16th C Printmaking The Reformation Durer Cranach and Holbein cc

Printmaking and the Reformation

Engraving Depicting a Renaissance Printmaking Shop
Context:  One of the major innovations of the Renaissance, much like our own information revolution concerning the internet, was the invention of the movable type printing press.  Two majors forms had been around for several hundred years already.  Engraving and woodblock printing but this innovation was something new. The movable type printing press, perfected most likely by Johannes Gutenberg (1398-1468),  created an information revolution.  What made the movable type printing press so significant was the fact that it used reusable interchangable parts to create pages of texts.  In the large illustration on the left is a man putting precarved blocks (made out of medal or wood) in to small compartments in a larger tray.  Above the tray is the original manuscript which he is "typesetting."  The page once it had been set would be run through a printing press for a series of images and then once enough copies had been made, the block would be dumped out, sorted and then reused in another page.
The major benefit to this process is speed and economy.  Since the individual pages didn't need to be carved from scratch, half the time was needed to print off a series of pages.  It was also cheaper because less labor and materials were needed.
In the past, books and especially the Bible, were often hand made.  Monks or scribes would hand copy and decorate each page individually and the major producer or publisher of such manuscripts was the Catholic Church.  With this new technology, wealthy individuals could now afford to print off multiple sets of books and flyers with their ideas.  The text of the Bible, whose cost was prohibitively expensive and also outlawed to anyone but the Cathloic clergy, could now be printed up at much less cost.  The equivalenyt of these events would be our ability to send off a mass e-mail, print out multiple copies of a flyer at a copy shop and or post documents to the web.  This is called "self-publishing."
New books were now being published and copies of Gutenberg's famous Bible were being mass produced and this lead to the beginning of the Protestant Reformation in the North of Europe and the writings of Martin Luther who used this movable type press to circulate his ideas.  This lead to the "Reformation" 
Martin Luther was the leader of the religious movement known as the Reformation.  After reading a passage in the Book of Romans, he had a greater understanding about the judgment of God—basically that anyone could go straight to God and ask for forgiveness for their sins.  This, of course, went against what Catholicism taught which was that people could only speak to God through an intermediary (usually a priest) and that the only way to get a speedy ticket out of Purgatory was to buy one’s way out.  This led Luther to write the "95 Theses."
There was a great outcry against Luther by the Pope about the "95 Theses."  This led Luther to write three manifestos – the first of which was an open letter to the Christian Nobility.  This letter appealed to the noblemen of Germany to hear his beliefs and try to persuade the people who still followed the “Romanists” (Catholics). 
In this manifesto, Luther uses a metaphor of three walls to describe what is seemingly a catch-22 situation.  The Pope was all-powerful and was the only one who could translate the Bible. If a person wished to challenge this, they would have to call a council – and the only person who could call council was the Pope!  Luther dispels this belief with his teachings. 
According to the Britannica Encyclopedia:
The role of Luther Luther said that what differentiated him from previous reformers was that they attacked the life, he the doctrine of the church. Whereas they denounced the sins of churchmen, he was disillusioned by the whole scholastic scheme of redemption. The assumption was that man could erase his sins one by one through confession and absolution in the sacrament of penance. Luther discovered that he could not remember or even recognize all of his sins, and the attempt to dispose of them one by one was like trying to cure smallpox by picking off the scabs. Indeed, he believed that the whole man was sick. The church, however, held that the individual was not too sick to make up for bad deeds by some good deeds. God gave to all a measure of grace. If human beings lay hold of it and did the best they could, God would reward them with a further gift of grace with which they could perform deeds of genuine merit, which would give them credit before God. Human beings might even die with more than enough credits for salvation. These extra credits constituted a treasury of the merits of the saints, from which the pope could make transfers to those whose accounts were in arrears. The transfer was called an indulgence and for this, in Luther's day, the grateful recipient made a contribution to the church.
 "The continental Reformation- Germany, Switzerland, and France."
Britannica 2001 Standard Edition CD-ROM.
Copyright © 1994-2001 Inc.   November 12, 2002.

The text of the  "An Open Letter to The Christian Nobility" is a good summary of the main ideas published in Martin Luther's "Ninety-five Theses."  However, here are his "Ninety-five Theses" for those of you who would like to read the whole thing.

Please readMencher, Liaisons  125-136 Martin Luther (1483-1546) "An Open Letter to The Christian Nobility" 1520.
A lot of the primary texts concerning the Reformation can be found here.

Lucas Cranach the Elder. 
"Passional Christi und Antichristi." 
Woodcut. 1521.
Northern Renaissance, Germany

Matthew Chapter 21

12  Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all those 

engaged in selling and buying there. He overturned the tables 

of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. 

13 And he said to them, "It is written: 'My house shall be a house of 
prayer,' but you are making it a den of thieves." 

Form:  These are two prints presented in the form of a diptych (two images side by side).  The two images by Lucas Cranach demonstrate a large amount of fine detail even though this is hard to do with woodcut printmaking.

The images also demonstrate that by this time linear perspective and anatomical accuracy were common place expectations for almost all art.

