TO POPE LEO X
Luther had seen the Papal bull condemning him. He sent the book on the Freedom of a Christian Man to the Pope. October 13, 1520.
To the Most Holy Father in God, Leo X., Pope in Rome, all blessedness in Christ Jesus our Lord! In consequence of the disputes in which I have been embroiled for three years, through some worthless men, I have had occasion to look towards you, as it is thought you are the cause of this dissension. For although I have been driven by some of our godless flatterers to appeal from your Holiness’s judgment to a general Christian Council, still I have never been so alienated from you that I did not pray earnestly for the welfare of the Roman See. And I declare I am not aware of ever having spoken of you except with great respect. I have called you Daniel in Babylon, and any one can tell you how I stood up for your innocence against your defamer, Prierias. Your good name has been far too highly
lauded by eminent men everywhere, to make it possible for any one to attack it, however high he may be, so I am not fool enough to belittle him whom every one praises. No doubt I have eagerly attacked my opponents for their unchristian teaching; and in this I have Christ’s example, who speaks of His enemies as serpents, “Ye fools and blind”; and St. Paul says, “Children of the devil, full of all subtlety and all mischief,” and some false prophets he names “dogs” and “deceivers,” etc. Were any fastidious people nowadays to hear such language they would say, “No one was so bitter as the Apostle Paul.” And who are more so than the prophets?—Jeremiah cursing the man who does the work of the Lord deceitfully. Therefore, most holy father Leo, pray accept my apology, and be assured I never attacked your person, although I confess to having spoken against the Roman See, the Court of Rome, which not even thyself can deny, that it has been a very Sodom, Gomorrha, and Babylon, and is, so far as I can see, in a hopeless state. Meantime, thou sittest, most holy father, like a sheep among wolves, and like Daniel in the lions’ den, and Ezekiel among scorpions. What canst thou do against such like? And
even if there be three or four pious and learned Cardinals, what are they among so many? God’s wrath lies upon the Court of Rome, for it will not submit to a General Council, nor to counsel or reform, so what was predicted of her mother may be fulfilled in her, “We would have healed Babylon, but she is not healed,” etc. It should be thy work, and that of the Cardinals, to put an end to this miserable state of things; but the malady defies the remedies, the horse and carriage pay no heed to the driver. I have ever regretted, thou pious Leo, that thou shouldst now be Pope, when thou wert worthy of better times. The Roman See is not worthy of thee — the Evil Spirit should be Pope, who rules more than thou in this Babel. Oh that thou wert free, and could live from thy paternal inheritan- ce! Such a post should be reserved for Judas Iscariot and such like, whom God has cast away.
The Roman Court surpasses that of Turkey in wickedness. Once it was a gate of heaven, now it is the very jaws of hell. This is why I have attacked it so mercilessly, most holy Leo! And my efforts not having been vain, the Evil Spirit raised up John Eck, a special enemy of the truth, and persuaded him to draw me unawares into a disputation at Leipsic, about a word I dropped as to the Papacy — and all under the pretext of disputing with Dr. Carlstadt. And then at Augsburg, when Cajetan, to whom I committed my cause, dealt so unjustly with me, and after him came Karl von Miltitz, also sent by your Holiness, who, after much running to and fro, tried to arrange matters, and it is at his request, and at that of the Augustinian fathers, who will not believe the cause is lost, if the holy father Leo would stretch out his hand to help, that I now write to your Holiness. I long for peace that I may have quiet to devote to better studies. I now plead that a limit may be set to the flatterers, the enemies of all peace. It is needless to ask me to retract, for I will not, nor can I suffer any interference with my expositions of Scripture; because the Word of God must not be bound. If this be conceded I am ready to do and suffer anything. Therefore, most holy father, do not listen to the sweet music of those who tell thee thou art not a mere man, but a mixture of God and man, who has everything at his disposal.
This is not the case. Thou art not lord over all. For a Pope in whose heart Christ does not reign, instead of being Christ’s viceregent — is Antichrist. Perhaps it is presumptuous of me to try to teach
so exalted a personage, but I do it from pure love and a sense of duty, for my neighbor’s good, and in this I follow St. Bernard’s example, when he gave his book to Pope Eugene — a book every Pope should read. In conclusion, and not to come empty handed before your Holiness, I bring a little book, which came out with the sanction of your name, in the fervent hope that it might be the beginning of better times, and to let your Holiness see the sort of profitable work I love to pursue, if your flatterers would give me leisure. It is a tiny book (The Freedom of a Christian Man) in respect of paper, but it contains the whole kernel of a Christian life. I am poor, and have nothing else by which I can show my devotion to your Holiness, but thou requirest only spiritual wares for your higher welfare. I herewith commend myself to your Holiness, and may Jesus keep you to all eternity. Amen.
Luther does not sign this, his third letter to the Pope, evidently not wishing the consideration due to an Augustinian monk to be taken into account.