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caused the last to be brought up, as many as he could acquire, in all parts of the world (often dearly enough, though contrary to his character), incontestibly prove that he deserved at least this testimony from his age.*
But this very zeal, which had been founded on such defective knowledge, might have been most injurious to Luther's cause and to the spread of the truth which he defended, had it not been modified, on the one hand, by the good sense of Frederic, and on the other, by the doubts which he himself felt in respect to his insight into religious things. It was a ruling principle with the elector, never to proceed rashly in any thing; and, at the same time, no man was more inclined than he, with a noble frankness to allow, that in cases where he was to decide on religious controversies, he must first take advice from others. And not only the history of previous centuries, but the experience of his own life too, had convinced him of this, that in such contests, the truth was not always necessarily on the side of the most zealous defenders of papal authority, nor always on the side of the stronger party ; and therefore he must not simply stay for instruction from them and form his decision according to it, without investigation, but he was already accustomed carefully to distinguish the influence of selfish objects, which perhaps each party might conceal beneath its pretended zeal for the truth.
With most of these objects, he had become much more acquainted in the negotiations of the diet with the Romish court, which were so numerous in Maximilian's reign, as he always took a leading part in them; and the effect upon himself was, that he now learnt to regard the head of the church in a far different light from that in which the honest ignorance and devout superstition of the previous age had viewed it. His ambition to be regarded a christian prince, was now no longer confined to being regarded merely as a prince who was really in all things to submit to the Roman chair and blindly to follow its decisions. And now, he no longer believed that an opinion
* Pallavicini himself gives him this testimony, L. I. c. 13. p. 94. How highly he regarded relics, and how much he suffered it to cost him very richly to furnish the church of All-saints at Wittenberg with them, see Seckendorf, p. 222.
| Says Luther concerning him, in 1516, “not that I would deny the man, in secular matters, to be the most prudent of all men ; but in things pertaining to God, and the salvation of the soul, I acknowledge him to be almost seven times blind.” Ep. 13. Vol. X. No. 28.
must be false and heretical, simply because it seemed adverse to the authority of this chair, and was therefore rejected by it. And furthermore, as Luther now had friends at his court which strengthened him in these dispositions ; as Spalatin, who possessed his full confidence, openly favored and defended his opinions; as also the most respectable scholars out of Saxony, seemed not averse to them, and openly manifested, if not their approbation of Luther, yet their contempt for his adversaries; as the most famous of them, even Erasmus himself, whom the elector most highly esteemed, and of whom he had sought counsel in this matter, wrote of him with the greatest moderation, and even favored some of Luther's positions ;* so bis good sense and his even disposition induced him to watch the contest of both parties with silent attention, and still longer to reflect on the turn he should take, before engaging directly in it, notwithstanding the vehement demands of one party.
From all these circumstances, founded as they are on the whole history, the conduct of the elector may be well explained, in a very natural way, without the necessity of laboriously and artificially searching for the reasons in other things. It was not indeed first from the later Romish writers, nor even first during the disputes with duke Henry the younger of Brunswick (which, in 1539 and 1540, gave occasion to such strange controversial papers), but it was at the very commencement of the conflicts, that the charge was brought, by Luther's opponents, against Frederic, of having, out of envy and hatred against the elector Albert of Mentz, at least secretly sustained and tolerated Luther, if he had not in fact been his instigator. As early as in Tetzel's second set of anti-theses, undeniable traces are found of this accusation; and Luther himself complains more than once of this matter, that the honor of his sovereign was thereby as
* Seckendorf has quoted, I. c. p. 96, a very remarkable letter of Erasmus to the elector, which was written as early as 1519, and is not printed among his letters. It must necessarily have made a deep impression upon Frederic; for it is written with the true fervor of a noble zeal, which abhors all suppression. And this zeal must have had a still more powerful effect, as Erasınus could say, with truth, at the close,— "I write these things the more freely, as Luther's cause is not mine. But, as it belongs to your bighness, by your piety to protect the christian religion; so it belongs to prudence, not to run the hazard, where you preside, of suffering an innocent man to be given up, under the pretext of piety, to the impiety of any."
