Home // Book Review and Notes by Peter D.S. Krey: Volker Reinhardt, Luther, the Heretic: Rome and the Reformation

Book Review and Notes by Peter D.S. Krey: Volker Reinhardt, Luther, the Heretic: Rome and the Reformation


Book Review and Notes by Peter D.S. Krey

Volker Reinhardt, (A translation of the German title: Luther, the Heretic: Rome and the Reformation) Luther, der Ketzer: Rom und die Reformation, (München: Verlag C.H.Beck, oHG, 2016), 352 pages with a chronology, endnotes, biography of literature consulted, index of the pictures and an index of persons mentioned. Call no. BR325.R45 2016 / Barcode 32400007980513

(Please note that a lot of my work is now in the endnotes, which were the footnotes in my MS.)

I found Volker Reinhardt’s account of Luther, but also of Rome, very harsh. He does not attempt a charitable construction on either side, as much as he is trying to be objective. Perhaps not so objective, if you consider the title headings of his sections: 1) Luther, the Monk, 2) Luther, the Critic, 3: -, the Barbarian, 4) -, the Forgotten One, and 5) -, the Heretic. However, he brings up many sordid details about Rome, well informed about its renaissance and city-state Italian history.

Let’s say he paints Rome and the popes in a dark light, but then places Luther into a darker one still. Some examples:

(Page 21) Luther cannot be said to have had a complex about his father, but a well-developed compulsion to make authorities fall and to put himself in their place.

N.B. When did he receive a position higher than a Professor of Old Testament and Preacher at the City Church in Wittenberg? It was his charisma and not his institutional position, because he had neither the wealth nor power available to the pope.

This is how Reinhardt describes Luther making his stand at the Diet of Worms:

(page 186) “Before the great [personages] of the empire, the so-called, so-very timid monk stepped up with a claim to the monopoly of truth that would cause your head to spin and placed his opponents into an equally absolute unrighteousness.” This account leaves out the fact that as a confessor, he was placing his life on the line for what he considered the truth of our faith.

(page 186) For Luther it concerned protection of Christendom from the Roman tyranny, but that is no excuse for both his attack and self-glorification.

Reinhardt claims that Luther acted like a humble and timid monk, but he really was not. He came in a rickety carriage to underscore that appearance. A replica of the carriage is at the Wartburg Castle and it is surprisingly different from Reinhardt’s description. And Luther bids all the baptized to ascend into their full human stature in Christ: “For whoever comes out the water of baptism can boast that he is already consecrated priest, bishop, and pope.”[1] That really does a number on the church hierarchy and it represents a religious democratization.

Luther was summoned to the Diet of Worms and Kaspar, the imperial herald, arriving in Wittenberg on March 29, 1521, as his escort, rode before him. On April 16, 1521 upon entering Worms, 100 horsemen, probably belonging to the knight, Franz von Sickingen, (according to Aleander (page 170), accompanied him upon entering the city gates. Because of Luther’s fame, it was more like a triumphal march of Christ into Jerusalem than someone entering like a shameful heretic.

Reinhardt does not, however, omit very offensive features of Rome and the papacy:

(page 30) Luther was uncomfortable with the speed with which the Italian priests read the mass. “Their ‘passa, passa!’ was about, hurry up and open your place at the altar.”

Reinhardt fails to mention that they were reading private masses, which altar priests read for their benefices, by which they received their income. Some cathedrals had up to 60 altars from which private masses were continually read by altar priests for remuneration, in a very distinct sense of “mass production.”[2]

(page 32) Under Pope Alexander VI the office of cardinal was sold to the one who offered the most money. The grave sin of simony remained wide-spread, even into the time of Pope Leo X (1513-1521). (on page 275, Reinhardt does not let it stop with Leo X): “Under Clemens VII, [another Medici, who died in 1534] the cardinals received their positions exclusively for political opportunity and capacity for payment.” (continuing on page 32) The grave sin of simony persisted alongside of the territorial nepotism of the popes, where they tried to establish their own relatives as heads of states, using force and setting the political map of Italy into disarray, turmoil, and confusion.

