Luther’s “Appeal to his Imperial Majesty and the Christian Nobility of Germany, on the Reformation of Christianity”

In June 24th, 1520, Martin Luther published his famous “Appeal to his Imperial Majesty and the Christian Nobility of Germany, on the Reformation of Christianity”. It is a standing protest against the Papacy, and shows the true issues which started the Protestant Reformation.

“It is not from presumption that I, who am only one of the people, undertake to address your lordships. The misery and oppression endured at this moment by all the States of Christendom, and more especially by Germany, wring from me a cry of distress. I must call for aid; I must see whether God will not give His Spirit to some one of our countrymen, and stretch out a hand to our unhappy nation. God has given us a young and generous prince (the emperor Charles V), and thus filled our hearts with high hopes. But we too, must, on our own part, do all we can.

“Now the first thing necessary, is, not to confide in our own great strength, or our own high wisdom. When any work otherwise good is begun in self-confidence, God casts it down, and destroys it. Frederick I, Frederick II, and many other emperors besides, before whom the world trembled, have been trampled upon by the popes, because they trusted more to their own strength than to God. They could not but fall. In this war we have to combat the powers of hell; and our mode of conducting it must be to expect nothing from the strength of human weapons — to trust humbly in the Lord, and look still more to the distress of Christendom than to the crimes of the wicked. It may be that, by a different procedure, the work would begin under more favorable appearances; but suddenly, in the heat of the contest, confusion would arise, bad men would cause fearful disaster, and the world would be deluged with blood. The greater the power, the greater the danger, when things are not done in the fear of the Lord.

“The Romans, to guard against every species of reformation, have surrounded themselves with three walls. When attacked by the temporal power, they denied its jurisdiction over them, and maintained the superiority of the spiritual power. When tested by Scripture, they replied, that none could interpret it but the pope. When threatened with a council, they again replied that none but the pope should convene it. They have thus carried off from us the three rods destined to chastise them, and abandoned themselves to all sorts of wickedness. But now may God be our help, and give us one of the trumpets which threw down the wall of Jericho. Let us blow down the walls of paper and straw which the Romans have built around them; and lift up the rods which punished the wicked, by bringing the wiles of the devil to the light of day.

“It has been said that the pope, the bishops, the priests, and all those who people convents, form the spiritual or ecclesiastical estate; and that princes, nobles, citizens, and peasants, form the secular or lay estate. This is a specious tale. But let no man be alarmed. All Christians belong to the spiritual estate; and the only difference between them is in the functions which they fulfill. We have all but one baptism, but one faith; and these constitute the spiritual man. Unction, tonsure, ordination, consecration, given by the pope, or by a bishop, may make a hypocrite, but can never make a spiritual man. We are all consecrated priests by baptism, as St. Peter says: ‘You are a royal priesthood;’ although all do not actually perform the offices of kings and priests, because no one can assume what is common to all without the common consent. But if this consecration of God did not belong to us, the unction of the pope could not make a single priest.

“If ten brothers, the sons of one king, and possessing equal claims to his inheritance should choose one of their number to administer for them, they would all be kings, and yet only one of them would be the administrator of their common power. So it is in the Church. Were several pious laymen banished to a desert, and were they, from not having among them a priest consecrated by a bishop, to agree in selecting one of their number, whether married or not, he would be a truly a priest, as if all the bishops of the world had consecrated him. In this way were Augustine, Ambrose, and Cyprian elected. Hence it follows, that laymen and priests, princes and bishops or, as we have said, ecclesiastics and laics, have nothing to distinguish them but their functions. They have all the same condition, but they have not all the same work to perform.

“This being so, why should not the magistrate correct the clergy? The secular power was appointed by God for the punishment of the wicked and the protection of the good, and must be left free to act throughout Christendom, without respect of persons, be they pope, bishops, priests, monks, or nuns. St. Paul says to all Christians, Let every soul (and, consequently, the pope also) be subject to the higher powers; for they bear not the sword in vain (Rom. 13:1, 4).

“It is monstrous to see him who calls himself the vicar of Jesus Christ displaying a magnificence unequaled by that of any emperor. Is this the way in which he proves his resemblance to lowly Jesus, or humble Peter? He is, it is said, the lord of the world. But Christ, whose vicar he boasts to be, has said: My kingdom is not of this world. Can the power of a vicegerent exceed that of his prince?

“Do you know of what use the cardinals are? I will tell you, Italy and Germany have many convents, foundations, and benefices, richly endowed. How could their revenues be brought to Rome? . . . Cardinals were created; then on them cloisters and prelacies were bestowed; and at this hour . . . Italy is almost a desert — the convents are destroyed — the bishoprics devoured — the towns in decay — the inhabitants corrupted — worship dying out, and preaching abolished. . . . Why? — Because all the revenue of the churches go to Rime. Never would the Turk himself have so ruined Italy.

“And now that they have thus sucked the blood of their won country they come into Germany. They being gently; but let us be on our guard. Germany will soon become like Italy. We have already some cardinals. Their thought is — before the rustic Germans comprehend our design, they will have neither bishopric, nor convent, nor benefice, nor penny, nor farthing. Antichrist must possess the treasures of the earth. Thirty or forty cardinals will be elected in a single day; to one will be given Bamberg, to another the duchy of Wurzburg, and rich benefices will be annexed, until the churches and cities are laid desolate. And then the pope will say: ‘I am the vicar of Christ, and the pastor of His flocks. Let the Germans be resigned.’ How do we Germans submit to such robbery and concussion on the part of the pope? If France has successfully resisted, why do we allow ourselves to be thus sported with and insulted? Ah! if they deprived us of nothing but our goods! But they ravage churches, plunder the sheep of Christ, abolish the worship, and suppress the Word of God.