sailed. * Now it is not indeed very probable that, with the feelings of these two princes towards each other, there should have been absolutely no ground for this imputation, which was so early brought. It may perhaps be very readily supposed, notwithstanding the truth of some assertions which Luther somewhere adduces, and without any prejudice to their truth, that Frederic was not any too friendly in his feelings towards the elector of Mentz, who was, at the same time, arch-bishop of Magdeburg. But the history affords us at least no special ground for supposing, that the feelings of Frederic towards Albert, could have influenced his conduct at the commencement of these contests. The differences of the house of Saxony with Albert, about Halle, first arose at a subsequent period; and the ingenious reasons, which Barillas brought forward for the mutual jealousy of the two electors, Seckendorf has refuted more circumstantially than was deserved by these proofs of the most ridiculous ignorance of a historian. I
But were it still necessary to ascribe to by ends, a transaction for which sufficient reasons may be found in the character and circumstances of the elector, a very natural one seems spontaneously to present itself to us, which has moreover the highest historical probability in its favor. It is the anxiety for the prosperity of the newly founded university at Wittenberg, which certainly confirmed the elector in the design not to meddle, to the disadvantage of Luther, in his contests, since amid these contests, and partly indeed on their account, the university had increased in a manner almost incredible. Luther's fame had drawn together a great number of students out of all the countries of Europe, a part of whom were already prepossessed in his favor, and a part were here first initiated into his doctrines; and all, according to the custom of the age, shared most intimately in the fortune of their teacher, and considered themselves as involved in his contests. A particularly hasty attempt to subject him by force, would probably have scattered the
* Epp. L. I. ep. 39. # In the first apology against Henry, T. VII. Altenb. p. 461. | See Seckendorf, I. c. p. 27. $ In 1517, Wittenberg had not more than 200 students matriculated; and immediately after the commencement of the Reformation, the number of yearly accessions increased to about 600 or 800. See Lösch. I. c. I. 313.
greatest part of thein again ; and to prevent this, was not so unworthy an object for the anxious attention of the court, even if Frederic had not furthermore been especially interested in an institution which was wholly his own work. But it was then already generally known, that he regarded Wittenberg with a kind of predilection which is so natural to us respecting the work of our own hands; and we might have ventured to assume beforehand, that this must also have exerted some influence here, although Luther's opponents had always been silent about it. And this object alone would have been a powerful motive for his so long remaining a silent spectator, if he had not been inclined to it by those other causes above adduced.
But Luther himself knew not as yet what Frederic had determined to do, and was thus involved in greater difficulties. He did not so much as know the elector personally,* but, in respect to this matter, he knew but too well his principles in matters of religion, and his firm attachment to his principles, which were so adverse to his own opinions. He saw him, at the same time, urged on all sides to oppose him with authority, nay, that he had been already stimulated to it by very keen reproaches; and he knew for certainty, that still more effectual means would be sought, if these should not be successful. Besides this, he could not so strongly expect that, for the sake of himself and his opinions, his sovereign would put in jeopardy his own reputation, his safety, his quiet, and his dominions; and still less could be expect, that his friends at court, except the powerless Spalatin, would think more of his than of their own safety, at the sight of an approaching danger. His prospects for the future, must therefore have been actually somewhat discouraging. But these prospects troubled bim but little, as he had long been decided to leave the entire issue of his cause to God. But what most afflicted the noble minded man, was the fact, that his innocent sovereign should suffer, from the calumnies of his bitterest opponents, on his account. He therefore wrote to Spalatin, that the elector should place him before every court, and abandon him to every court, since no other means would be adequate to roll back from the elector the hatred that had already fallen upon him on his account.t
* Luther spoke with the elector only twice in his life. See Seck.
Í Epp. L. I. op. 39.
Meanwhile, not long after the beginning of the contests, Frederic gave him the assurance, probably indeed not in an immediate but yet in a satisfactory way, that he was not so unfavorably disposed towards his new opinions as he might perhaps have begun to fear.* He confessed that he had first become acquainted with the true system of the gospel through Luther; and to his labors for separating this system from human additions and scholastic subtleties and placing it unmixed before the people, he gave his undisguised approbation, (without entering into particular controverted opinions), the more undisguised in proportion as the new knowledge he had thus gained and the illumination his faith had thereby acquired, were welcome to his own heart. Nay, even after the foolish step which his friends ventured at Wittenberg, and after the excitement which they had so unnecessarily produced by burning Tetzel's anti-theses, he gave him a still more unequivocal proof of his special favor, by commending him, on a journey which Luther made about this time, in the most emphatic terms, to the protection of some princes, the bishop of Wurtsburg and the elector Palatine, through whose dominions he
had to pass.
It was in the spring of the year 1518, that a general assembly of the Augustinian monks had been ordered at Heidelberg, from which, according to the strict conscientiousness with which he always observed the vow of his order, Luther did not believe himself at liberty to be absent. All his friends, indeed, endeavored to dissuade him from the journey, which, with good reason, they considered extremely dangerous in his case, as his name, in most of the regions through which he would have to pass, had been rendered exceedingly odious to the people by the monks. But Luther, who never in his whole life suffered himself to be frightened from any thing which he regarded as a duty by the fear of ever so threatening a danger, gave no heed
* See Seck. p. 53. Melanch. Chron. Car. V. p. 704. Luth. Epp. T. I. ep. 42.
† Luther himself writes to Spalatin: “Master Jacob could not sufficiently commend the letters of our prince which were given for me." Epp. L. I. ep. 48.
“I was advised by all, not to go to Heidelberg, lest they should effect against me by, ambush, what they could not by open force.” Epp. 42.