(Pages 110-111) Pope Leo X also continually tried to maintain Medici rule over Florence. When the Medici hold over that city-state grew worse, it troubled him far more than the causa Lutheri. (page 275) When Cardinal Alessandro Farnese was chosen pope, he took the name Paul III. Reinhardt describes him as a consummate renaissance pope, who had received his cardinalate from Alexander VI (Roderigo de Borgia), because of the “loving duties” his beautiful and intelligent sister Julia (Guilia) had provided the pope.[3] Reinhardt goes on to say (page 275) that like his predecessor, Paul III subordinated all his politics under his family interests. His highest goal, therefore, was to win for his “natural” son, Pier Luigi Farnese, a state to rule. Like Clemens VII, Paul III did not have the slightest scruple to play off France and Spain for the advantage of the House of Farnese, i.e., according to Reinhardt.

If Reinhardt does not shirk depicting the simony and nepotism of the popes, he also adds their revival of Roman Paganism:

(page 33) “The popes of the Renaissance claimed the heritage of the Roman imperium for themselves, politically, culturally, and ideologically. Thus, they found nothing unacceptable in clothing Christian values, teachings of salvation, and heroes in the pictures and language of classical mythology. God the Father was addressed as Jupiter, Deus optimus maximus; and a pope like Leo could present himself as Orpheus.”

It would be quite an understatement to assert how much this shocked the Christians from northern Europe. In a lecture, I myself argue that the Reformation was an indigenization of Christianity for Northern European cultures as opposed to its southern Mediterranean version.[4]

Anyone who argues that the church in that day was not corrupt and not needing a reformation for that sake has not read about the immorality of the Renaissance popes, i.e., the Medici, Borgias, Cybo, and Farnese and their quest for power and wealth. The great sums, like 400,000 ducats, involved for bribing their way into the papacy are outrageous. Imagine sending four mule loads of silver, which is said to have constituted a bribe to the Sforzas for the election of Rodrigo Borgia to the papacy as Pope Alexander VI![5]

Interestingly enough, Reinhardt makes it quite clear that Tetzel’s indulgence sales did not try to honor theological fine-points, the way some argue justifying his indulgence sale today. (page 64) Evidence shows that the Tetzel and the like preached forgiveness and penance, not just penance, as later officials argued (65). The first grace of indulgence is the complete erasure of your sin, and there can be no greater grace, because human beings are sinners and have lost God’s grace and by this erasure (Tilgung) of sin, they receive access to the grace of God again. Reinhardt concedes, “This assertion [written in the indulgence] was false and even potentially heretical. No indulgence in the world could provide the grace of God to a sinful person” (65). But Reinhardt (citing Luther’s Table Talks) relates that Tetzel openly proclaimed, (63-64) “Even if someone violated the Virgin Mary and made her pregnant, it would free them [of that sin]” and “Even promised that the indulgence would forgive future sins.” There was no need for remorse (63). “What was new about this indulgence sale,” according to Reinhardt, “was that with it, one could purchase an immediate and guaranteed remission of punishment.” (65)

(page 67) Reinhardt argues that it should no longer be considered a myth that Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the Castle Church door in Wittenberg, because Melanchthon, the young fighter at Luther’s side, asserts that he did. Many scholars have recently argued that Luther only sent letters and never even performed the iconic act of nailing the broadsheet onto the door. Reinhardt finds that Melanchthon makes it credible. In our recent trip through the Luther cities (September 27th to October 8th 2017), we learned that Melanchthon arrived in Wittenberg early in 1518, several months after Luther would have done it, but he was, of course, much closer to the event than we are.

(Page 74) Luther’s critique of the papacy, in his 95 Theses, Reinhardt argues, would have lessened the power of the popes. He writes, “What would have thereby filled the power vacuum created remains unclear.” When Reinhardt depicts that power vacuum, left by Luther’s criticism and limitation of the pope, he does not differentiate between political and spiritual power, temporal and spiritual power, or today we might say military versus soft power. He does not think through what his question entails. Did he want a hierocracy, a government by priests, a clericalism? The pope wore a tiara as a crown, because he was the monarch of the Papal States, the king of Rome, and the pontifex maximus, i.e., the religious head of the Catholic Church.[6]

