Martin Luther: A Brief Introduction to His Life and Works

By Paul R. Waibel | Go to book overview

CHAPTER FOUR
The Three Treatises of 1520

The publication of the Ninety-Five Theses did not result in Luther's immediate excommunication. Even when the sales of indulgences dropped off dramatically by December 1517, the papacy did not take decisive action against him. Part of the reason for this was the impending death of Emperor Maximilian I, which occurred on January 3, 1519. Luther's prince and protector, Frederick the Wise, was one of the seven electors who would “elect” the next emperor. Pope Leo X hoped to have Frederick's support in his efforts to prevent Charles, Maximilian's grandson, from being chosen the next emperor. For both religious and political reasons, Frederick insisted that Luther and his ideas receive a fair hearing inside Germany. Not only was he a pious Christian who no doubt wondered if what Luther asserted was true, but he was also a prince, a subject of the emperor, who, like other princes within the Holy Roman Empire, took advantage of every opportunity to strengthen his own authority within his territory against the claims of sovereignty by both emperor and pope. Therefore, he would not allow Luther to go to Rome, where he could be expected to suffer execution as had Jan Hus at the Council of Constance in 1415. Hence, Pope Leo X had to be very cautious in his efforts to silence Luther. He did not issue a papal bull threatening Luther with excommunication until June 15, 1520. In the meantime he employed other means to reduce Luther's influence.

In mid-October 1518, Leo X granted Luther an interview in Augsburg with the papal legate, Cardinal Thomas Cajetan. Cajetan made it clear to Luther that his attack upon indulgences was an attack upon papal authority. By doing so, the cardinal helped Luther clarify his own position. Pre

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