Iconography: The image on the left depicts Jesus in the manner to which the audiences of the Renaissance would have come to expect him and his disciples to look like.  He is a young bearded man in a robe; however, the people he thrashes are all wearing clothing contemporary to Germany in the 1500's.  The temples architecture is also familiar and typical for a church from the 16th century.  This is designed to draw the audience in and make them identify with the sinners in the image.  This device is referred to as a genre element.  Art historians use the term genre to describe images that depict people and events from everyday life.

The right hand image shows a scene similarly useing genre elements in which the Pope (who wears the Papal tiara or crown) is seated on a comfortable cushion while he is surrounded by his bishops (note the hats).

In this picture from a Lutheran devotional (and propagandist) booklet, Christ (on the left) is driving the moneychangers out of the temple, in contrast to the Pope, who is shown as a hawker of indulgences. The picture originated as a woodcut by Lucas Cranach the Elder the court painter for the Elector of Saxony and a close friend of Luther's.

Context:  The image at left is a representation of this Bible passage from the book of Matthew.  Cranach and Luther got together on this one to illustrate the text from the Bible but also to update it.  This image would have been distributed as a piece of propaganda against the Catholic Church and used to illustrate Luther's new and radical ideas.

This following lifted directly from this page

It seems amazingly relevant!

Had television existed in the 16th century, the daily dose of political attack ads might have shown spots of Martin Luther as saint and the pope as sinner! People who use the phrase "politics as usual" when they are disgusted by the mudslinging and outrageous claims of political commercials probably don't realize just how "usual" that really is. The modern mass media campaign of charge and countercharge originated not in the smoke-filled rooms of political parties but in the Protestant-Roman Catholic struggle of the Reformation.
The printing press was barely 70 year s old when Martin Luther and his supporters turned it into an awesome tool--and weapon--for the spread of the Lutheran understanding of the gospel. They used every trick in today's campaign adviser's book to advance their cause, and their Catholic opponents responded in kind.

A commercial this summer framed an upbeat President Clinton against a bright blue sky, while Bob Dole and Newt Gingrich were shown in black-and-white with frowns on their faces. In similar fashion, 16th century folk were treated to woodcuts of Luther, Bible in hand, surrounded by a halo of sanctity and overshadowed by the hovering dove of the Spirit. His "opponent," the pope, was cast as a servant of the devil, enthroned in hell.

One of the most famous attack ad woodcuts commissioned by Luther pairs the scene of Christ driving the money-changers from the temple with a view of the pope receiving indulgence money. Sound familiar? It's not unlike a recent commercial depicting Clinton wanting more and more tax money, while Dole drives the wicked "taxers and spenders" away.
In his contributions to this media melee, Luther didn't hesitate to depict his opponents in the worst possible light or to put a highly favorable "spin" on the efforts and beliefs of his side.
Yet, in even his angriest publications, Luther always offered profound teachings about the gospel. He could never just attack. He had to preach and teach as well.
Would that the modern media campaigns imitate less Luther's trashing of opponents and more his presentation of issues that really matter.

Albrecht DÜRER, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. 1498 Woodcut, 39 x 28 cm
(Revelation 6:1-8:) Conquest, War, Plague and Famine, Death
Iconography:  Stokstad describes the iconography of this image as a "moral lesson on the power of evil" but more than that, Stokstad discusses the use of images of witches in his images as an expression of evil.  It is interesting that this is one of the roles that older, perhaps unattractive woman were accused of during the Renaissance and well into the 1800's.  In some ways, the depiction of witches in the art of the Renaissance represents the anti-ideal for a woman.  In this way, woman are still provided with a role model of what not to become.
Form and Context: 
Woodcut is the technique of printing designs from planks of wood. . . It is one of the oldest methods of making prints from a relief surface, having been used in China to decorate textiles since the 5th century AD. In Europe, printing from wood blocks on textiles was known from the early 14th century, but it had little development until paper began to be manufactured in France and Germany at the end of the 14th century. . . In Bavaria, Austria, and Bohemia, religious images and playing cards were first made from wood blocks in the early 15th century, and the development of printing from movable type led to widespread use of woodcut illustrations in the Netherlands and in Italy. With the 16th century, black-line woodcut reached its greatest perfection with Albrecht Dürer and his followers Lucas Cranach and Hans Holbein. In the Netherlands Lucas van Leyden and in Italy Jacopo de' Barbari and Domenico Campagnola, who were, like Dürer, engravers on copper, also made woodcuts. As wood is a natural material, its structure varies enormously and this exercises a strong influence on the cutting. Wood blocks are cut plankwise. The woods most often used are pear, rose, pine, apple, and beech. The old masters preferred fine-grained hardwoods because they allow finer detail work than softwoods, but modern printmakers value the coarse grain of softwoods and often incorporate it into the design.

The printing of woodcuts is a relatively simple process because it does not require great pressure. Although presses are used, even hand rubbing with a wooden spoon can produce a good print. The ink used to print woodcuts must be fairly solid and sticky, so that it lies on the surface without flowing into the hollows. The printing ink can be deposited on the relief either with dabbers or with rollers. Thinner papers are particularly suitable for woodcuts because they make rich prints without heavy pressure.
Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Albrecht DÜRER, 
The Knight, Death and The Devil
1513-14 Copper engraving, 25 x 19 cm

Form:  In this variation of the theme, the two figures are nude and the total environment is much more worked out.  This image indicates a fairly good use of anatomy and perspective and shows more of a development of the mark making discussed in Grien's drawing.  The development of the vocabulary of marks would have been important for Grien to be able to make a high quality engraving.

