On the same day that Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the church door, he decided to write a letter. He had learned that it was Albert the Archbishop of Mentz who had brought Tetzel to his territory to sell indulgences. Perhaps Luther thought that Albert did not quite understand what he was doing when he put Tetzel to work selling indulgences. Luther carefully explained things to him.
Albert, Elector of Mentz
Because Albert was an archbishop, he was therefore Luther’s superior, although he was seven years younger than Luther. This is how Luther addressed Albert: “Most reverend father in Christ and most illustrious prince.” He also called him, “most worthy father in God” and “your grace,” among other respectful titles. In the letter, Luther referred to himself as “a grain of dust.” It seems he had great respect for those in positions of authority within the church.
He told Albert of his concern for the salvation of those who bought the indulgences. He said, “The souls intrusted to your care are taught, not unto life, but unto death.”[i] Luther warned Albert that he would be called to account for the loss of those souls. He told Albert that Jesus never gave permission to sell indulgences but always commanded that the Gospel be preached everywhere.
He complained to Albert that the indulgence sellers were telling people that they did not have to repent if they bought an indulgence. You can almost hear the anxiety that wrung Luther’s heart for the souls in his care. “I beg your Highness, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to cast a look of paternal vigilance on this affair,” Luther pleaded.
Luther sent the letter to Albert. Albert did not answer Luther.
Pope Leo X
During the fall and winter of 1517, angry church leaders attacked Luther for the Theses. Luther’s friends worried about his safety. Luther decided to write a letter to the pope himself. He wrote, “To the most blessed Father Leo X sovereign bishop, Martin Luther, an Augustinian friar, wishes eternal salvation.”
In his letter to the pope, Luther explained that it was his zeal for Christ that caused him to write the Theses. He told the pope that he had been tired of hearing people complain about the wickedness of priests and monks. He told the pope that he had tried to talk with some of the church’s leaders about the need for reform in the church but they only laughed at him or wouldn’t listen. It was then, he said, that he decided to post the 95 Theses.
Luther appealed to the pope and told him he wished to find “safety under the shadow of your wings.” He pled his submission to Leo, saying, “I fall at the feet of your holiness…I shall acknowledge your voice as the voice of Jesus Christ, who presides and speaks through you.” Luther even told the pope that he was willing to die if he deserved it.
It can be seen from these letters that Luther was not a rebel. He humbly appealed to the leaders of the church to take action against the wickedness that was so common in the church. It hurt Luther deeply when he heard the market place jokes that ridiculed the priests and monks who shamed the church by their bad behaviour. Luther blushed for the ruined dignity of the church.
Luther was surprised by the uproar the Theses caused. It’s clear that Luther did not expect to become the centre of so much trouble when he posted the Theses on the church door. He didn’t want to lead the reformation of the church. He wanted the church leaders to do their job. And Luther certainly did not want to divide the church or separate from it. He only wanted the church to make the changes necessary to stop people from mocking it.
What more could a pious monk who loved his church have done?
[i] History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century.