The Revolt of Martin Luther

By Robert Herndon Fife | Go to book overview
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14
THE ATTACK ON INDULGENCES

"I W AS completely dead to the world until God deemed that the time had come; then Junker Tetzel excited me with indulgences and Dr. Staupitz spurred me on against the pope."1 In these words, more than twenty years later, Martin epitpomized the conflict that had carried him out of the narrow world of cloister and university into the foreground of history. He was thirty- four years of age and had reached full maturity of intellectual power and creative energy. To those who knew him at Wittenberg and Erfurt and had followed his career during his five years in the chair of Bible exegesis it must have been clear that the convictions of the man backed by so forceful a will and such tremendous power for work would eventually take him into a larger arena than that bounded by the Saxon university. No one, however, would have predicted that within a year this arena would include also the highest officials of the Roman Church and the German Empire, nor that the name of the mendicant monk and Bible exegete would have found its way into the correspondence of the greatest chancelleries of Europe. Least of all did Martin himself anticipate any such result when he prepared and published his theses against indulgences. There is, on the other hand, abundant evidence in the correspondence during the months following his protest that he looked around with something like consternation at the unexpected uproar aroused by what he regarded as only a challenge to the academic guild.

The stage on which he sought to present his ideas, that of the disputation, was the usual one in the late Medieval university. The rising conviction that he had found a new theology in his studies of Augustine and the Pauline Epistles and the forceful individualism that made him resent the control of scholarly tradition and hierarchical discipline had already shown themselves in an urge to bring his ideas into full collision with the scholastic theologians. We have seen how he did this through theses on the "powers and

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1
TR, IV, No. 4707.

-245-

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