In engraving, the design is cut into metal with a graver or burin. The burin is a steel rod with a square or lozenge-shaped section and a slightly bent shank. The cutting is accomplished by pushing the burin into the metal plate. The deeper it penetrates into the metal, the wider the line; variations in depth create the swelling tapering character of the engraved line. After the engraving is finished, the slight burr raised by the graver is cleaned off with a scraper. The engraved line is so sharp and clean that it asserts itself even if cut over a densely etched area. In the print, the engraved line is notable for its precision and intensity. In engraving, the hand does not move freely in any direction but pushes the graver forward in a line; a change of direction is achieved by the manipulation of the plate with the other hand. Although copper, zinc, aluminum, and magnesium plates are used--and in the past soft iron and even steel were used--the best all-around metal is copper. It has the most consistent structure and is neither too soft nor too hard.

Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.

Context: In the North, places like Germany, France and Holland, the art market was a bit different than in Italy.  Although the Reformation did not officially begin until 1518, there were stirrings of it earlier than that. 
In Northern towns and cities, there was a different distrubution of wealth and probably a larger upper middle class than in Italy.  In addition to these factors, the main patron for the arts was in Italy in the Churches of Rome, Padua and Florence.  Since individuals could afford to buy work for smaller prices many artists sought out this different market. The print market allowed artists to sell multiple copies of the same images to a larger number of people and make as much money from it as the sale of one or two paintings.
This also freed some of the artists from the typical more Catholic or overtly religious iconography of much of the art of the South and allowed them to explore other kinds of imagery and subjects.
For more info on printmaking go here;

Albrecht DÜRER, 
The Knight, Death and The Devil
1513-14 Copper engraving, 25 x 19 cm
"Though the imagery of his Knight, Death and the Devil is influenced by his travels to Italy, the rich iconography is an element of his Northern upbringing. The knight represents the "good Christian soldier", who is traveling through the "forest of darkness" to arrive at the "kingdom of light". On his way, he encounters Death (the old man with serpents for hair) and the Devil (the single-horned goat), but he does not even give them a moment's glance. He is steadfast in his aim, accompanied by his faithful dog (representing loyalty). There is a small lizard below the hind legs of his horse going the opposite direction. Anything reptilian generally connotes evil in Christian iconography, and also serves to emphasize that his is going the right direction. In the left corner is a skull, symbolic of the fate of all mankind, just above Albrecht Durer's signature, "A.D."
See how it relates to this hymn.
Go here for the melody
Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before.
Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe;
Forward into battle see His banners go!

Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war,
With the cross of Jesus going on before.

At the sign of triumph Satan’s host doth flee;
On then, Christian soldiers, on to victory!
Hell’s foundations quiver at the shout of praise;
Brothers lift your voices, loud your anthems raise.

Like a mighty army moves the church of God;
Brothers, we are treading where the saints have trod.
We are not divided, all one body we,
One in hope and doctrine, one in charity.

What the saints established that I hold for true.
What the saints believ'd, that I believe too.
Long as earth endureth, men the faith will hold,
Kingdoms, nations, empires, in destruction rolled.

Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane,
But the church of Jesus constant will remain.
Gates of hell can never gainst that church prevail;
We have Christ’s own promise, and that cannot fail.

Onward then, ye people, join our happy throng,
Blend with ours your voices in the triumph song.
Glory, laud and honor unto Christ the King,
This through countless ages men and angels sing.



The following text is an excerpt from a much larger "letter" that Martin Luther had printed up and distrubuted throughout Europe.  While this excerpt is just a small fraction of Luther's larger works it contains the essence of many of his ideas.  For a full text of the open letter and the complete on line corpus of Luther's work please visit Project Wittenberg's Web Site at

An Open Letter to The Christian Nobility
by Martin Luther (1483-1546)
I. The Three Walls of the Romanists
An Open Letter to The Christian Nobility of the German Nation Concerning the Reform of the Christian Estate, 1520
by Martin Luther (1520)
Translation by C. M. Jacobs