“Let us endeavor to put a stop to this desolation and misery. If we would march against the Turks, let us begin with the worst species of them. If we hang pickpockets, and behead robbers, let us not allow Roman avarice to escape — avarice, which is the greatest of all thieves and robbers; and that, too, in the name of St. Peter and Jesus Christ. Who can endure it? Who can be silent? Is not all that the pope possesses stolen? He neither purchased it nor inherited it from St. Peter, nor acquired it by the sweat of his own brow. Where, then, did he get it?

“Is it not ridiculous, that the pope should pretend to be the lawful heir of the empire? Who gave it to him? Was it Jesus Christ, when He said: The kings of the earth exercise lordship over them; but it shall not be so with you? (Luke 22:25, 26.) How can he govern an empire and at the same time preach, pray, study, and take care of the poor? Jesus Christ forbade His disciples to carry with them gold or clothes, because the office of the ministry can not be performed without freedom from every other care; yet the pope would govern the empire, and at the same time remain pope.

“Let the pope renounce every species of title to the kingdom of Naples and Sicily. He has no more right to it than I have. His possession of Bologna, Imola, Ravenna, Romagna, Marche d’Ancona, etc., is unjust, and contrary to the commands of Jesus Christ. No man, says, St. Paul, who goeth a warfare entangleth himself with the affairs of this life (2 Tim. 2:2). And the pope, who pretends to take the lead in the war of the gospel, entangles himself more with the affairs of this life than any emperor or king. He must be disencumbered of all this toil. The emperor should put a Bible and a prayer book into the hands of the pope, that the pope may leave kings to govern, and devote himself to preaching and prayer.

“The first thing necessary is to banish from all the countries of Germany the legates of the pope and the pretended blessings which they sell us at the weight of gold, and which are sheer imposture. They take our money; and why? — For legalizing ill-gotten gain, for loosing oaths, and teaching us to break faith, to sin, and go direct to hell. . . Hearest thou, O pope! — not pope most holy, but pope most sinful. . . May God, from His place in heaven, cast down thy throne into the infernal abyss!

“And now I come to a lazy band, which promises much, but performs little. Be not angry, dear sirs, my intention is good; what I have to say is a truth at once sweet and bitter, — viz., that it is no longer necessary to build cloisters for mendicant monks. Good God! we have only too many of them; and would they were all suppressed. . . To wander vagabond over the country, never has done, and never will do good.

“Into what a state have the clergy fallen, and how many priests are burdened with women, and children, and remorse, while no one comes to their assistance! Let the pope and the bishops run their course, and let those who will, go to perdition; all very well! but I am resolved to unburden my conscience, and open my mouth freely, however pope, bishops, and others, may be offended! . . . I say, then, that according to the institution of Jesus Christ and the apostles, every town ought to have a pastor or bishop, and that this pastor may have a wife, as St. Paul writes to Timothy: Let the bishop be the husband of one wife (1 Tim. 3:2), and as is still practiced in the Greek Church. But the devil has persuaded the pope, as St. Paul tell Timothy (1 Tim. 4:3), to forbid the clergy to marry. And hence evils so numerous that it is impossible to give them in detail. What is to be done? How are we to save the many pastors who are blameworthy only in this, that they live with a female, to whom they wish with all their heart to be lawfully united? Ah! let them save their conscience! — let them take this woman in lawful wedlock, and live decently with her, not troubling themselves whether it pleases or displeases the pope. The salvation of your soul is of greater moment than arbitrary and tyrannical laws — laws not imposed by the Lord.

“It is time to take the case of the Bohemians into serious consideration, that hatred and envy may cease and union be again established. . . In this way must heretics be refuted by Scripture, as the ancient Fathers did, and not subdued by fire. On a contrary system, executioners would be the most learned of doctors. Oh! would to God that each party among us would shake hands with each other in fraternal humility, rather than harden ourselves in the idea of our power and right! Charity is more necessary than the Roman papacy. I have now done what was in my power. If the pope or his people oppose it, they will have to give an account. The pope should be ready to renounce the popedom, and all his wealth, and all his honors, if he could thereby save single soul. But he would see the universe go to destruction sooner than yield a hairbreadth of his usurped power. I am clear of these things.

“I much fear the universities will become wide gates to hell, if due care is not taken to explain the Holy Scriptures, and engrave it on the hearts of the students. My advices to every person is, not to place his child where the Scripture does not reign paramount. Every institution in which the studies carried on, lead to a relaxed consideration of the Word of God, must prove corrupting.

“I presume, however, that I have struck too high a note, proposed many things that will appear impossible, and been somewhat too severe on the many errors which I have attacked. But what can I do? Better that the world be offended with me than God! . . . The utmost which it can take from me is life. I have often offered to make peace with my opponents, but through their instrumentality, God has always obliged me to speak out against them. I have still a chant upon Rome in reserve; and if they have an itching ear, I will sing it to them at full pitch. Rome! do ye understand me?

“If my cause is just, it must be condemned on the earth, and justified only by Christ in heaven. Therefore let pope, bishops, priests, monks, doctors, come forward, display all their zeal, and give full vent to their fury. Assuredly they are just the people who ought to persecute the truth, as in all ages they have persecuted it.” (Jean Henri Merle D’Aubigne, History of the Reformation in the sixteenth century, William Collins, Sons and Company, 1870, pp. 158-161).

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