The Revolt of Martin Luther

By Robert Herndon Fife | Go to book overview

21
A BATTLE OF POLEMICS

THE year 1519 had opened on a note of reconciliation. After casting down the glove of defiance to the papal party and the defenders of indulgences in theActa Augustana, Martin had listened to the pleas of Miltitz and for the moment seems to have believed that a way might be found to reconcile his views with obedience to Rome. But this belief, if it really guided his pen at Altenburg, faded as soon as he learned that Eck's attack on Carlstadt was actually launched against himself; and with the passing of the early spring his blood surged ever more hotly against the aggressive opponent and the claims of the Roman party. Theological ideas had always taken a concrete personality in his mind; again and again in his life he strove with theo-logical error in corporeal form as with the Archfiend himself. His bitterness toward Aristotle and Thomas and Scotus and other authorities of the scho-lastic theology in which he had been trained burns in his letters and writings with the naïve fury of a combatant who looks into the eyes of a tricky and hated enemy. How much more hotly must this rage have flamed when he heard what he believed to be error defended by the mouth of an opponent or read the written and printed attacks of living men on positions which he held as sacred. The vigorous eloquence and unrestrained tone of his polemics against Eck and the Franciscans are outbreaks of a powerful will enforced by a profoundly emotional temperament. The flame of resentment spread to include all of those who placed themselves across the path of his ideas. As time went by theological opponents who at first resisted these ideas without acrimony became infected with the spirit of violence, so easily trans-mitted in a century of ardent polemics, and gave back his attacks with equal venom, though without Martin's elemental force and picturesque natural-ness of style. Even when, as in the collision with Cajetan, a prudent regard for the welfare of his university and the opinion of his prince held him back from a public expression of his bitterness, Martin laid no restraint on his pen when writing to hisalter ego, Spalatin, or to his old comrade of

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