The Revolt of Martin Luther

By Robert Herndon Fife | Go to book overview
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27
APPEAL TO THE SECULAR CLASSES

THE Address to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation1 was the final step by which Luther brought his case before the bar of public opinion. Although he deals mainly with religious abuses, Martin does not now approach them as a critical theologian or an aroused preacher but as a public reformer. Historically viewed, Luther's attack is a chapter in a struggle for reform which had been going on in the Church since the thirteenth century and which did not come to an end until the Council of Trent took up the task of eliminating many of the evils he sets forth.2 Diet after diet had seen a long list of complaints of this character on its agenda. Cajetan, like many papal envoys before him, had been obliged to listen to a formidable document of gravamina when he came to Augsburg in 1518 to seek the aid of the German states in a crusade against the Turks. Immediately afterwards and in the following year Cajetan was attacked in a series of Latin dialogues by the Franconian humanist, Ulrich von Hutten,3 whose clever pen, sharpened through a dozen years of satirical practice, was now fully devoted to the cause of a national struggle against Rome.

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1
An den christlichen Adel deutscher Nation von des christlichen Standes Besserung. W A, VI, 404 ff.
2
The sources for Luther's arraignment are thoroughly canvassed by Köhler in his Die Quellen zu Luthers Schrift "An den christlichen Adel deutscher Nation". For a brief résumé of the historical background, see Georg v. Below, "Die Ursachen der Reformation", Historische Bibliothek, Vol. XXXVIII ( 1917).
3
Hutten's character and historical importance have been bitterly attacked by Kalkoff in a series of investigations which also traverse the relations of Luther to Hutten. The most important are Ulrich von Hutten und die Reformation and Huttens Vagantenzeit und Untergang. A sturdy defense of Hutten has been made by Fritz Walser, "Die politische Entwickelung Ulrichs von Hutten während der Entscheidungsjahre der Reformation", Historische Zeitschrift, No. 14 ( 1928). See also Werner Kaegi, "Hutten und Erasmus", Historische Vierteljahrschrift, Vol. XXII ( 1925). Kalkoff set out to destroy the romantic figure of Hutten in David F. Strauss's biography Ulrich von Hutten. His researches have added greatly to knowledge of the field, but his views of Hutten bear everywhere the marks of bias, and the resultant historical picture is somewhat of a caricature.

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