The pope himself read the Theses, and did not think unfavorably of their author. He saw in Luther a man of learning and brilliant genius, and that pleased him. The questions mooted he referred to a mere monkish jealousy—an unsober gust of passion which would soon blow over. He did not then realize the seriousness which was in the matter. His sphere was heathen art and worldly magnificence, not searching into the ways of God’s salvation.
The great German heart was moved, and the brave daring of him whose voice was thus lifted up against the abominations which were draining the country to fill the pope’s coffers was hailed with enthusiasm. Had Luther been a smaller man he would have been swept away by his vast and sudden fame.
But not all was sunshine. Erasmus wittily said, Luther committed two unpardonable sins: he touched the pope’s crown and the monks’ bellies. Such effrontery would needs raise a mighty outcry.
Prierias, the master of the sacred palace, pronounced Luther a heretic. Hochstrat of Cologne, Reuchlin’s enemy, clamored for fire to burn him. The indulgence-venders thundered their anathemas, promising a speedy holocaust of Luther’s body. The monasteries took on the form of so many kennels of enraged hounds howling to each other across the spiritual waste. And even some who pronounced the Theses scriptural and orthodox shook their heads and sought to quash such dangerous proceedings.
But Luther remained firm at his post. He honestly believed what he had written, and he was not afraid of the truth. If the powers of the world should come down upon him and kill him, he was prepared for the slaughter. In all the mighty controversy he was ever ready to serve the Gospel with his life or with his death.
Tetzel continued to bray and fume against him from pulpit and press, denouncing him as a heresiarch, heretic, and schismatic. By Wimpina’s aid he issued a reply to Luther’s sermon, and also counter-theses on Luther’s propositions. But the tide was turning in the sea of human thinking. Luther’s utterances had turned it. The people were ready to tear the mountebank to pieces. Two years later he imploringly complained to the pope’s nuncio, Miltitz, that such fury pursued him in Germany, Bohemia, Hungary, and Poland that he was nowhere safe. Even the representative of the pope gave the wretch no sympathy. When Luther heard of his illness he sent him a letter to tell him that he had forgiven him all. He died in Leipsic, neglected, smitten in soul, and full of misery, July 14, 1519.
LUTHER’S GROWING INFLUENCE.
Six months after the nailing up of the Theses, Luther was the hero of a general convention of the Augustinians in Heidelberg. He there submitted a series of propositions on philosophy and theology, which he defended with such convincing clearness and tact that he won for himself and his university great honor and renown. Better still, four learned young men who there heard him saw the truth of his positions, and afterward became distinguished defenders of the Reformation.