Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

the correspondence of the times, – such, for instance, as the letter of the students who met Luther returning from the Wartburg to Wittenberg in the dress of a knight, or that in which he makes the well-known allusion to the raining of Duke Georges, or, finally, the love-letters quoted in the article on the Fugger family. The perusal of these sketches of Freytag's, and of the little volume in which Mr. Wight, well known for his valuable services as translator and compiler, has given to the public the Life of Luther contributed by Bunsen to the Encyclopædia Britannica, together with appropriate extracts from Hamilton and Carlyle, has suggested a few remarks on the general significance of Luther's agency, and on the causes which led him to become a reformer, and sustained him in his reformation.

The biographers of Martin Luther usually divide his life into three periods. The first contains the thirty-four years from his birth, in 1483, to the publication of the theses against indulgences, in 1517. These Bunsen calls the years of preparation. The second extends from his first appearance as an historical personage, in 1517, to his marriage and retreat into more private life, in 1525. These eight years are the most momentous and the best known of Luther's whole life. They embrace his opposition to Rome; his denial of the Pope's supremacy ; his appeal to the Bible as the ultimate authority, before the Diet of Worms; the ten months at the Wartburg, where he translated the Bible ; his greatest activity as a writer ; the publication of his best-known treatises; and his establishment of an organized Lutheranism at Wittenberg, in opposition to Catholics on the one hand, and radicals on the other. sen calls this the period of progressive action. It might better, perhaps, be called the period of action and reaction. The third period is from Luther's marriage, in 1525, to his death, in 1546. These twenty-one years Bunsen most appropriately calls the period of stagnation. No one should forget Luther's services as a pastor, or in the composition of the hymns which still form the basis of the public worship of German Protestantism, or in the establishment of that admirable school system of short sessions and much singing, the revival of which is one of the most important reforms of our own day; but we

must acknowledge that Luther's principal public acts after 1525 were merely protests against that great movement which has given us the name of Protestants. His refusal to compromise with Rome must be weighed against his refusal to cooperate with Zwingle. Indeed, it is by no means easy to realize how the last sixteen years of an otherwise great life were spent. Bunsen devotes to them but eight pages out of one hundred and seventy. Sears is equally summary. Those biographers who, like Meurer, give as much space to the last period of Luther's life as to the others, are obliged to fill it up with miscellaenous extracts from his table-talk. The importance of the first period is mainly biographical, of the second mainly historical, and of the third mainly domestic. We have Luther the pupil of his age, Luther the interpreter of his age, and Luther the pater-familias, – Luther studying in the cloister, Luther braving Emperor and Pope, and Luther talking table-talk.

We should naturally expect that these changes in his relations to the world would be preceded by corresponding changes in his own opinions. Accordingly, we might divide his inner life into three periods, — the first closing with his full adoption of the great principle of justification by faith, the second with his beginning to think that he had gone far enough in applying it, and the third with his death. The most appropriate epochs for marking such a division are, perhaps, the pilgrimage to Rome in 1511, and the departure from the Wartburg in 1522. Between the visit to Rome and the visit to the Wartburg, he was a Protestant. He entered Rome a Papist. He left the Wartburg a Lutheran. Papist, Protestant, Lutheran. Slave of the past, champion of the present, infidel to the future. The other division, according to external actions, serves to divide the Protestant period into the years of peace before the great theses, and the years of heroism thenceforth until the Lutheran period, which is similarly divided into the years of successful reaction and the years of unavailing protest against the ultra-reformers.

It was not worldly culture and learning, but the convent routine, which made Luther a Protestant. His tendency to melancholy and superstition had been so fostered by privation

and cruelty, hunger and the scourge, at home and at school, that he was forced to renounce the brilliant prospects which opened to him as a jurist, and become an Augustinian monk. Brother Martin was the most exemplary of friars. He went through the whole catalogue of superstitious formalities with most scrupulous nicety, and pushed asceticism almost into suicide. Yet in all this he found nothing of the peace which he had renounced the world to seek. Superstitious fears still haunted him. He felt “ the curse of the law." He believed that “ He who doeth these things shall live by them.” His morbidly sensitive conscience told him that he could not do them. His awful conviction of unfulfilled responsibility was increased by the pressure of the host of factitious duties prescribed by the convent rule, and especially by the unnatural and torturing vow of celibacy. The system of salvation by obedience to definite ceremonial and moral precepts is a premium on laxity and a curse on strictness of principle. It spares the worldly, who easily manage to get through it as an habitual routine, to torment the spiritual, who strive to cramp every thought and feeling into its narrow limits. It gives no motive but torturing self-consciousness and self-seeking, and no peace but delusive self-satisfaction and self-sufficiency. Moreover, the evasions of the unfaithful cause a continual multiplication of precepts, which is little trouble to those who are determined to take the whole thing as easily as possible, but aggravates the tortures of the conscientious. Thus, the more closely Luther held to forms, the less peace he found in them. He saw that he could not purchase his own salvation by any possible discharging of duties. He felt that by the works of the law he, at least, could not be saved. This was a period of great suffering.