William Lazarus argues that while societies in Luther’s day faced clericalism, today we face secularism. In the first, the church equated itself with the kingdom of heaven, while today governments feel completely immune from its judgment.[7] Was it the nations and nationalism that moved into the vacuum or just the maturity of the secular powers? Luther’s two kingdom theory with its two regiments were the foundation for dismantling the clericalism headed by the papacy. That brought about secular governments, which were founded on reason and law rather than a particular faith.[8] That the fervor of nationalism then replaced religious fervor became problematic. With that, if you were French, German, or English could make you mortal enemies, notwithstanding if you were Christian or even Protestant, in the case of England and Germany in World War I. National solidarity and nationalism could override being a Christian and the solidarity that the faith should have required. Reinhardt does not go into these questions but merely states that Luther’s limitation of the papacy went in the opposite direction from the conception dominant among Vatican theologians of the time (74).

NB: When in World War I Christian Protestants, who were German, killed the Christian Protestants who were English, the Tommy as the German called them and the Huns as the English and Americans called the Germans; they were German Christians and British or American Christians. The nature of what it meant to be German Christians became more clear in World War II. One’s country took precedence over one’s faith. At that point nationalism becomes heretical, because it is necessary for Christians to be Christians first and not their nationality first. Here conscientious objection to avoid heresy needs to come into play. Granted that the latter discussion and theological interpretation is more modern than early modern history. But, of course, Christians killed each other in early modern times as well, Swiss Guard versus the French, the emperor versus Rome and the popes, the Julius II against the Venetians – but Julius took care to excommunicate them first. (See footnote 9.)  

Continuing with notes from Reinhardt:

(Page 40) Leo X (Giovanni de Medici) was the son of Lorenzo the Magnificent and like his father he was the patron of Florence. The Medici presented their city as a republic, but in the background they really pulled all the strings, maintaining complete control. This position of power also provided Giovanni the decisive votes to become the pope, even though as a cardinal he was quite young. The college of cardinals did not like to elect a young pope to wear the tiara, because they hoped for a rule of less than ten years, because the popes tended to distribute positions in a one-sided way. For example, Sixtus IV tried to conquer independent states for his relatives, all at the cost of other family dynasties (40-41).

(page 48) Pope Leo X did not act like the Father of Christianity, but in the tradition of his father grandfather and great-grandfather, as the head of the House of Medici.

(52) Reforming the church in head and members meant that once again the pope and cardinals would lead exemplary lives as Christians. But this brought reform-minded leaders to despair, because that was just not the case.

(307) Gasparo Cantarini, a Venetian Patrician disputed with the pope. In 1529 he went so far as to describe the existence of the church-state as a misfortune for the papacy and Christendom, because the worldly dominion had led to a purely political orientation of the office of Peter.

(53) Speakers, however, still made panegyrics to flatter the ruling popes. They liked the word-play for Leo X, Papa Medicus for Medici, calling him the head doctor of Christendom, who would heal all the iniquities of the church by his reforms.

(54) But for the worldly papacy every law had a dispensation, so Leo doctored no healing of the church at all, but then used the Lateran Council merely to establish himself to the disappointment of Cajetan, Pico della Mirandola, and Egidio da Viterbo.

(57) The Germans had long time grievances, the Gravamina, against the papacy and curia in Rome. The prodigal curia luxuriated in the hard-earned money of the Germans, while looking upon them as barbarians. But the problem of absentee bishops was hardly an issue in Germany, while 50% of the bishops were absentee in France. The Medici took only 15% of German yearly income, reduced by a third of what they had paid. But Germany was far away from a concordat, like that of Bologna in 1516 according to which the French king could distribute lucrative positions to his supporters that were automatically ratified in Rome. The richest German bishops were like paupers when compared to those in Rome. Pluralism or cumulus were the terms used for the accumulation of bishoprics and their dispensation was expensive, because the practice violated the canon law. (58) But via nepotism, for example, sixteen bishoprics could be accumulated with many positions and benefices to boot. For example, Pope Paul III’s made his spiritual Nepot, Alessandro Farnese, who was his grandson, a cardinal legate and provided him with an overflow of benefices (317).

(59) Reinhardt gives an extensive account of the crucial simony and cumulus of Albrecht of Brandenburg (from the house of the Hohenzollern): He was getting his third bishopric with Mainz, which also gave him jurisdiction over Erfurt. Becoming the Archbishop of Mainz made him an elector of the emperor. But he was already the Archbishop of Magdeburg and Bishop of Halberstadt, which had previously belonged to the princes of Saxony. Thus the papacy charged Albrecht 10,000 ducats to over-ride the canon law.

