In January 1521, the city of Wittenberg was in turmoil because of the teachings of false prophets. Professor Carlstadt was turning things upside down at the university. And the imperial government ordered that bishops everywhere in the empire were to severely punish the monks and priests who were teaching new things. In other words, only those who strictly clung to the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church were safe from persecution.
Luther was still at Wartburg Castle. On March 3, he dressed in his military outfit, put on his red cap, mounted a horse, and left the castle. Knight George was leaving the Wartburg. Luther was returning to Wittenberg.
The next day, Luther arrived at Jena. The streets were full of people celebrating Shrove Tuesday with all kinds of joyful festivities. He stopped at the Black Bear Inn just outside the city for the night. While waiting for supper to be served, Luther took a seat at a table in the dining room and read a book.
After a time, Luther’s reading was disturbed. Two young men came in from outside. Their clothes were soaked and they apologized to the host for dripping on the floor. They explained that they’d been caught in a storm and the roads had flooded. All the inns in the city were full so they had come to the Black Bear. Luther glanced at the miserable pair and invited them to his table.
He asked the two men where they were going in such terrible weather. “To Wittenberg to study at the university,” the students told him. When he learned that they were from St. Gall in Switzerland, Luther told them that Doctor Schurff, a lawyer at Wittenberg, was also from St. Gall.
One of the students, Johannes Kessler who later wrote about his experiences, asked, “Where is Martin Luther?” Luther, Knight George, replied, “Luther is not at Wittenberg, but he will be there soon. Philip Melanchthon is there,” he added and recommended that they study Greek and Hebrew to gain a clearer understanding of the Holy Scriptures. The students thought it strange to be having an academic discussion with this friendly knight but they said nothing.
The parents of Kessler and his friend had determined that their sons would be priests when they grew up. But Luther’s teachings against the mass, the priesthood, and the monasteries had reached Switzerland. The students told Knight George that they were determined to meet with Luther and talk with him to understand why he had written these things. Knight George paused for a moment, then changed the subject. “Is Erasmus still in Rotterdam?” he asked.
After talking for a while, one of the students, curious to know what the knight had been reading, picked up the little book. It was the Psalms of David, in Hebrew! Kessler and his friend exchanged puzzled glances. Who was this strange knight?
Suddenly, Kessler heard his name being called. It was the inn’s host. Oh, no! thought Kessler. What could he want from me? Perhaps the host had realized the students had no money and would send them out of the inn into the blustery dark night.
“I understand that you want to meet Luther,” the host whispered to Kessler. “It is he you have been talking with at the table. Don’t tell him I told you,” warned the host.
Kessler thought the man was joking. When he returned to the table he leaned forward, as if looking toward the door and whispered to his friend, “The host says this knight is Luther.”
“Maybe he said ‘Hutten’,” his friend replied.
Hutten. Luther. They sound a bit alike, thought Kessler. The host probably said “Hutten.” Ulrich von Hutten was a and well-educated reformer, poet and knight.
Knight George ordered supper for himself and the students and paid for their meals. Then he put on his military cloak and left the room.