Luther would not retract, or take back, his writings that showed from the Bible the errors of the Roman Catholic Church. He refused to stop teaching and preaching from the Word of God. He would not accept a bribe in the form of a bishop’s position and he could not be threatened into keeping silent. What could the pope do?
Doctor Eck, who had been embarrassed by Luther during the Leipsic discussions, was in Rome spreading hateful words about Luther. He won many monks and Roman citizens to his side. He met with the pope and urged him to take action against Luther.
Cajetan, before whom Luther had lain face down on the floor at Augsburg, was carried before the pope on his sick bed to give his opinion about how to deal with Luther. He had been unable to get Luther to retract. He told the pope and church leaders meeting about the question, “I have seen enough to know that if the Germans are not kept under by fire and sword, they will entirely throw off the yoke of the Roman Church.”[i] What he meant was that he’d seen how the German people supported Luther and his teachings and that they were impatient for the church to correct its abuses and errors. Luther’s popularity was growing; the church’s popularity was fading. Cajetan warned the pope and church leaders that if they didn’t quickly stop the spread of Luther’s teachings, that soon the German people would reject the Roman Church’s control over them.
And finally, a banker named Fugger, who was the treasurer of money raised by the sale of indulgences, was angry at Luther. Luther’s preaching against indulgences had cut into his profits because fewer people were buying indulgences. Not only that, but Fugger had lent money to the pope so he had some influence with him. Fugger demanded, “Employ force against Luther and I will promise you the alliance and support of several princes.”[ii]
On June 15, 1520, in a meeting between all the cardinals (the highest officials in the church) and the pope, the Sacred College of Bishops condemned Martin Luther and approved a papal bull, or official letter or law, against him. The bull required that bishops everywhere search out and confiscate all of Luther’s writings and burn them publicly. The bull required that Luther stop “preaching, teaching, and writing, and commit his works to the flames.”
The letter gave Luther 60 days to retract and send a letter of saying so, sealed by two church officials, or appear in person in Rome. If Luther would not retract, he was condemned as a heretic along with all his followers. If Luther would not retract, the bull required that Luther and all his followers be arrested and taken to Rome.
[i] History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, 309.
[ii] Ibid., 306.