TO THE EMPEROR CHARLES V.
Luther places himself under Charles’s protection as being the defender of truth and righteousness. January 15, 1520.
Grace and peace from our Lord Jesus Christ! Doubtless every one marvels, most gracious Emperor, that I presume to write your Imperial Majesty. For what is so unusual as that the King of kings and Lord of lords should be addressed by the meanest of men? But whoever can estimate the enormous importance of this subject, which so intimately concerns the divine verities, will not wonder.
For, if it be worthy of being brought before the throne of His Majesty, how much more before that of an earthly prince; for even as earthly princes are an emblem of the heavenly, so it becomes them to follow their great example: viz. to look from their heights upon the lowly of the earth, and “raise the poor out of the dust, and lift the beggar from the dunghill.” Therefore, I, poor miserable creature, throw myself at your Imperial Majesty’s feet as the most unworthy being who ever brought forward a matter of such importance. Several small books I wrote drew down the envy and hatred of many great people, instead of their gratitude, which I merit: (1) Because against my will I had to come forward, although I had no desire to write anything, had not my opponents, through guile and force, compelled me to do so. For I wish I could have remained hidden in my corner. (2) As my conscience and many pious people can testify, I only brought forward the gospel in opposition to the illusions or
delusions of human traditions. And for so doing, I have suffered for three years, without cessation, all the malice which my adversaries could heap upon me. It was of no avail that I pled for mercy and promised henceforth to be silent. No attention was paid to my efforts after peace, and my urgent request to be better instructed was not listened to. The one thing they insisted upon was, that I, with the whole gospel, should be extinguished. Therefore seeing all my labor lost, I appealed to the example of St. Athanasius, to see if perhaps God might not, through your Imperial Majesty, support His cause. Hence, O lord, prince of the kings of the earth, I fall humbly at your Serene Majesty’s feet, begging you will not take me, but the cause of divine truth (for which cause only God has put the sword into your hand) under the shadow of your wings, protecting me till I have either won or lost the cause. Should I then be declared a heretic I ask for no protection, and only plead that neither the
truth nor the lie be condemned unheard. For this is only due to your Imperial throne. This will adorn your Majesty’s empire! It will consecrate your century, and cause its memory never to be forgotten, if your Sacred Majesty do not permit the wicked to swallow up him who is holier than they, nor let men,
as the prophet says, “become as the fishes of the sea — as the creeping things that have no ruler over them!” I herewith commend myself to you, hoping for all that is good from your Sacred Majesty, whom may the Lord Jesus preserve to us, and highly exalt to the everlasting honour of His gospel. Amen.
Your Imperial Majesty’s devoted servant, MARTIN LUTHER. Wittenberg.