(60) This amount was 300 times the annual income of a craftsman or manual laborer. In order to pay this huge amount, he received a plenary indulgence valid for ten years. This plenary indulgence could erase the punishment accumulated for sins, thus reducing the time spent in purgatory. So this plenary indulgence was also valid for those who had already died.

Above and beyond the 10,000 ducats, Albrecht had to pay 14,000 for the pallium of an archbishop. That amount paid for the Roman ratification. Emperor Maximillian would receive 2,143 ducats from that amount. To keep 26,143 ducats liquid, Albrecht had the right to sell the St. Peter’s indulgence as well. The value of this indulgence was taxed by the curia as an amount of 50,000 ducats. Half of the latter was designated to the pope’s treasury, which was always empty. Albrecht was to keep the other 25,000 ducats, so he could pay 24,000 for his dispensation and pallium. All these sums vary in different historical accounts, but Reinhardt’s are very comprehensive.

(62) Reinhardt calls Luther a genius in the new print media, in net-working and in his language command of German. Meanwhile the pope was without a theological education and he thought and acted like a worldly ruler.

(64) It is certain that Leo never read the 95 Theses. This man of power politics had many things that kept him busy and he had a deeply embedded need for good conversation meaning that he would never have had the time. His theological preparatory education would not have been sufficient to understand the fine points of the polemical text. At the time of his election as the pope he was not yet even a priest. (Elsewhere, I have read that he became a priest at seven years of age, probably only because Lorenzo the Magnificent was his father.)

(80) Humanism became more prominent. “[But] to the side of the scholastics stepped the ‘courtiers’, i.e., the curia and ecclesiastical rulers [prince-bishops], who profited from the rich and powerful church and wanted not a jot or iota of its hegemonic conditions changed.”

An interesting thesis to explore would be to what an extent the aristocracy is to blame for church corruption, because they wanted to attain and maintain their wealth and power through the church via the ecclesiastical hierarchy and benefice system.

(80) The issue for Luther was, who had the right to interpret the scripture? Reinhardt asks, what justified this German Augustinian hermit to claim that his finding of the interpretation of the scripture was obligatory to stand against the 1500 years of tradition. What authority here stood up against the church? In my dissertation, I argue that Luther championed academic freedom. It is a tyranny that shuts down its critics.

NB: Reinhardt gives us more than enough evidence that Luther’s stand was against the corruption in the church, which was not its 1500 year tradition and which was not about to reform in head and members.

(81) Reinhardt notes that Luther determined that the keys were being misused, subjected to greed and lust for possessions.

(On page 234) Reinhardt gives an example of the papal misuse of the keys. Because Aleander, the pope’s leading German expert, could not repay the papacy 200 ducats after having repaid 500, Pope Clemens VII excommunicated him and that made him unfit for a vocation and thus the papal expert on the situation in Germany could not attend the important Conference at Augsburg in 1530! When Pope Julius declared war on Venice, he also excommunicated his enemies of that city-state. Anyone interfering with the monopoly that the popes had in the aluminum trade were also automatically excommunicated. Luther took umbrage that a spiritual measure, which he declared should be a motherly censure, became a weapon in the hands of the powerful and wealthy papacy.[9]

(95) Germany was furious at the Medici Pope Leo X for fighting the Italian Wars, the War of Urbino of 1517 right after the War of the League of Cambrai (1508-1516) to further the fortunes of his family. For this sake, Leo even threw his support to the French king for becoming the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation! In his coming before Cajetan, for the pope, Luther was a minor issue. If the heretic did not recant, then the legate should bring him back to Rome as a captive.

(97) In Augsburg, his opponents saw Luther as a pathetic stammering figure, whose weak arguments meant that he could not have been the author of all those texts. Frederick the Wise had to affirm that he did write them at the Diet of Worms.

(109) The following sentiment is the one against Luther at the time, but Reinhardt seems to agree with it: Because this fellow, [i.e., Luther] allowed his personal interpretation of the Holy Scripture validity and condemned all other opinions as false, it made no sense to argue with him, and in any case, that would stir up dust, which would confuse unknowing believers and lead to insurrection also against the worldly authorities.

