TO POPE LEO X.
Luther’s conciliatory letter to the Pope. March 3, 1519.
Most Holy Father. Necessity once more compels me, the most unworthy and despicable creature upon earth, to address your Holiness. Therefore, would you, in Christ’s stead, graciously bend your fatherly ear to the petition of me, your poor sheep. The esteemed Herr Karl von Miltitz, your Holiness’s treasurer, has been here, and complained bitterly to the Elector Frederick, in your Holiness’s name, of my insolence towards the Roman Church and your Holiness, and demanded a recantation from me. When I heard this I felt aggrieved that all my efforts to do honour to the Roman Church had been so misrepresented, and considered foolhardiness and deliberate malice by the Head of the Church.
But what shall I do, most holy father? I am quite at sea, being unable to bear the weight of your Holiness’s wrath or to escape from it. I am asked to recant and withdraw my theses. If by so doing I could accomplish the end desired, I would not hesitate a moment. But my writings have become far too widely known, and taken root in too many hearts — beyond my highest expectations — now to be summarily withdrawn. Nay, our German nation, with its cultured and learned men, in the bloom of an intellectual reawakening, understands this question so thoroughly that, on this account, I must avoid even the appearance of recantation, much as I honour and esteem the Roman Church in other respects. For such a recantation would only bring it into still worse repute, and make every one speak against it. It is those, O holy father, who have done the greatest injury to the Church in Germany, and whom I have striven to oppose — those who, by their foolish preaching and their insatiable greed, have brought your name into bad odour, sullying the sanctity of the sacred chair, and making it an offense; and it is they who, in revenge for my having rendered their godless endeavours abortive, accuse me to your Holiness as the originator of their plots.
Now, holy father, I declare before God that I have never had the slightest wish to attack the power of the Roman Church or your Holiness in any way, or even to injure it through cunning. Yes, I declare openly, that there is nothing in heaven or on earth which can come before the power of this Church, except Jesus Christ alone — Lord over all. Therefore do not believe those malicious slanderers who speak otherwise of Luther. I also gladly promise to let the question of Indulgences drop and be silent, if my opponents restrain their boastful, empty talk. In addition, I shall publish a pamphlet exhorting the people to honour the Holy Church, and not ascribe such foolish misdeeds to her, or imitate my
own severity, in which I have gone too far towards her, and by so doing I trust these divisions may be healed. For this one thing I desired, that the Roman Church, our mother, f9 should not be sullied through the greed of strangers, nor the people led into error, being taught to regard love as of less importance than the Indulgences. All else, seeing it neither helps nor injures, I regard of less
importance. If I can do anything more in the matter I am willing to do it. May the Lord Christ preserve your Holiness to all eternity.
MARTIN LUTHER, Doctor. Altenburg.