Works of Martin Luther:
With Introductions and Notes
Volume II
(Philadelphia: A. J. Holman Company, 1915)
The Romanists[1], with great adroitness, have built three walls about them, behind which they have hitherto defended themselves in such wise that no one has been able to reform them; and this has been the cause of terrible corruption throughout all Christendom. First, when pressed by The temporal power, they have made decrees and said that the temporal power has no jurisdiction over them, but, on the other hand, that the spiritual is above the temporal power. Second, when the attempt is made to reprove them out of the Scriptures, they raise the objection that the interpretation of the Scriptures belongs to no one except the pope. Third, if threatened with a council, they answer with the fable that no one can call a council but the pope.
In this wise they have slyly stolen from us our three rods[2], that they may go unpunished, and have ensconced themselves within the safe stronghold of these three walls, that they may practice all the knavery and wickedness which we now see. Even when they have been compelled to hold a council they have weakened its power in advance by previously binding the princes with an oath to let them remain as they are. Moreover, they have given the pope full authority over all the decisions of the council, so that it is all one whether there are many councils or no councils, -- except that they deceive us with puppet-shows and sham-battles. So terribly do they fear for their skin in a really free council! And they have intimidated kings and princes by making them believe it would be an offense against God not to obey them in all these knavish, crafty deceptions.[3]
Josh. 6:20 Now God help us, and give us one of the trumpets with which the walls of Jericho were overthrown, that we may blow down these walls of straw and paper, and may set free the Christian rods for the punishment of sin, bringing to light the craft and deceit of the devil, to the end that through punishment we may reform ourselves, and once more attain God's favor.
Against the first wall we will direct our first attack.
It is pure invention that pope, bishops, priests and monks are to be called the "spiritual estate"; princes, lords, artisans, and farmers the "temporal estate." That is indeed a fine bit of lying and hypocrisy. Yet no one should be frightened by it; and for this reason -- viz., that all Christians are truly of the "spiritual estate," and there is among them no difference at all but that of office, as Paul says in I Corinthians 12:12, We are all one body, yet every member has its own work, where by it serves every other, all because we have one baptism, one Gospel, one faith, and are all alike Christians; for baptism, Gospel and faith alone make us "spiritual" and a Christian people.
But that a pope or a bishop anoints, confers tonsures; ordains, consecrates, or prescribes dress unlike that of the laity, this may make hypocrites and graven images,[4] but it never makes a Christian or "spiritual" man. Through baptism all of us are consecrated to the priesthood, as St. Peter says in I Peter 2:9, "Ye are a royal priesthood, a priestly kingdom," and the book of Revelation says, Rev. 5:10 "Thou hast made us by Thy blood to be priests and kings." For if we had no higher consecration than pope or bishop gives, the consecration by pope or bishop would never make a priest, nor might anyone either say mass or preach a sermon or give absolution. Therefore when the bishop consecrates it is the same thing as if he, in the place and stead of the whole congregation, all of whom have like power, were to take one out of their number and charge him to use this power for the others; just as though ten brothers, all king's sons and equal heirs, were to choose one of themselves to rule the inheritance for them all, -- they would all be kings and equal in power, though one of them would be charged with the duty of ruling.
To make it still clearer. If a little group of pious Christian laymen were taken captive and set down in a wilderness , and had among them no priest consecrated by a bishop, and if there in the wilderness they were to agree in choosing one of themselves, married or unmarried, and were to charge him with the office of baptizing, saying mass, absolving and preaching, such a man would be as truly a priest as though all bishops and popes had consecrated him. That is why in cases of necessity any one can baptize and give absolution,[5] which would be impossible unless we were all priests. This great grace and power of baptism and of the Christian Estate they have well-nigh destroyed and caused us to forget through The canon law.[6] It was in the manner aforesaid that Christians in olden days chose from their number bishops and priests, who were afterwards confirmed by other bishops, without all the show which now obtains. It was Thus that Sts. Augustine,[7] Ambrose[8] and Cyprian[9] became bishops.
Since, then, the temporal authorities are baptized with the same baptism and have the same faith and Gospel as we, we must grant that they are priests and bishops, and count their office one which has a proper and a useful place in the Christian community. For whoever comes out the water of baptism[10] can boast that he is already consecrated priest, bishop and pope, though it is not seemly that every one should exercise the office. Nay, just because we are all in like manner priests, no one must put himself forward and undertake, without our consent and election, to do what is in the power of all of us. For what is common to all, no one dare take upon himself without the will and the command of the community; and should it happen that one chosen for such an office were deposed for malfeasance, he would then be just what he was before he held office. Therefore a priest in Christendom is nothing else than an office-holder. While he is in office, he has precedence; when deposed, he is a peasant or a townsman like the rest. Beyond all doubt, then, a priest is no longer a priest when he is deposed. But now they have invented characters indelebilis,[11] and prate that a deposed priest is nevertheless something different from a mere layman. They even dream that a priest can never become a layman, or be anything else than a priest. All this is mere talk and man-made law.