(109) “With this turn in strategy toward political positioning the papacy left the public open to Luther without a fight and provided Luther a precious advantage in time, which he used to mount an unstopping media campaign (Medienecho) incomparable with any other.”

N.B.: Here Reinhardt, from my point of view, mixes his own Catholic leanings with actual concerns of Luther’s opponents of that day. Luther certainly battled for his theological position, but only later could an observation have been made that he tolerated no other position other than his own. With Melanchthon he certainly tolerated a more diplomatic position. And his issues with the followers of Zwingli, e.g., the need for military protection of the Reformation,[10] and with the Anabaptists and Spiritualist, were substantive. Even the theocracy of Geneva designed by Calvin violated Luther’s belief that the government should be under the law and reason and not establish a religion; the latter demonstrates how substantive his disagreement was. That end-time this-worldly Christian kingdoms violated his understanding of scripture[11] is substantiated by the great debacle of the Anabaptist Kingdom of Muenster in 1534 with John of Leiden and Bernhard Knipperdolling. Luther’s stand against resurrecting Old Testament law undergirding their reintroduction of polygamy and its sorry aftermath is as well. In terms of the Roman Catholicism of that day, justification by works, according to my theological reflection, entailed the papal church’s emphasis on temporal power and wealth, while justification by grace through Christ by faith has come to be the position even of Roman Catholicism today, because the spiritual office of the papacy today can no longer wield temporal power. Even if against its will, its power has become spiritual along the lines of Luther’s teaching.

(111) Leo wanted to play off France against Spain, attempting to balance their powers. Therefore he tried to get Luther’s prince, the Elector Frederick the Wise, to run as a candidate for emperor. Reinhardt continues, but in the eyes of Rome, Frederick was considered a mild ruler, who addressed his counselors and subjects as “little children.” He avoided hard punishments and showed empathy for the poor and those stripped of their rights. He was against war, because the poor folks were precisely those who were hurt. His not using capital punishment demonstrated a dangerous “laxity” in nature. He was an elector who lacked the necessary hardness to be an ideal Christian ruler. We would laud Frederick for being that kind of a ruler today.

(126) With the pope’s overture to Frederick, he hoped that the elector would brush Luther aside, like a snake from his breast, and send him captive to Rome.

(130) Reinhardt goes into some of Luther’s theology: Luther did not hold that the efficacy of the sacraments were ex opera operato, effective for salvation in and out of themselves, but they were pure promises of God and a means of strengthening and making the faith of a believer endure. In other places, however, Aleander and even Reinhardt himself really distort and misrepresent Luther’s theology (132 and 147). Here Reinhardt continues summarizing Luther’s Address to the Christian Nobility for the Improvement of the Christian Estate. He lists Luther’s three walls. The bulwarks that shelter the papacy.

  1. The invention of a clerical estate or spiritual estate with its numerous special rights, which removed it from the grasp of worldly authorities and even made it a state within the state.
  2. The monopoly of the interpretation of scriptures by the pope
  3. The privilege of the pope alone to convene a council

(131) Reinhardt notes that Luther had a biting critique of the benefice distribution and the financial practices of the curia. Reinhardt does not mention how this critique fills the pages of the end of Luther’s Address to the Christian Nobility. According to Luther’s priesthood of all believers and his rejection of a  special spiritual estate, Reinhardt notes, all believers equally became priests, a teaching that he considered the most misunderstood slogan of the Reformation. With it the peasants could derive their right to choose their own pastors and radicals and spiritualists could question old forms of the church and introduce new forms.

(132) Reinhardt argues that pastors or parsons (Pfarrer) thus became a vocation learned academically just like others.

N.B.: The real problem was that priests, let alone even the popes, did not receive theological training along with their call. Instead many of the popes were trained only in canon law. Contrary to Reinhardt, the question of a person’s call weighs heavily in an academic seminary training pastors. A call, however, from Luther’s standpoint, can also be a divine vocation in other jobs and professions as well. While Reinhardt sees this priesthood of all believers as a demotion of priests, it is really a promotion of all believers who thereby receive a divine call in their vocation making a difference by living their faith, activating their love, and seeking justice.

