His cause, meanwhile, was rapidly gaining friends. His replies to Tetzel, Prierias, Hochstrat, and Eck had gone forth to deepen the favorable impression made by the Ninety-five Theses. Truth had once more lifted up its head in Europe, and Rome would find it no child’s play to put it down. The skirmish-lines of the hierarchy had been met and driven in. The tug of serious battle was now to come.
HIS APPEAL TO THE POPE.
Luther made the advance. He wrote out explanations (or “Resolutions”) of his Theses, and sent them, with a letter, to the pope. With great confidence, point, and elegance, but with equal submissiveness and humility, he spoke of the completeness of Christ for the salvation of every true believer, without room or need for penances and other satisfactions; of the evilness of the times, and the pressing necessity for a general reform; of the damaging complaints everywhere resounding against the traffic in indulgences; of his unsuccessful appeals to the ecclesiastical princes; and of the unjust censures being heaped upon him for what he had done, entreating His Holiness to instruct his humble petitioner, and condemn or approve, kill or preserve, as the voice of Christ through him might be. He then believed that God’s sanction had to come through the high clergy and heads of the Church. Many good Christians had approved his Theses, but he did not recognize in that the divine answer to his testimony. He said afterward: “I looked only to the pope, the cardinals, the bishops, the theologians, the jurisconsults, the monks, the priests, from whom I expected the breathing of the Spirit.” He had not yet learned what a bloody dragon claimed to impersonate the Lamb of God.
CITATION TO ANSWER FOR HERESY.
While, in open frankness, Luther was thus meekly committing himself to the powers at Rome, they were meditating his destruction. Insidiously they sought to deprive him of the Elector’s protection, and answered his humble and confiding appeal with a citation to appear before them to answer for heresy.
Things now were ominous of evil. Wittenberg was filled with consternation. If Luther obeyed, it was evident he would perish like so many faithful men before him; if he refused, he would be charged with contumacy and involve his prince. One and another expedient were proposed to meet the perplexity; but to secure a hearing in Germany was all Luther asked.
To this the pope proved more willing than was thought. He was not sure of gaining by the public trial and execution of a man so deeply planted in the esteem of his countrymen, and by bringing him before a prudent legate he might induce him to retract and the trouble be ended; if not, it would be a less disturbing way of getting possession of the accused man. Orders were therefore issued for Luther to appear before Cardinal Cajetan at Augsburg.