From all this it follows that there is really no difference between laymen and priests, princes and bishops, "spirituals" and "temporals," as they call them, except that of office and work, but not of "estate"; for they are all of the same estate,[12] -- true priests, bishops and popes, -- though they are not all engaged in the same work, just as all priests and monks have not the same work. This is the teaching of St. Paul in Romans 12:4 and I Corinthians 12:12, and of St. Peter in I Peter 2:9, as I have said above, viz., that we are all one body of Christ, the Head, all members one of another. Christ has not two different bodies, one "temporal ," the other "spiritual." He is one Head, and He has One body.
Therefore, just as Those who are now called "spiritual" -- priests, bishops or popes -- are neither different from other Christians nor superior to them, except that they are charged with the administration of the Word of God and the sacraments, which is their work and office, so it is with the temporal authorities, -- they bear sword and rod with which to punish the evil and to protect die good. A cobbler, a smith, a farmer, each has the work and office of his trade, and yet they are all alike consecrated priests and bishops, and every one by means of his own work or office must benefit and serve every other, that in this way many kinds of work may be done for the bodily and spiritual welfare of the community, even as all the members of the body serve one another.
See, now, how Christian is the decree which says that the temporal power is not above the "spiritual estate" and may not punish it.[13] That is as much as to say that the hand shall lend no aid when the eye is suffering. Is it not unnatural, not to say unchristian, that one member should not help another and prevent its destruction? Verily, the more honorable the member, the more should the others help. I say then, since the temporal power is ordained of God to punish evil-doers and to protect them that do well, it should therefore be left free to perform it office without hindrance through the whole body of Christendom without respect of persons, whether it affect pope, bishops, priests, monks, nuns or anybody else. For if the mere fact that the temporal power has a smaller place among The Christian offices than has the office of preachers or confessors, or of the clergy, then the tailors, cobblers, masons, carpenters, pot-boys, tapsters, farmers, and all the secular tradesmen, should also be prevented from providing pope, bishops, priests and monks with shoes, clothing, houses, meat and drink, and from paying them tribute. But if these laymen are allowed to do their work unhindered, what do the Roman scribes mean by their laws, with which they withdraw themselves from the jurisdiction of the temporal Christian power, only so that the may be free to do evil and to fulfill what St. Peter has said: 2. Peter 2:1 "There shall be false teachers among you, and through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you."
On this account the Christian temporal power should exercise its office without let or hindrance, regardless whether it be pope, bishop or priest whom it affects; whoever is guilty, let him suffer. All that the canon law has said to the contrary is sheer invention of Roman presumption. For Thus saith St. Paul to all Christians: Roman 13:1, 4 "Let every soul (I take that to mean the pope's soul also) be subject unto the higher powers; for they bear not the sword in vain, but are the ministers of God for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well." St. Peter also says: 1 Peter 2:13, 15 "Submit yourselves unto every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, for so is the will of God" He has also prophesied that such men shall come as will despise the temporal authorities; and this has come to pass through the canon law.
So then, I think this first paper-wall is overthrown, since the temporal power has become a member of the body of Christendom, and is of the "spiritual estate," though its work is of a temporal nature. Therefore its work should extend freely and without hindrance to all the members of the whole body; it should punish and use force whenever guilt deserves or necessity demands, without regard to pope, bishops and priests,-let them hail threats and bans as much as they will.
Again, it is intolerable that in the canon law so much importance is attached to the freedom, life and property of the clergy, as though the laity were not also as spiritual as good Christians as they, or did not belong to the Church. Why are your life and limb, your property and honor so free, and mine not? We are all alike Christians, and have baptism, faith, Spirit and all things alike. If a priest is killed, the land is laid under interdict,[15] -- why not when a peasant is killed? Whence comes this great distinction between those who are equally Christians? Only from human laws and inventions!
Moreover, it can be no good spirit who has invented such exceptions and granted to sin such license and impunity. For if we are bound to strive against the works and words of the evil spirit, and to drive him out in whatever way we can, as Christ commands and His Apostles, ought we, then to suffer it in silence when the pope or his satellites are bent on devilish words and works? Ought we for the sake of men to allow the suppression of divine commandments and truths which we have sworn in baptism to support with life and limb? Of a truth we should then have to answer all the souls that would thereby be abandoned and it astray.
