Grace to be favorable still. Karl von Miltitz yesterday pointed out with care the “crimes” I had committed against the Roman Church, and I humbly promised to make what amends I could. I beg your Grace to attend to the plan I proposed, for by it I meant to please your Grace.

First, I agreed to let the matter alone henceforth, until it bleeds to death of itself, provided my opponents also keep silence.  . . .

Secondly, I agreed to write to his Holiness the Pope, humbly submitting and recognizing that I had been too hot and hasty, though I never meant to do anything against the Holy Roman Church, but only as her true son to attack the scandalous preaching whereby she is made a mockery, a byword, a stumbling-block, and an offense to the people. [5]

Thirdly, I promised to send out a paper admonishing everyone to follow the Roman Church, obey and honor her, and explaining that my writings were not to be understood in a sense damaging to her.  . . .

Fourthly, Spalatin proposed, on the recommendation of Fabian von Feilitzsch,[6] to leave the case to the Archbishop of Salzburg.[7] I should abide by his judgment, with that of other learned and impartial men, or else return to my appeal. Or perhaps the matter might remain undecided and things be allowed to take their natural course. But I fear the Pope will allow no other judge but himself, nor can I tolerate his judgment ; if the present plan fails, we shall have to go through the farce of the Pope writing a text and my writing the commentary. That would do no good.

Miltitz thinks my propositions unsatisfactory, but does not demand recantation.  . . .

Your Grace’s obedient chaplain,

Doctor Martin

Notes

[1] George Spalatin: secretary and confidential advisor to Elector Frederick the Wise of Saxony. Altenburg: capital of Electoral Saxony, about 70 miles south of Wittenberg.

[2] Miltitz also presented Frederick with a letter from Pope Leo X (see image below): “Beloved son, the most holy golden rose was consecrated by us on the fourteenth day of the holy fast.[3] It was anointed with holy oil and sprinkled with fragrant incense with the papal benediction. It will be presented to you by our most beloved son, Karl von Miltitz, of noble blood and noble manners. This rose is the symbol of the most precious blood of our Savior, by which we are redeemed. The rose is a flower among flowers, the fairest and most fragrant on earth. Therefore, dear son, permit the divine fragrance to enter the innermost heart of Your Excellency, that you may fulfill whatever the aforementioned Karl von Miltitz shall show you.” Miltitz, who had arrived in Saxony around Christmas 1518, had apparently not brought the rose with him, rather leaving it in the bank of the Fuggers in Augsburg. Frederick concluded that he would not be given the rose unless he pronounced Luther a heretic and banished him.

[3] Traditionally, the rose is blessed on the fourth Sunday of Lent, known as “Laetare Sunday,” also “Rose Sunday.” On this day, rose-colored vestments and paraments are substituted for the penitential purple of Lent, symbolizing hope and joy in the midst of Lenten solemnity. This Sunday gets its name from the first few words of the traditional Latin entrance (Introit) for the Mass of the day: “Laetare Jerusalem” (“Rejoice, O Jerusalem”) [Isa. 66:10].

[4] According to one account, when Luther entered the room for their first meeting, Miltitz fell upon his neck, kissed him,* and exclaimed, “O, dear Martin, I thought you were an old, worn out theologian, who sat by your stove and disputed with yourself; but I see that you are a fresh, young, vigorous man.** If I had an army of 25,000 men, still I would doubt whether I could take you out of Germany. For on my journey here, I inquired all along how the people were disposed towards you, and I observed that where one was on the pope’s side, there were three on yours against the pope.”  [*Luther would later describe it as a “Judas kiss.”] [**Luther was 35 years old at this time.]

[5] Luther wrote a draft of this letter, but it was not acceptable to Miltitz, so it was never sent (see LW 48:100-102).

[6] Electoral counselor who attended the meetings as Frederick’s representative. In Oct 1518, after his unsuccessful attempt to get Luther to recant in Augsburg, Cardinal Cajetan had written to Frederick the Wise, asking him to arrest Luther and send him to Rome. According to one story, Frederick summoned his counselors and asked their advice. One of them, Fabian von Feilitzsch, related the fable of the sheep, who, on the advice of the wolves, sent away the watchdogs. “If we give up Luther,” he concluded, “we shall have no one to write in our defense, and they will accuse us all of being heretics.” Frederick did not surrender Luther.

[7] This refers to Mathew Lang (1468-1540), who was at this time (and since 1514) coadjutor of Salzburg: a bishop appointed to assist the diocesan bishop and designated as his successor. He would become Archbishop of Salzburg on Jun 8, 1519 (although he was not ordained priest until Sep 24 and consecrated bishop the next day). He was a close friend of Staupitz. He was Prince-Bishop of Gurk from 1505 until 1522, but never visited his diocese, most of his career until this point having been as councilor and chancellor to Emperor Maximillian I.

Leo X to Frederick the Wise
Letter to Frederick the Wise from Pope Leo X signed October 24, 1518. In this letter, the Pope offered Frederick the ‘Golden Rose of Virtue’ if he would stand against Luther and allow the “son of the devil” to be arrested.

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