Luther had been whisked away at Frederick’s command to some obscure location. He was a captive for his own good at Warburg Castle. But neither Luther’s friends nor his enemies knew this. Rumors flew. Some said he’d escaped to France, others said he’d been assassinated. Some said they’d heard from eye witnesses who’d seen how he’d been mercilessly murdered. Many would have avenged Luther’s death had a suspect been named.
Roman Church leaders were fearful of the people’s anger. Poets stirred the people with their writings. Both the emperor and Roman Church leaders were accused of the death of Luther. A Roman Catholic wrote to Albert Archbishop of Mentz that the best way to appease the people was for church leaders to light torches and search everywhere for Luther until they found him.
Meanwhile, the emperor’s awful decree against Luther was put in effect in places where the Roman Church still had a strong influence. Heaps of Luther’s writings were set ablaze in Belgium and the Netherlands. But in Germany, while Luther was prisoner in the Wartburg, there was a greater demand for his books than ever before. And although the pope had commanded priests to preach against Luther and his followers, fear of the people prevented them for doing it.
The people reasoned that since no one had the courage to refute Luther’s teachings, his doctrines must be the truth. The lecture halls of the university in Wittenberg were filled with students eager to learn from the Scriptures. Melanchthon and other Reformers continued to teach there through Luther’s absence. Luther said of Melanchthon, “He is the most formidable enemy of Satan and the schoolmen (the Roman Church’s theologians), for he knows their foolishness, and Christ the Rock.”[i]
So, the Reformation continued to grow even though Luther himself had been taken away.
Not only were the people filled with sadness because of their separation from Luther, but Luther himself grieved at being held within the castle fortress. “I would rather be stretched on coals of fire than lie here half dead,” he moaned.[ii] Perhaps it was depression that plunged Luther into a dangerous illness. Melanchthon said, “I fear that the grief he feels for the Church will cause his death.”[iii]
Luther thought he might feel better if he could just get out of his prison. One day, as he picked strawberries near the fortress gate he pushed on the gate and it swung open! With fear in his heart, he stepped through the opening and picked some fruit outside the gate. Over time, he became braver and went along with a guard from the castle into nearby villages.
Once, at an inn, Luther removed his clumsy sword and grabbed some books that lay on a table. His guard panicked! A proper knight would not throw off his sword in public. He wouldn’t eagerly grab a pile of books to read, either.
Luther made a dangerous mistake on one outing. He visited a monastery where he’d stayed a night while on his trip to Worms. One of the monks suddenly gasped. He’d recognized the famous doctor of Wittenberg.
Luther was not a very convincing knight. Once, he went along on a rabbit hunt. The hounds flushed a rabbit. Luther picked it up and wrapped it in his cloak. He carried it to a thick bush and set it free. Moments later, the hounds caught its scent and killed it. Poor Luther! He groaned in despair. “O pope!” he cried, “And thou, too, Satan! It is thus you endeavour to destroy even those souls that have been saved from death!”[iv]
[i] History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, 481.
[iii] Ibid., 484
[iv] Ibid., 486