In August 1520 the Augustine monks of Germany were meeting in Eisleben. Luther’s friend and superior, Staupitz, resigned as general vicar of the order. Another good friend of Luther’s who had lent Luther his gown for his meeting with Cardinal Cajetan – Wenceslas Link – was made the new general vicar.
Miltitz Tries Again
Even though the pope’s condemnation of Luther was well-known, Karl von Miltitz, the pope’s ambassador, who had once before tried to negotiate with Luther, arrived in Eisleben and met with the Augustine monks. He told them to send representatives to Luther with a message to write the pope a letter. In the letter Luther was supposed to tell the pope that he had never meant any harm to him personally. Miltitz promised the Augustinians that Luther’s letter would put an end to the pope’s displeasure with him.
Next Miltitz wrote to Frederick, requesting that Frederick send Luther to meet with him in Lichtemberg, a distance of about 75 miles (120 km) from Wittenberg. The trip would have taken three or four days to by horseback. Frederick told Luther to go. Luther’s friends were alarmed. They believed it would be very dangerous for him to go. They had already heard that the pope had issued his bull, condemning Luther.
Luther met with Miltitz who told him that if he would only write a letter to the pope, all the blame would be placed on Eck. It was Eck after all who had broken the covenant of peace between Luther and the church. Luther told him, “For the sake of peace, I will do everything in my power.”[i]
Luther’s Letter to Pope Leo X
Luther wrote a passionate letter to Pope Leo. He said, “I have done one thing – upheld the Word of truth. I am ready to submit to you in everything; but as for this Word, I will not – I cannot abandon it.” He acknowledged Leo as being a good man in a corrupt system and told him, “O Leo! You sit a lamb in the midst of wolves…Full of affection for you, most excellent Leo, I have always regretted that you, who are worthy of better times, should have been raised to the pontificate in such days as these.” He said Rome was not worthy of Leo. He begged the pope to stop the “enemies of peace.” But he declared that he would not retract his doctrine.
Luther’s Gift to the Pope
Along with the letter, Luther packaged a book he’d written called Christian Liberty.In this little book, Luther explained the great exchange that Christ made with sinners. “Christ possesses every blessing and eternal salvation: they are henceforward the property of the soul. The soul possesses every vice and sin: they become henceforth the property of Christ.” In other words, Jesus gives a sinner every good thing and eternal life when a sinner gives to Him his sins and accepts Christ’s gift of salvation. Luther summed up the transaction like this, “Thus, by means of faith, the soul is delivered from every sin, and clothed with the eternal righteousness of her husband, Jesus Christ.”
Always concerned for the spiritual well-being of humanity, in Christian Liberty, Luther expressed his sorrow over the widespread ignorance of the Gospel message: ”Oh! How noble and elevated is the Christian life! But, alas! No one knows it, no one preaches it.”[ii]
[i] History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, 317.