It must therefore have been the very prince of devils who said what is written in the canon law: "If the pope were so scandalously bad as to lead souls in crowds to the devil, yet he could not be deposed."[16] On this accursed and devilish foundation they build at Rome, and think that we should let all the world go to the devil, rather than resist their knavery. If the fact that one man is set over others were sufficient reason why he should escape punishment, then no Christian could punish another, since Christ commands that every man shall esteem himself the lowliest and the least.
Where sin is, there is no escape from punishment; as St. Gregory[17] also writes that we are indeed all equal, but guilt puts us in subjection one to another. Now we see how they whom God and the Apostles have made subject to the temporal sword deal with Christendom, depriving it of its liberty by their own wickedness, without warrant of Scripture. It is to be feared that this is a game of Antichrist[18] or a sign that he is close at hand.
The second wall[19] is still more flimsy and worthless. They wish to be the only Masters of The Holy Scriptures,[20] even though in all their lives they learn nothing from them. They assume for themselves sole authority, and with insolent juggling of words they would persuade us that the pope, whether he be a bad man or a good man, cannot err in matters of faith,[21] and yet they cannot prove a single letter of it. Hence it comes that so many heretical and unchristian, nay, even unnatural ordinances have a place in the canon law, of which, however, there is no present need to speak. For since they think that the Holy Spirit never leaves them, be they never so unlearned and wicked, they make bold to decree whatever they will. And if it were true, where would be the need or use of Holy Scriptures? Let us burn them, and be satisfied with the unlearned lords at Rome, who are possessed of the Holy Spirit, -- although He can possess only pious hearts! Unless I had read it myself,[22] I could not have believed that the devil would make such clumsy pretensions at Rome, and find a following.
But not to fight them with mere words, we will quote the Scriptures. St. Paul says in I Corinthians 14:30: "If to anyone something better is revealed, though he be sitting and listening to another in God's Word, then the first, who is speaking, shall hold his peace and give place." What would be the use of this commandment, if we were only to believe him who does the talking or who has the highest seat? Christ also says in John 6:45, that all Christians shall be taught of God. Thus it may well happen that the pope and his followers are wicked men, and no true Christians, not taught of God, not having true understanding. On the other hand, an ordinary man may have true understanding; why then should we not follow him? Has not the pope erred many times? Who would help Christendom when the pope errs, if we were not to believe another, who had the Scriptures on his side, more than the pope?
Therefore it is a wickedly invented fable, and they cannot produce a letter in defense of it, that the interpretation of Scripture or the confirmation of its interpretation belongs to the pope alone. They have themselves usurped this power; and although they allege that this power was given to Peter when the keys were given to him, it is plain enough that the keys were not given to Peter alone, but to the whole community.[23] Moreover, the keys were not ordained for doctrine or government, but only for the binding and loosing of they arrogate to themselves is mere invention But Christ's word to Peter, Luke 22:32 "I have prayed for thee that thy faith fall not," cannot be applied to the pope, since the majority of the popes have been without faith, as they must themselves confess. Besides, it is not only for Peter that Christ prayed, but also for all Apostles and Christians, as he says in John 17:9, 20: "Father, I pray for those whom Thou hast given Me, and not for these only, but for all who believe on Me through their word." Is not this clear enough?
Only think of it yourself! They must confess that there are pious Christians among us, who have the true faith, Spirit, understanding, word and mind of Christ. Why, then, should we reject their word and understanding and follow the pope, who has neither faith nor Spirit? That would be to deny the whole faith and the Christian Church. Moreover, it is not the pope alone who is always in the right, if the article of The Creed is correct: "I believe one holy Christian Church"; otherwise the prayer must run: "I believe in the pope at Rome," and so reduce the Christian Church to one man, -- which would be nothing else than a devilish and hellish error.
Besides, if we are all priests, as was said above, [24] and all have one faith, one Gospel, one sacrament, why should we not also have the power to test and judge what is correct or incorrect in matters of faith? What becomes of the words of Paul in I Corinthians 2:15: "He that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man," II Corinthians 4:13: "We have all the same Spirit of faith"? Why, then, should not we perceive what squares with faith and what does not, as well as does an unbelieving pope?
All these and many other texts should make us bold and free, and we should not allow the Spirit of liberty, as Paul calls Him, to be frightened off by the fabrications of the popes, but we ought to go boldly forward to test all that they do or leave undone, according to our interpretation of the Scriptures, which rests on faith, and compel them to follow not their own interpretation, but the one that is better. In the olden days Abraham had to listen to Sarah, although she was in more complete subjection to him than we are to anyone on earth. Balaam's ass, also, was wiser than the prophet himself. If God then spoke an ass against a prophet, why should He not be able even now to speak by a righteous man against the pope? In like manner St. Paul rebukes St. Peter as a man in error. Therefore it behooves every Christian to espouse the cause of the faith, to understand and defend it, and to rebuke errors.