(132) Thus Reinhardt continues: Concretely, the church in its new order quickly moved under the protection, shelter, and dominion of the worldly authorities, meaning the rulers and city magistrates.

N.B: First: Historically, what Reinhardt writes here is true. Authority was top down. But Reinhardt focuses on the demotion of the Catholic  priests and ignores the outcome of the promotion of all believers, who began to mature and have come of age, especially after the slow dissolution of the medieval hierarchies. In the Catholic Church power is still top down, with a male hierarchy all the way up to the pope. Democritization can spell grass-roots power from the bottom up, or with greater equality, power shared from the middle. In the inevitable political and economic systems, there is still top down, but defined as function rather than status. Thus a Lutheran pastor is not ontologically superior to a lay-person because of his or her ordination, but is one with all believers, separated merely by function and not by status as in the Catholic priesthood.  

N.B: Reinhardt himself notes how Leo X was a worldly and hedonistic ruler masquerading as a spiritual leader of the church. The interests of the Medici House for him came first. So the routinization of charisma (Max Weber) allowed someone completely unfit to be a pope to hold that office. The real charisma of faith lay with the confessor Martin Luther.[12] Confessors were from the earliest days of the church real trouble for bishops. Now in terms of a vocation, even politics can provide a divine call, to expand a little upon Max Weber’s  “The Vocation of Politics.”[13] In that case the politician ought to bring about the good for the people, persistently persevering until the break-through, like drilling a hole through hard wood, to use Weber’s metaphor. And the politician would know that the government operated under the law and reason and did not establish a faith, because it had the power of coercion which is antithetical to the freedom of faith. If a government tries to establish a religion by its powers, then it is out of bounds as much as a pope or bishop, who is supposed to stand for the freedom of the Gospel, but wields temporal power for the sake of his wealth, (like that of the Medici family), according to Luther’s two kingdom theory.

(139) Reinhardt tells of Miltitz and Luther’s writing of the “Freedom of a Christian,”(142) Luther’s appeal for a church council, (143) the forgery of the Donation of Constantine, (147) the way Aleander considered Luther 1000 times worse than the heretic Arius, distorting Luther’s theology significantly. Reinhardt continues by presenting Aleander’s critique of Luther on pages that include very negative pictures from Thomas Murner’s, The Great Luther Fool.  But Reinhardt also presents Luther’s standpoint on these events (182 ff.).

(172) Before he deals with Luther’s account, Reinhardt depicts Aleander’s account of the exciting events that transpired at the Diet of Worms.[14] Aleander wrote his account in Latin, precluding a wide impact. From the Latin, Spalatin translated an account into German, an account in which Luther also had a hand – his speech left unfinished. [On leaving the Diet, Luther was immediately kidnapped by Frederick’s knights for protective custody.] Many editions of these Lutheran accounts were avidly read, one even calling itself a newspaper.[15]

Reinhardt does not mention how Luther experienced an Anfectung, i.e., a spiritual attack of doubt and temptation to recant in the night between his two appearances in the Diet. He does, however, describe how Luther, leaving the hall of the Diet, after having refused to recant, threw his hand up into the air, like a warrior elated over a victory won (179).

Something Reinhardt includes that is very shocking: when the imperial forces were surrounding Florence to retake the city for the Medici, it was right during the 1530 Diet of Augsburg. (240) During that time Pope Clemens VII, another Medici, had retaken control of Florence. (243) He wanted Campeggio, who was informing him about what transpired in Augsburg, to know, that he did not want to know any more about these faith quarrels in Germany. In Italy he had to deal with what was decisively more important. Imagine that! And he had already excommunicated the leading German expert, Aleander, from attending because of a 200 ducat debt, which he could not pay back to the pope.

(267) From an Aleander letter while visiting Germany: “In an inn in Geislingen, tablets hang on the walls, which with large letters note Old and New Testament places, the distortion with which they justify their heresies, everyone taking these alone to mind. In various guest houses, the Bible in German translation lies on the table, which everyone interprets as they think good. And as I hear, in some places women have begun to preach, without any respect to the Apostle Paul, who forbad that, and they even claim their teaching is from him.”

