TO JOHANN VON STAUPITZ
Luther begs his Vicar-General, who hated theological strife, to send his “Resolutiones” to Pope Leo X. May 30, 1518.
I remember, reverend father, that among the many comforting words with which you consoled me, was that of Repentance — that word with which the Lord Jesus in such a marvellous manner was wont to strengthen His people. I received your word as a voice from heaven. True repentance always begins with a longing after righteousness and God. This your word pierced me like a sharp arrow, and I, at once, began to compare the portions of Scripture which treat of repentance, and, behold, what a treat was in store for me — the words with that meaning crowding upon me, from all directions, so that this word, which up till now had been the bitterest in the Bible to me, sounded dearer and sweeter than any other. (Here follows an exhaustive analysis of the Greek for repentance, which means a change of disposition — consequently not primarily of works, but a revolution of sentiment.) Then just as my heart was filled with such thoughts, there began to resound around us proclamations of Indulgences for the forgiveness of sins, but no exhortation to true spiritual conflict with sin. In short, not a word was heard of true repentance, but the Indulgence-mongers were bold enough to glorify and praise themselves, while hurling invectives against repentance. I had to listen to all this lauding of self in a way hitherto undreamt of, and certainly a most unimportant part of confession. In addition, they taught so many godless lies boldly, that whoever differed from them was at once denounced as a heretic, condemned to the flames, and counted worthy of eternal damnation. Not being able to check their madness, I set myself modestly to throw doubts on their teaching, confident in the testimony borne by the doctors and the whole Church, who, from time immemorial, thought it better to repent than purchase Indulgences. Having discussed the matter openly, I unfortunately roused the opposition of all who are concerned about the dear gold, or shall I say, the dear souls? For these dear folk are wondrous cunning, and being unable to refute me, they declare the Pope’s authority will be injured through my disputation. This is the traffic, most esteemed father, which compels me with much personal danger to come to the front — I, who have ever loved obscurity, and would vastly prefer being a spectator of the lively game which these worthy and learned men are carrying on at present, than be the center of observation and ridicule. But I see weeds grow up among cabbage, and black is placed alongside white, to make it more attractive. Therefore I beseech you to forward my poor “Resolutiones” to the good Pope Leo X., so that they may plead my cause with His Holiness against
the wicked intrigues of evil-disposed persons. Not that I wish to lead you into danger, for I take the entire responsibility of all I do. May Christ judge whether I have said what is His, or my own, without whom even the Papal tongue can utter nothing, and in whose hand is the heart of kings. I expect to receive Christ’s verdict through the Papal throne. For the rest, I can only answer the warnings of my friends with Reuchlin’s words: “He who is poor need fear nothing, for he has nothing to lose.” I have
neither gold nor possessions, nor do I desire them. If I had a good reputation and honour, I am being robbed of them by Him who gave them. My useless body, weakened by many hardships, still remains. If they deprive me of this in God’s service, they only render me poorer by an hour or two of life. My sweet Redeemer is sufficient for me. I shall praise Him all my life.
May He keep you through all eternity, my dearest father. Amen. Martin Luther. Wittenberg. (De Wette.)