« ElőzőTovább »
devotion of a monastick life, he resolved to retire to the convent of Augustinian Friars. Mathesius, Luther's intimate friend, informs us of two awful accidents which he thinks confirmed him in taking that resolution : the first was, that Alexius, an acquaintance of Luther, was stabbed; and the second, that he was struck down by lightning in a thunder storm. Be this as it will, Luther assumed the habit of that monastick order, without suffering the entreaties of his parents to divert him from what he thought his duty to God.
Luther soon acquired great reputation; not only for piety, but for his love of knowledge, and his unwearied application to study. He had been taught the scholastick philosophy and theology, but having found a copy of the Latin bible, which lay neglected in the library of his monastery, he abandoned all other pursuits, and devoted himself to the study of it with such eagerness and assiduity, as astonished the monks, who were little accustomed to derive their theological notions from that source.
To detain him from that uncommon course of study, they employed him in the meanest services of the convent; from which he was released by the intercession of Staupitz, who recommended him to Frederick, the elector of Saxony, to teach philosophy, and afterwards theology, at the university of Wittemberg, on the Elbe ; in which place he was much admired, and made doctor and professor of divinity. This was of great comfort to him in many storms which gathered
round him at the progress of his undertaking; and when his enemies disputed his right to reform the church, and asked who had given him that authority, his answer was, that he was lawfully called, and in taking his degree had sworn, not only to teach the sound doctrine of the gospel, and of the prophets and apostles, but to defend its purity against vain and heretical tenets.
It was by the bible his eyes were opened ; and men of experience and foresight prophesied that he would effect a revolution in the church, because he studied the sacred records which had been so long neglected. It was one of the first principles of the reformation on which Luther acted. The bible was the source of his doctrine, the foundation of his faith, and the bulwark of his safety. With this sword of the spirit in his heart and hand, he defied the fierce attacks of his innumerable enemies. Having spent many a night in reading its holy contents in his solitary cell at the monastery, in the character of a publick teacher, he began to explain it to the students at Wittemberg.
The first book which he expounded was Paul's epistle to the Romans ; in which the words, The just shall live by faith, chap. i. 17, made a deep and lasting impression on his mind; and by writing his comment on the epistle to the Galatians, his knowledge and sense of justification by faith was augmented. In 1510 he went a journey to Rome, as commissioner of his order, to settle some affairs there, where he had an opportunity of being an eye witness to the degenerate state and ignorance of the clergy. After he returned to Wittemberg, he continued to preach the gospel with uncommon eloquence and power, to listening multitudes. Being commissioned by Staupitz, in the year 1516, to hold visitations in the monasteries of the Augustine order, as an under vicar, he recommended to the friars the reading of the bible ; and the seed thus scattered in different places, by his good advice and counsel, did not fail to produce the most salutary fruits.
The beginning of the reformation, by Luther's opposing
the sale of Indulgences; Å. D. 1517. Leo X., who filled at that time the papal throne,
finding the revenues of the church exhausted by the vast projects of his ambitious predecessors, and his own extravagance,
device to increase his finances; and among others, had recourse to the sale of Indulgences; which Luther, from laudable motives, had the boldness publickly to oppose. Since it was from that source that all the mighty effects of the reformation flowed, it deserves to be considered with more minute attention.
Dr. Robertson, in the history of Charles V., gives the following account of the origin and nature of indulgences; a subject almost unknown in protestant countries, and little understood at present in several places where even the Roman Catholic religion is established. “ According to the doctrine of the Romish Church, all the good works of the saints, over and above those which were necessary towards their own justification, are deposited, together with the infinite merits of Jesus Christ, in one inexhaustible treasury. The keys of this were committed to St. Peter, and to his successors, the popes; who may open it at pleasure, and by transferring a portion of this super-abundant merit to any particular person for a sum of money, may convey to him either the pardon of his own sins, or a release for any one in whose happiness he is interested, from the pains of purgatory. Such indulgences were first invented in the eleventh century, by Urban II. as a recompense for those who went in person upon the meritorious enterprise of conquering the Holy Land. They were afterwards granted to those who hired a soldier for that purpose; and in process of time, were bestowed on such as gave money for accomplishing any pious work enjoined by the pope. Julius II. had bestowed indulgences on all who contributed towards building the church of St. Peter at Rome; and as Leo was carrying on that magnificent and expensive fabrick, his grant was founded on the same pretence." Albert, elector of Mentz, and archbishop of Magdeburg, having been empowered by the pope to promulgate indulgences in Germany, employed Tetzel, a Dominican Friar of licentious morals, to retail them in Saxony. This infamous traffick was conducted in a manner which gave general offence. The Roman Chancery published a book, containing the precise sum to be exacted for the pardon of each particular sin. A deacon guilty of murder, was absolved for twenty crowns: a bishop or abbot, might assassinate for three hundred livres : any ecclesiastick might violate his vows of chastity for one hundred livres. Tetzel violated all the laws of decency in recommending the purchase of indulgences; the efficacy of which was so great, he said, that as soon as the money tinkled in the chest, the souls escaped from the torments of purgatory.
Some traders in indulgences had recourse to the exposing of relicks; as a plume from the wing of the angel Michael ; some hay upon which Christ was laid after his birth; some coals upon which St. Ignatius had been burnt, &c. Indulgences could be had not only for past, but future sins; which Tetzel, however, in one instance, found to be to his own disadvantage : for a soldier having purchased the day before indulgence for a sin which he intended to commit, attacked him the next day in a forest, taking from him the chest of money, under pretence of having bought before of him the right to rob him.
They carried on this extensive and lucrative traffick among the credulous and ignorant for some time; and immoralities and crimes increased by the facility with which pardon could be obtained. The deluded people being taught to rely on the indulgences for the pardon of their sins, did not think it necessary either to study the doctrines, or practise the duties of christianity.
Such was the deplorable state of the christian
church when Luther made his first appearance. He found the evil effects of the sale of indulgences, in the immoral lives of his parishioners. When they came to the auricular confession, he told them, Except ye repent, ye shall all perish; (Luke xi. 3.) a doctrine which they could not, or would not understand, since they had the seal of their pardon in their pockets.
When Tetzel was informed that Luther opposed his trade in private, he was so much exasperated, that he preached publickly against him, and all those that dared to resist the authority of the pope. Luther, who was at the height of his reputation, and whose pious zeal was warm and active, wrote to Albert, and remonstrated against the false opinions, as well as the wicked lives of the preachers of indulgences: but he found that prelate too deeply interested in their success to correct their abuses. He then published ninety-five theses, Oct. 31, 1517, containing his sentiments with regard to indulgences; and challenging any one to oppose them, either by writing or disputation.
The first of these theses was; Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, commanding repentance, requires that the whole life of his believers on earth, is to be a perpetual repentance without intermission. These theses were not yet perfectly free from his implicit submission to the authority of the Apostolick See: but they were spread in a fortnight's time over all Germany, with astonishing rapidity. They were translated and read with the greatest eagerness, and all admired the boldness of the man who ventured to oppose a power at which all the princes of Europe trembled; and which they had long, though without success, been endeavouring to overturn.
The secular princes had reason to be jealous of the growing power of papal authority, and its exactions, draining their credulous subjects of their