The third wall falls of itself when the first two are down. For when the pope acts contrary to the Scriptures, it is our duty to stand by the Scriptures, to reprove him, and to constrain him, according to the word of Christ in Matthew 18:15: "If thy brother sin against thee, go and tell it him between thee and him alone; if he hear thee not, then take with thee one or two more; if he hear them not, tell it to the Church; if he hear not the Church, consider him a heathen." Here every member is commanded to care for every other. How much rather should we do this when the member that does evil is a ruling member, and by his evil-doing is the cause of much harm and offense to the rest! But if I am to accuse him before the Church, I must bring the Church together.
They have no basis in Scripture for their contention that it belongs to the pope alone to call a council or confirm its actions;[25] for this is based merely upon their own laws, which are valid only in so far as they are not injurious to Christendom or contrary to the laws of God. When the pope deserves punishment, such laws go out of force, since it is injurious to Christendom not to punish him by means of a council.
Thus we read in Acts 15:6 that it was not St. Peter who called the Apostolic Council, but the Apostles and elders. If, then, that right had belonged to St. Peter alone, the council would not have been a Christian council, but an heretical conciliabulum.[26] Even the Council of Nicaea -- the most famous of all-was neither called nor confirmed by the Bishop of Rome, but by the Emperor Constantine,[27] and many other emperors after him did the like, yet these councils were the most Christian of all.[28] But if the pope alone had the right to call councils, then all then all councils must have been heretical. Moreover, if I consider the councils which the pope has created, I find that they have done nothing of special importance.
Therefore, when necessity demands, and the pope is an offense to Christendom, the first man who is able should, a faithful member of the whole body, do what he can to bring about a truly free council.[29] No one can do this so well as the temporal authorities, especially since now they also are fellow-Christians, fellow-priests, "fellow-spirituals,"[30] fellow-lords over all things, and whenever it is needful or profitable, they should give free course to office and work in which God has put them above every man. Would it not be an unnatural thing, if a fire broke out in a city, and everybody were to stand by and it burn on and on and consume everything that could burn, for the sole reason that nobody had the authority of the burgomaster, or because, perhaps, the fire broke in the burgomaster's house? In such case is it not the duty of every citizen to arouse and call the rest? How much more should this be done in the spiritual city of Christ, if a fire of offense breaks out, whether in the papal government, or anywhere else? In the same way, if the enemy attacks a city, he who first rouses the others deserves honor and thanks; why then should he not deserve honor who makes known the presence of the enemy from hell, awakens the Christians, and calls them together?
But all their boasts of an authority which dare not opposed amount to nothing after all. No one in Christendom has authority to do injury, or to forbid the resisting of injury. There is no authority in the Church save edification. Therefore, if the pope were to use his authority to prevent the calling of a free council, and thus became a hindrance to the edification of the Church, we should have regard neither for him nor for his authority; and if he were to hurl his bans and thunderbolts, we should despise his conduct as that of a madman, and relying on God, hurl back the ban on him, and coerce him as best we could. For this presumptuous authority of his is nothing; he has no such authority, and he is quickly overthrown by a text of Scripture; for Paul says to the Corinthians, II Corinthians 10:8 "God has given us authority not for the destruction, but for the edification of Christendom." Who is ready to overleap this text? It is only the power of the devil and of Antichrist which resists the things that serve for the edification of Christendom; it is, therefore, in no wise to be obeyed, but is to be opposed with life and goods and all our strength.
Even though a miracle were to be done in the pope's behalf against the temporal powers, or though someone were to be stricken with a plague -- which they boast has sometimes happened -- it should be considered only the work of the devil, because of the weakness of our faith in God. Christ Himself prophesied in Matthew 24:24: "There shall come in My Name false Christs and false prophets, and do signs and wonders, so as to deceive even the elect," and Paul says in II Thessalonians 2:9, that Antichrist shall, through the power of Satan, be mighty in lying wonders.
Let us, therefore, hold fast to this: No Christian authority can do anything against Christ; as St. Paul says, II Corinthians 13:8: "We can do nothing against Christ, but for Christ." Whatever does aught against Christ is the power of Antichrist and of the devil, even though it were to rain and hail wonders and plagues. Wonders and plagues prove nothing, especially in these last evil times, for which all the Scriptures prophesy false wonders. Therefore we must cling with firm faith to the words of God, and then the devil will cease from wonders.
Thus I hope that the false, lying terror with which the Romans have this long time made our conscience timid and stupid, has been allayed. They, like all of us, are subject to the temporal sword; they have no power to interpret the Scriptures by mere authority, without learning; they have no authority to prevent a council or, in sheer wantonness, to pledge it, bind it, or take away its liberty; but if they do this, they are in truth the communion of Antichrist and of the devil, and have nothing at all of Christ except the name.
Explain how Luther's letter is an example of Renaissance thought.
Much of Luther's language is symbolic. How is Luther's symbolic language reflected in the iconography of northern art in the sixteenth-century?
Choose a work of art made after 1520 and explain how it expresses the main ideas presented in Luther's letter.