What was very shocking to Aleander would pique some real interest today. Woman could have been in the fore-front like Mary Magdalene and the other women in Jesus’ time.

Luther’s beloved daughter Magdalena died at 13 years of age on September 20, 1542 and the scandal involving Phillip of Hesse’s bigamous marriage took place March 4, 1540, in which he succeeded in implicating Luther, Melanchthon, and Bucer to the dismay of the Protestant cause.

Another last point, when Reinhardt described the Sack of Rome in 1527, he showed the sorry actions of the pope, but called the emperor’s German Landsknechte or soldiers Luther-minded. (231) They wanted the pope and the curia killed, he writes. 4,000 Romans were killed in the sack and Silvestro Prieras and other Luther opponents among them. I never thought of the emperor’s forces as Luther-minded. That should be further investigated. At a later date, of course, the emperor’s forces defeated the Lutheran princes in the Smalcald War, where Phillip of Hesse was completely side-lined because of his bigamy.

To add some more history to Reinhardt’s work. The defeated Lutheran elector had to surrender his important electoral privilege from Ernestine to Albertine Saxony and Duke Moritz, who then after betraying the Lutherans, betrayed the emperor and with his army chased him South, even disrupting the Council of Trent. Those whom Emperor Charles chose as his allies were far more treacherous than those he fought as his enemies. Perhaps that is why when in the Castle Church at Wittenberg, which in the Interim after the war became a Catholic University, Charles refused his general’s wish to dig up Luther’s bones and burn them at the stake. Charles had experienced Clemens VII and many another disappointment and gave up his throne and entered a monastery before he died.

Not only at the Diet, but even much later the Catholics could not believe that Luther had written all his books. Reinhardt gives a very strange account of Luther’s last words, quoting a letter of the papal Nuntio Girolamo Verallo: “When his companions in the house challenged Luther to confess the errors for which he was guilty, Luther said that he had only one regret: under his name many false books were published, without his knowledge, and in these books there were many ugly places. Those books that he had actually written, however, were good and glorified God, and he considered it all well done. And after these words he died.” It goes without saying that Lutheran accounts are very different.

In conclusion, one learns a great deal reading this book by Volker Reinhardt, especially about what took place in Rome during the Reformation as well. Luther was no angel, but he left a wonderfully fertile theology and an emphasis on grace that is very helpful. The popes were very much involved in the politics of the Italian city-states, so much so, that they could not afford reformation in head and members at that time. When I wrote about the Bishop-princes, my Professor Thomas A. Brady, Jr. corrected me. They were princes first, many never even read a mass. So they should be called Prince-bishops. The trouble with the popes is that they were Monarch-popes and not the other way around, as much as even Catholic reformers wished they were different and suffered from their contradiction of the Christian faith. Not that when the state dominated the Lutheran church, it did not also contradict our faith.


[1] Martin Luther, To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation concerning the Improvement of the Christian Estate.

[2] See my essay on “The Benefice System,” in Mark A. Lamport, ed., Encyclopedia of Martin Luther and the Reformation. Vol. I, (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017), page 68.

[3] Pope Leo X (Giovanni de Medici) has a similar story. His father was Lorenzo the Magnificent and his sister married a son of Pope Innocent VIII.  At seven years of age, Giovanni had become a priest and received his cardinalate secretly at the age of 13 as part of a dowry from the pope for his sister’s marriage to the pope’s son.

[4] In my Wartburg Lecture, I use this language: “Luther’s inculturation of Latin Christianity for Northern European cultures.” Peter D.S. Krey, “Grounding Missiology in Lutheran Confessions,” (Wartburg Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa, March 8, 2005). https://peterkrey.wordpress.com/2006/11/08/wartburg-lecture-grounding-missiology-in-luther-and-the-lutheran-confessions/

[5] The endnote in Wikipedia on Pope Alexander VI: Peter de Rossa, (1989). Vicars of Christ: the Dark Side of the Papacy. Corgi, p. 144. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope_Alexander_VI#Election.

[6] Some Catholics argue that he needed to be that kind of a temporal and territorial monarch to remain independent of the others.

[7] William Lazarus, A Theology of Politics, (New York: Board of Social Ministry, Lutheran Church in America, 1965), page 4: “Secularists are those who live as if the new age in Christ had not yet begun; clericalists are most often their opposites who live as though the old age in Adam had been completely abolished.”

