Luther writes to Frederick the Wise, reporting on the outcome of the second day of negiotiations with Karl von Miltitz (Quotation 1). Luther and Philip Melanchthon then travel on to Leipzig, where they stay for a few days, visiting friends and attempting to make arrangements for the planned debate with Johann Eck (Quotation 2).

Quotation 1:

Serene, highborn Prince, gracious Lord! Let me humbly inform your Grace that Karl von Miltitz and I have at last come to an agreement, and concluded our negotiations with two articles:

1. Both sides shall be inhibited from preaching, writing, and acting further in the matter.

2. Miltitz will write the Pope at once, informing him how things stand, and asking him to recommend the matter to some learned bishop, who will hear me and point out the errors I am to recant. For when I have learned my mistakes, I will gladly withdraw them. [1] (Letter to Elector Frederick the Wise, from Altenburg, Jan 6 or 7, 1519)

Quotation 2:

My dear Eck, we did our best to get the Leipzig faculty to grant us the favor of which you write,[2] but they simply refused, alleging that it was none of their business to get mixed up in this affair, but that jurisdiction belonged to the bishops. The Dean of the Faculty of Theology answered my letter in such a way that I fear our debate will come to nothing unless you have some other plan.

I am, however, waiting with great eagerness to see you show, as you promise, that in my Resolutions [3] not even the foundations are valid. You wonder why I have preferred Tauler [4] alone (“I know not who he is,” you say) to Aquinas,[5] Bonaventura,[6] and Alexander of Hales.[7] It seems ridiculous to you that, when I have rejected so many men, I should demand that this one [Tauler] should be accepted by you, although he is unknown to the Church. Before you make an end of this “dreamer,” please deign to read him through, lest you, trained in habits of inveterate trifling, should prove to be one of those tremendously wise men who say that the Church is the Pope, the bishops, and the teachers of the universities, and claim that whatever they do not know is unknown to the Church. Yet I wonder who told you that Tauler was unknown to the Church. I suppose that you are the Church and know all things. Be careful not to take immaturely considered premises for granted, nor to judge from them. If you wish to admonish me, please avoid bitterness and pay careful attention to the individual propositions. Consider that I was not ignorant that Tauler was unknown to your Church when I said that he was not to be found in the universities and did not write in Latin. Then I gave my reason for preferring him to the schoolmen,[8] namely, that I learned more from him alone than from all the others [put together]. Very prudent of you to skip over these words of mine! I am at a loss to know why you should threaten so dire a castigation for my ignorance, accusing me of never having read nor understood what you wrote, when you say of my authority:[9] “I know not who he is.” Beware of this ignorance — first, read the man, lest you should be found a foolish judge, condemning what you do not know. And, not to demand what is beyond your power, I do not desire that you should gather together all your schoolmen in order to find one sermon equal to one of Tauler’s. I do not require this, for I know that you could not do it. I only urge you to strain every nerve of your mind and scholastic learning to see whether you can rightly understand a single one of his sermons. After that we will believe you, that he is a dreamer, and you alone are wide awake — or at least sleeping with open eyes. I write thus, Eck, to spare you the trouble of admonishing me vainly, in hopes that you will put up something which I shall not be able to tear down and which will not need to be changed — something, that is, worthy of your genius and study, so that neither of us may waste our time.

Farewell in the Lord, my dear Eck. (Letter to Johann Eck, in Ingostadt, Jan 7, 1519)


[1] The letter of Miltitz to the Pope was couched in somewhat too sanguine terms. He represented that Luther was ready to recant everything. Leo was so pleased to hear it that he dispatched a friendly missive to the Wittenberg monk (Mar 29, 1519), inviting him to Rome to make his confession, and even offering him money for the journey.

[2] That is, the privilege of debating at the University of Leipzig.

[3] The Explanations of the Ninety-five Theses.

[4] Johannes Tauler (c. 1300-1361). German mystic, preacher, and theologian, Tauler was a Dominican strongly influenced by Meister Eckhart and active in Strasbourg and Basel. The monk Luther, like the mystics, was most concerned that the sinner should find a way out of sin and to salvation in communion with God — that he should annihilate his own personality and substitute God’s. He agreed, for example, with Tauler’s instructions that the sinner should be humble, faithful, penitent, joyful in poverty, and eager to return to God by whom he had been created. In his explanation to Thesis 15, Luther had stated, “Indeed, I know that this teacher [Tauler] is unknown to the schools of theologians and is probably despised by them; but even though he has written entirely in the German vernacular, I have found in him more solid and sincere theology than is found in all the scholastic teachers of all the universities or than can be found in their propositions.”

[5] Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) Dominican friar, priest, and “Doctor of the Church”, Aquinas was an extremely influential Scholastic philosopher, theologian, and jurist. He was the foremost classical proponent of natural theology and the father of “Thomism,” arguing that reason is found in God. Luther criticized Thomism (and scholasticism, in general) for using speculative logical reasoning to extrapolate far beyond what was clearly revealed in scripture.

[6] Saint Bonaventure (1221 – 1274), born Giovanni di Fidanza, was an Italian Franciscan, Scholastic theologian, philosopher, and Cardinal Bishop of Albano. He was canonized in 1482 and declared a Doctor of the Church in 1588. He is known as the “Seraphic Doctor.” His works comprise a Commentary on the Sentences of Lombard (4 volumes) and eight volumes of shorter works, including a Commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke and The Mind’s Road to God.

[7] Alexander of Hales (c. 1185 – 1245) was a theologian and philosopher important in the development of Scholasticism and of the Franciscan School. Born at Hales, Shropshire, England, he studied at the University of Paris and became a Master of Arts sometime before 1210, before turning to theology and becoming a professor at Paris. He introduced the Sentences of Peter Lombard as the basic textbook for the study of theology. At about the age of 50, he entered the Franciscan Order, thus becoming the first Franciscan friar to hold a University chair. He had many significant disciples, including Bonaventure. He was called Doctor Irrefragibilis (Irrefutable Teacher) and Doctor Doctorum (Teacher of Teachers).

[8] Scholastic theologians; e.g., Aquinas, Bonaventure, and Alexander of Hales.

[9] That is, Tauler, cited by Luther in the Explanations of the Ninety-five Theses.

2 thoughts on “January 7, 1519

  1. “First, read the man, lest you should be found a foolish judge, condemning what you do not know.” Sage advice in any age.


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