NOTES [1] The term "Romanist" is applied by Luther to the champions of the extreme form of papal supremacy, Cf. Vol. I, p. 343 f.
[2] i.e., The three rods for the punishment of an evil pope. Vol. II, -- 5.
[3] Spuknisse, literally "ghosts." The gist of the sentence is, "the Romanists have frightened the world with ghost-stories."
[4] Oelgotze - "an image anointed with holy oil to make it sacred"; in modern German, "a blockhead."
[5] Lay-baptism in view of imminent death is a practice as old as the Christian Church. The right of the laity to administer baptism in such cases was expressly recognized by the Council of Elvira, in the year 306, and the decree of that Council became a part of the law of the Church. The right of the laity to give absolution in such cases rests on the principle that in the absence of the appointed official of the Church any Christian can do for any other Christian the things that are absolutely necessary for salvation, for "necessity knows no law." Cf. Vol. I, p. 30, note 2.
[6] The canon law, called by Luther throughout this treatise and elsewhere, the "spiritual law," is a general name for the decrees of councils ("cannons" in the strict sense) and decisions of the popes ("decretals," "constitutions," etc.), promulgated by authority of the popes, and collected in the so-called Corpus juriscanonici. It comprised the whole body of Church law, and embodied in legal forms the medieval theory of papal absolutism, which accounts for the bitterness with which Luther speaks of it, especially in this treatise. The Corpus includes the following collections of cannons and decretals: The Decretum of Gratian (1142), the Liber Extra (1234), the Liber Sextus (1298), the Constitutiones Clementinae (1318 or 1317), and the two books of Extravagantes, -- the Extravagantes of John XXIV, and the Extravagantes Communes. The last pope whose decrees are included is Sixths IV (died 1484). See Catholic Encyclo., IV, pp. 391 ff.
[7] Augustine, the master-theologian of the Ancient Church, bishop of Hippo in Africa from 395-430.
[8] Ambrose, bishop of Milan from 374-397, had not yet been baptized at the time of his election to the episcopate, which was forced upon him by the unanimous voice of the people of the city.
[9] Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, 247-258, is said to have consented to accept the office only when the congregation surrounded his house and besought him to yield to their entreaties.
[10] Was ausz der Tauff krochen ist.
[11] The character indelebilis, or "indelible mark," received authoritative statement in the bull Exultate Deo (1439). Eugenius IV, summing up the Decrees of the Council of Florence, says: "Among these sacraments there are three -- baptism, confirmation, and orders -- which indelibly impress upon the soul a character, i.e., a certain spiritual mark which distinguishes them from the rest." (MIRBT, Quellen, 2d ed., No. 150). The Council of Trent in its XXIII. Session, July 15, 1563. (MIRBT, No. 312), defined the correct Roman teaching as follows: "Since in the sacrament of orders, as in baptism and confirmation, a character is impressed which cannot be destroyed or taken away, the Holy Synod justly condemns the opinion of those who assert that the priests of the New Testament have only temporary power, and that those once rightly ordained can again be made laymen, if they do not exercise the ministry of the Word of God."
[12] i.e., They are all Christians, among whom there can be no essential difference.
[13] The sharp distinction which the Roman Church drew between clergy and laity found practical application in the contention that the clergy should be exempt from the jurisdiction of the civil courts, This is the so-called privilegium fori, "benefit of clergy." It was further claimed that the government of the clergy and the administration of Church property must be entirely in the hands of the Church authorities, and that no lay rulers might either make or enforce laws which in any way affected the Church. See LEA, Studies in Church History, 169-219 and Prot. Realencyk., Vi, 594.
[14] It was the contention of the Church authorities that priests charged with infraction of the laws of the state should first be tried in the ecclesiastical courts. If found guilty, they were degraded from the priesthood and handed over to the state authorities for punishment. Formula for degradation in the canon law, c. 2 in VI, de poen. (V, 9). See Prot. Realencyk., VI, 589.
[15] The interdict is the prohibition of the administration of the sacraments and of the other rites of the Church within the territory upon which the interdict is laid (Realencyk., IX, 208 f.). Its use was not uncommon in the Middle Ages, and during the time that the power of the popes was at its height it proved an effective means of bringing refractory rulers to terms. A famous instance is the interdict laid upon the Kingdom of England by Innocent III in 1208. Interdicts of more limited local extent were quite frequent. The use of the interdict as punishment for trifling infractions of church law was a subject of complaint at the diets of Worms (1521) and Nurnberg (1524). See A. WREDE, Deutsche Reichstagsaktenn unter Kaiser Karl V., II, pp. 685 f, III, 665.
[16] The statement of which Luther here complains is found in the Decretum of Gratian, Dist. XL, c. 6, Si papa. In his Epitome (see Introduction, p. 58), Prierias had quoted this canon against Luther, as follows: "A Pontifex indubitatus (i.e., a pope who is not accused of heresy or schism) cannot lawfully be deposed or judged either by a council or by the whole world, even if he is so scandalous as to lead people with him by crowds into the possession of hell." Luther's comment is: "Be astonished, O heaven; shudder, O earth! Behold, O Christians, what Rome is!" (Weimar Ed., VI, 336).
[17] Gregory the Great, pope 590-604. The passage is found in MIGEN, LXXVI, 203; LXXVII, 34.
[18] Antichrist, the incarnation of all that is hostile to Christ and His Kingdom. His appearance is prophesied in 2 Thess. 2:3-10 (the "man of sin, sitting in the temple of God"); 1 John 2:18, 22:4:3, and Rev. 13. In the early Church the Fathers sometimes thought the prophecies fulfilled in the person of some especially pestilent heretic. Wyclif applied the term to the pope, -- "the pope would seem to be not the vicar of Christ, but the vicar of Antichrist" (see LOOFS, Dogmengeschichte, 4th ed., p. 649).
[19] See above, p. 65.
[20] According to academic usage, the holder of a Master's degree was authorized to expound the subject named in the degree.
[21] The doctrine of papal infallibility was never officially sanctioned in the Middle Ages, but the claim of infallibility was repeatedly made by the champions of the more extreme view of papal power, e.g., Augustinus Triumphus (died 1328) in his Summa de potestate Papae. In his attack upon the XCV Theses (Dialogus de potestate Papae, Dec., 1517) Prierias had asserted, "The supreme pontiff (i.e., the pope) cannot err when giving a decision as pontiff, i.e., speaking officially (ex officio), and doing what in him lies to learn the truth"; and again, "Whoever does not rest upon the teaching of the Roman Church and the supreme pontiff as an infallible rule of faith, from which even Holy Scripture draws its vigor and authority, is a heretic" (Erl. Ed., op. Var./ arg., I, 348). In the Epitome he had said: "Even though the pope as an individual (singularis persona) can do wrong and hold a wrong faith, nevertheless as pope he cannot give a wrong decision" (Weimar Ed., VI, 337).
[22] Most recently in Prierias's Epitome. See preceding note.
[23] Luther had discussed the whole subject of the power of the keys in the Latin treatise, Resolutio super propositione xiii. De potestate papae, of 1519 (Weimar Ed., II, pp. 185 ff., and in the German treatise The Papacy at Rome (Vol. I, pp. 337-394).
[24] Pp. 66 ff.
[25] Another contention of Prierias. In 1518 (Nov. 28th) Luther had appealed his cause from the decision of the pope, which he foresaw would be adverse, to the decision of a council to be held at some future time. In the Epitome Prierias discusses this appeal, asserting, among other things, that "when there is one undisputed pontiff, it belongs to him alone to call a council.", and that "the decrees of councils neither bind nor hold (nullum ligant vel astringunt) unless they are confirmed by authority of the Roman pontiff" (Weimar Ed., Vi, 335).
[26] i.e., A mere gathering of people.
[27] The council of Nicaea, the first of the great councils of the Church, assembled in 325 for the settlement of the Arian controversy. Luther's statement that it was called by the Emperor Constantine, and that its decisions did not derive their validity from any papal confirmation, is historically correct. On Luther's statements about this council, see SCHAFER, Luther als Kirchenhistoriker, pp. 291 ff.; KOHLER, Luther und die Kg., pp. 148 ff.
[28] Luther is here referring to the earlier so-called "ecumenical" councils.
[29] i.e., A council which will not be subject to the pope. Cf. Erl. Ed., xxvi, III
[30] i.e., They belong to the "spiritual estate"; see above, p.69.

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Rev. Robert E. Smith
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