All this time he was studying the Bible which the convent rule had given to the novice. He knew it, however, only in the Vulgate version, which entirely ignores the ideas of justification by faith and of a true repentance based on amendment and change of mind and heart. He was taught that the pænitentia of the Vulgate meant penance, and instead of justificatio he found justitia ; so that he read, not “ Christ' is raised again for our justification,” but “ Christ is raised

again for judgment upon us.” Moreover, he used only the allegorical method of interpretation, which made him see nothing but repetitions of already formed ideas, and thus prevented his acquiring any new ones. His own language authorizes the belief that he was led to the idea of justification by faith by the works of Augustine, by the cautious hints of two mystics, — his superior and a fellow-monk, — and especially by the Theologia Germanica, the writings of Tauler, and other mystical books. He says of his opposition to the indulgences, “ I have followed the theology of Tauler and of the Theologia Germanica, and teach that men must put their trust in nothing else but Jesus Christ alone; neither in their prayers and merits, nor in their good works." We read in the preface to his edition of the Theologia Germanica (Deutsch Theologia), “I have found God in German as I have not found him in Latin, Hebrew, or Greek.” The monkish mystics taught him that repentance must begin, as well as end, in love to God; and Melancthon, that the original Greek word therefor (uetávoia) signifies change of heart. So it was the Greek Fathers that convinced him that Purgatory was not a doctrine of the true Church. The benefits which he afterwards received from the Bible, when he had learned to study it in the original languages, and by the literal method of interpretation, we shall soon have occasion to state in full. Perhaps his greatest discovery was made when he became priest, and was obliged, in saying mass, to offer prayer, for the first time in his life, directly to the Deity, without the intervention of any human mediator, such as he had always relied on before. Then he found that this reliance on human mediators had taught him to feel, not devotion towards God, but terror. These mediators between him and God had kept him away from God. He felt that he must come directly to God, and find his mediator in the Godhead itself. He could accept no mediation but that of God the Son. He must fix his faith on Christ alone, or, rather, in his Trinitarianism, on God alone.

Still he was a Catholic. He had ceased to feel the burden of the Romish ritual. He had not yet seen its uselessness. He seems to have followed it more and more strictly in prac

tice, as he departed from it more and more widely in theory. In this unconscious inconsistency between his old habits and his new opinions, he came to Rome, as a pilgrim, in 1511. Even Rome's corruption did not at the time consciously lessen his reverence for her Church. Intelligent Catholics often revere as priests those whom they despise as men. He went through the round of penances and relic-worshippings with the utmost zeal. He regretted deeply that his parents had not died, so that he could obtain release for them from Purgatory. At last he came to the most blessed act the Catholic can perform, — the mounting up the holy staircase of the Lateran on bended knees and in prayer. As he was toiling up the marble steps, and rejoicing in anticipation of the rich reward, he heard a voice of thunder say, The just shall live by faith.Luther quitted Rome forthwith. He had followed superstition so zealously that he had overtaken it, and passed beyond it. The Protestant Reformation dawned

upon him.

Soon after, he became Professor of Divinity at Wittenberg, and took an oath which he never forgot, namely, to devote his whole life to the study, exposition, and defence of the Holy Scriptures. Then followed several years of peaceful and spiritual activity, which was all that he desired. He had no love of innovation or strife, nor any wish to attack existing authority. It was the Pope that made the attack. Luther did not even know that he was resisting the Pope and the Church, till he had taken a stand from which he could not retreat. He knew that Tetzel was a profligate charlatan, who was recklessly disregarding the commission which authorized him to grant indulgences only to the truly contrite, and to ask contributions only from the rich. He thought the Pope would be as much shocked as himself at blasphemous language which even a Protestant must decline to quote. He saw his own parishioners give themselves up to utter irreligion, saying that the Church could do nothing further for them; they had bought their salvation. He never dreamed that Leo X. connived at all this. Luther felt it his duty, as a priest of the Church of Rome and a loyal servant of the Pope, to oppose abuses which he was sure his Primate had never sanctioned, but would in

« AnteriorContinuar »