Lazarus presents Luther’s theological answer to this vacuum question: Luther places the church under the Gospel and the state under reason and law. The faith of a religion expands purely by persuasion of its truth. The use of coercion, so prevalent in Luther’s day, is not allowed for the church, not even by the rule of law through ecclesiastical courts and the canon law. On the other hand, the government sometimes has to check evil with coercion. In our constitutional language, a religion should not use political means for its advance, nor should the state establish a religion. Luther taught that when the church and state went out of bounds, i.e., confused the kingdoms, then it became a source of great evil.

[8] Granted, after the stage in history of cuius region, eius religio or whoever governed determined the religion of his or her subjects. The problem entailed the fact that the religion was the chain that held societies together, catena societas. Emil Durkheim argues that now the division of labor does so, and religion is not burdened with that task. In the former situation, that is why heresy was also treason.

[9] “In his military campaign against Venice in 1509, having joined the League of Cambrai, which he had arranged against his enemy, Pope Julius II first excommunicated Venice before declaring war upon its citizens. Excommunication was also used to protect economic monopolies, e.g., by Paul II for the papal alum cartel, and later trade protections. See J.D. Spence, The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci,(New York: Elizabeth Sifton Books, Viking, 1983), p. 175. Excommunication was the penalty for interfering with the Japanese silver trade in the 1570’s.” See Peter D. S. Krey, Sword of The Spirit, Sword of Iron: Word of God, Scripture, Gospel, and Law in Luther’s Most-Often Published Pamphlets (1520-1525). Ph.D. diss. (Graduate Theological Union, 2001), pages 161-162. Also in my dissertation see page 28: In the “Sermon on the Ban” Luther was trying to reform excommunication into a “motherly” punishment for the improvement of the believer, and to protest its financial and political abuse.

[10] (238) Reinhardt writes that Zwingli opted for a Christianization of politics and an orientation toward the Godly Law (Recht) which made Luther count him an enemy radical.

[11] Reinhardt has an example here as well: a few days after the beginning of the Sack of Rome in May, 1527, the rule of the Medici was overthrown and a republic in the spirit of the Prophet Savonarola, who was burned at the stake in 1498, was established, that radicalized quickly, opposed the patricians, proclaimed Christ as the King of Florence, and thus wanted to introduce the in-breaking of the last, blessed 1000 years before the last judgment (232).

[12] I believe it was Joseph Lortz who said, “When the church needed a Hildebrand, it had a Medici.” Luther was the Hildebrand of that day and he reversed the eleventh century ecclesiastical revolution of Gregory VII, i.e., Hildebrand. Where the latter forced 3,000 German priests to divorce their wives and enforced celibacy, Luther opened the way to clergy marriage. Where Gregory established the ecclesiastical courts, Luther threw the canon law into the fire, saying Moses was the law-giver, Christ proclaimed the Gospel. Where Gregory lifted up the clergy estate, which in Luther’s time had become an interest group for the power and wealth of the clergy, he declared the priesthood of all believers for the betterment of the Christian estate, the community of all believers. See Harold J. Berman, Law and Revolution, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1983), pages 85ff. And Harold J. Berman, Law and Revolution II, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003), “The German Revolution.” Also see my essay on “The Legal Revolution of the Reformation,” in Mark A. Lamport, ed., Encyclopedia of Martin Luther and the Reformation. Vol. I and II, (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2017), pages 423-425.

[13] I read that Weber essay in German. But it would be in any anthology of Weber’s most important writings.

[14]D. Martin Luther auf dem Reichstag zu Worms,” which appeared on May 21, 1521.

[15] Again See my dissertation: P. Krey, Sword of The Spirit, Sword of Iron, Ph.D. diss. (Graduate Theological Union, 2001), pages 49-55 for an account of the complicated nature of the printed accounts of the actions at the Diet. One account called itself a Zeitung  or newspaper in English. Could this have been the first newspaper in history? According to Reinhardt (183), “the Lutheran version [of the Diet’s events], perhaps put together by Luther, or in any case the one approved by him, quickly won the prime interpretive place, and ever more widely elaborated, became a German myth, which even until today, continues to have a strong life.”

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