The pope decided it was time to do something about Martin Luther. He sent a messenger to Germany with the message that Luther had 60 days to be in Rome to be judged. For someone in good health, walking to Rome from Wittenberg would have taken at least 60 days, maybe 70. Luther was often in poor health, probably due to his years of fasting when he was a young monk.
Luther’s Friends Ask for Mercy
Luther’s friends were alarmed at the summons to appear in Rome. They believed Luther would die on the way or be killed when he got there.
Luther’s friend Spalatin, secretary to Elector Frederick, wrote to the emperor’s secretary. He said Luther was willing to be tried by the impartial universities of Germany, but he could not travel to Rome. The University of Wittenberg sent a letter to the pope, saying Luther was not strong enough to make the journey and testified that Luther’s teachings did not go against the teachings of the Catholic church.
The pope decided he should try to keep Frederick’s friendship because Frederick was almost as powerful as the emperor himself. The pope agreed to have Luther tried in Germany. The pope appointed Cardinal De Vio to judge Luther at Augsburg. It would take Luther about two weeks to walk from Wittenberg to Augsburg, but it was much closer than Rome.
In his letter to De Vio, Pope Leo X told him that Luther had already been declared a heretic, someone who believed differently than what the church taught. So even though the pope agreed to try Luther in Germany, his case had already been decided in Rome. Luther was already condemned.
The pope described how Luther and his followers should be punished. He was to be declared an outlaw and his followers were to be banished, cursed and excommunicated, or cut off from the church. No one was allowed to shelter Luther or protect him. Anyone who came to his aid was also to be condemned.
23 – 7 ≠ 60
Later, when Luther learned about the pope’s instructions to De Vio, he counted the days. On August 7th, he had received the summons to appear for trial by De Vio at Augsburg. The summons said he had 60 days to appear before the judge. The instructions to De Vio were given August 23rd, just 16 days after the summons, not 60 days. Luther realized that the pope had decided his fate before he even went to Augsburg and had ordered severe punishments to be used on him before he even had an opportunity to explain himself. This was unfair.
That is how the pope – considered to be God’s representative on earth – behaved toward Luther. Jesus Himself declared, “God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved” (John 3:17). Should His representative not also be just and merciful?