After the third meeting between Luther and de Vio, the cardinal called Staupitz, Luther’s superior, to meet with him. De Vio thought that Staupitz could convince Luther to retract. But Staupitz told de Vio that Luther’s knowledge of the Scriptures was greater than his and Luther was more genius than him. He would not be able to change his mind. Staupitz asked the cardinal to put in writing what Luther must retract. De Vio agreed to write it out and to give the list to Luther.
A Last Supper
Staupitz and Luther’s other friends felt certain harm was about to come to Luther from de Vio. Luther’s friends gathered around him and they shared the Lord’s Supper together. It seemed very much like a last supper to them all. It was a good-bye meal. Then each one left. Perhaps they were afraid for their own safety.
Luther waited for the cardinal’s message. He wrote a letter to the cardinal asking his forgiveness for not speaking as mildly as he should have. Luther asked de Vio to let a general church council decide upon his case. Then he seemed to change his mind and asked the cardinal to ask the pope to settle the matter.
Luther seems to have been in an anxious state of mind and probably he was. In any case, de Vio did not respond to Luther’s letter.
Finally, after four days of waiting, Luther wrote a letter to Cardinal de Vio explaining that he could no longer stay in Augsburg. He was running out of money, he said. Besides, he reminded de Vio, he had been forbidden to see him again unless he retracted. The letter was not delivered until after Luther had left.
Early in the morning, while it was still dark, Luther mounted a horse Staupitz had left for him and hurried away from Augsburg.
Cardinal de Vio was angry when he learned Luther had left Augsburg. He sent a letter to Frederick warning him that the pope would quickly bring the business with Luther to an end as soon as he was informed about it. De Vio told Frederick to send Luther to Rome or ban him from his territory.
Elector Frederick Protects Luther
Frederick answered de Vio bravely. He would not banish Luther. He would not send him to Rome. He told de Vio, “We did not expect that you would endeavour to make him retract, without having convinced him of his errors.”[i] He reminded de Vio of Luther’s good reputation in Germany. “None of the learned men in our principality have informed me that Martin’s doctrine is impious, anti-Christian, or heretical.”
Luther no longer felt safe in Germany and thought he would run away to France. In a good-bye sermon in one of the churches, he told the people not to blame the pope or hold any ill-will toward him or anyone else, but to trust in God.
Then Frederick, expecting trouble from Rome, asked Luther to leave Wittenberg. Not long afterward, though, he sent a new message to Luther: Stay. The pope’s representative hopes to solve the problem in a meeting.
Soon after this, however, the pope published in Germany a public statement, called a bull, approving indulgences. In doing this, rather than correcting the abuses linked to the sale of indulgences, the pope upheld them. How disappointing this must have been for those who hoped the pope would take action against evil in the church.
Any hope for a happy ending of the Luther affair was once again dashed.
[i] History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century.