Martin Luther: His Road to Reformation, 1483-1521

By Martin Brecht; James L. Schaaf | Go to book overview

XI

The Excommunication

1. THE BULL THREATENING EXCOMMUNICATION1

Following the election of the emperor in the summer of 1519, Rome no longer needed to be concerned about the elector of Saxony in the Luther affair. Moreover, Luther had called the papacy into question at the Leipzig debate far more radically than he had previously done. The curia had been informed of that by John Eck. He considered it absolutely necessary to take action against Luther, and had himself volunteered to work in the Saxon dioceses to seek out the heretic. In November Rome informed the nuncio Miltitz that it was dissatisfied with the stagnating action against Luther, especially with the Saxon elector's delaying tactics. On 9 January 1520 in a public consistory—an assembly of the pope, the cardinals, and diplomats— an Italian demanded that the pope proceed against Luther and his protector Frederick the Wise in order to excise this incurable wound before it poisoned the body of the church entirely. The papal auditor should be empowered to set the legal proceedings against Luther in motion once again. But they would not handle Luther in a simple "perfunctory trial." In the following months the curia attempted several times to dissuade the Saxon elector from protecting Luther. But even more significantly, in February a commission of the generals and procurators of the mendicant orders was organized, at whose head were Cardinal Accolti as the canon lawyer and Cardinal Cajetan as the theologian. Other theologians also worked with it or were later consulted. This commission prepared a bull against Luther's writings, which, while not attacking him personally, labeled his teachings as scandalous, false, offensive to pious ears, misleading, or opposed to catholic doctrine. This accorded with the cautious evaluation of the Luther affair by Cajetan, who, however, possibly was unaware of how deep a rift already existed between Luther and the papacy.

Along this line there was also a renewed attempt to deal with the matter through Luther's order. On 15 March Gabriel Venetus, the general of the order of Augustinian Hermits, wrote to Staupitz as the vicar of the Saxon reform congregation and Luther's immediate superior in the order.2 Already at the general chapter of the order in June 1519 in Venice he had wished to discuss this matter with Staupitz; Staupitz, however, did not attend. The general made it clear that, despite the offensive Resolutions on the indul

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