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Leo, emboldened by these pretensions, directed his legates to select agents capable of distributing these inestimable blessings. After due investigation, the distinguished honour was conferred on the Dominican and Franciscan monks.* Having therefore been invested with such an extraordinary privilege, they extolled, in the most exaggerated language, the supernal efficacy of indulgences. The following specimen of the abilities of one, will perhaps exhibit a just idea of all the mendicant salesmen :-" He could exceed all wants, supply all deficiencies, and cancel all crimes. He boasted his ability to save even the ravisher of the blessed Virgin herself; and affirmed, that HE, John Tetzel, had rescued more souls from hell and purgatory, by these complete nostrums of indulgences, than ever St. Peter himself had converted to Christianity by his preaching.”
Such blasphemous assertions, equally repugnant to reason and revelation, were successfully opposed by Martin Luther, professor of theology, in the university of Wittemberg. Extensive learning, persuasive eloquence, heroic intrepidity of mind, and an invincible attachment to truth, were some of the characteristics of our venerable reformer: and which were absolutely necessary for an enterprise so arduous and perilous.
Luther's opposition, on this occasion, exasperated Tetzel, and all the partisans of Rome. The most distinguished orators displayed their eloquence, in defence of this Catholic tenet; and actuated by the most vicious malignity, earnestly solicited his holiness, to commit the audacious heretic to the flames. But although Luther, with his usual intrepidity, disproved their arguments, yet he appealed to the Pope, on the subject in debate, and consented to submit to his decision. He flattered himself, that the abuse of the sale of indulgences was to be imputed, rather to the indiscretion of the instruments entrusted with the commission, than to the employer: and supposed that as soon as he should be acquainted with all the particulars of the transaction, so far from considering the appellant censurable, he would either revoke, or modify, the power which had been committed to them. But Leo thinking, perhaps, that nothing detrimental to the church could result, from the doctrine of such an inconsiderable monk, took no cognizance of the matter, until his most strenuous exertions were totally incapable of
The indignant pontiff having at length become alarmed, at the rapidity of Luther's progress, cited him to Rome to answer
* Two regular orders of mendicants instituted in the beginning of the 13th century: the former so denominated from Dominic, a Spaniard, the inventor of the bloody Inquisition; the latter from Francis of Assisi, an Italian, his infamous co-operator. + Haweis's Church History, vol. 2. p. 67. VOL.II.-- Presb. Mag.
for his new and dangerous opinions.” But that citation was revoked, in consequence of the intercession of Frederick, elector of Saxony, and the decision of the case was referred to Cajetan, at Augsburg, a Dominican monk, highly celebrated for his skill in all the intricate mazes of scholastic theology. Luther had hoped for a candid examination of the subject, and expected to signalize himself in this controversy, with a monk of such acknowledged erudition : but the haughty legate acceded to neither of these requisitions; he commanded him to renounce his doctrine as erroneous, and submit to whatever punishment his holiness might please to inflict.
Such dictatorial authority was not congenial to the mind of the bold reformer. He replied that he could not retract opi. nions, which he was confident, were in accordance with divine revelation : but mentioned certain universities, to whose deci.. sion he was willing to submit. But Cajetan continuing inflexible, and Luther convinced that no arguments however cogent, or conclusive, could have any influence over his mind, after appealing to a general council, he privately retired from Augsburg, and was taken under the protection of his faithful patron the elector of Saxony.
Leo had probably expected, that Luther would immediately submit to the imperious dictates of Cajetan, but finding him immoveable, he directed (Miltitz) another legate to proceed to Saxony, and terminate in an amicable manner, if possible, a controversy which portended the most alarming consequences. Miltitz by his artful address, and conciliatory manners, obtained such an ascendancy over the mind of Luther, that he promised for the future to be silent on the subject, if a similar obligation should be imposed on his adversaries. All past criminations were mutually forgiven, and the deadly wound appeared to be healed.
During these commotions which happened in Germany, the same causes were productive of the same effects in Switzerland. The conduct of the Franciscans, who were appointed for the distribution of indulgences in that country, was exactly similar to that of Tetzel and his infamous associates in Saxony. Having arrived at Zurich, they met with formidable opposition from Zuinglius, dignitary of that place. This eminent personage, who was superior to Luther in learning, and more scriptural in his opinions, conducted his undertaking with such success, that in a short period the Romish ritual was in a great measure abolished in Switzerland, and a formula of doctrine and discipline, more consonant to the primitive church, substituted in its place.
The Catholics supposed that Luther's reconciliation with the Roman pontiff would be permanent; but an unexpected dispu
tation with Eckius, a zealous Romanist, on the authority of the Roman see over the consciences of men, disconcerted all their precautions, and eventually made the whole fabric of the established church to totter. Luther's argumentation on this subject, was considered by Eckius as totally derogatory to the honour of the holy see. Impelled, therefore, by the most implacable hatred, and seconded by all the Dominican order, Eckius represented to his holiness, the extreme impropriety of permit. ting so dangerous a heretic to remain any longer with impunity. Leo, in consequence of their solicitations, immediately issued a bull of excommunication against Luther; his writings were ordered to be burned, and he was commanded within
sixty days to retract his errors; otherwise he should incur all the punishments usually inflicted on the most obstinate heretics. Luther was filled with wrath and indignation, at the recep
this extraordinary intelligence. He therefore resolved, henceforth, to renounce all obedience to the pope, whom he denominated the Man of Sin, or Antichrist, as mentioned in the revelation of John. And in order to give all possible publicity to such a resolution, he summoned all the professors and students of the university of Wittemberg, before the expiration of the sixty days, and in the presence of a numerous assemblage of spectators, he, by the hands of the public executioner, committed to the flames, the pope's decretals, together with the bull of excommunication; a retaliatory measure, probably, adopted in consequence of Leo having ordered his writings to be burned. “ Thus the die was cast,” and all accommodation was for ever terminated.
Luther's separation from the Romish communion, was not without mature deliberation. After the strictest examination, that worship, discipline, &c., which he had implicitly believed, were found to be a complication of error, idolatry, and superstition. He therefore adopted the determination of forming a church more conformable to the apostolic precedents, whose doctrine would be clearly deducible from the holy scriptures. In this laudable undertaking, he was faithfully assisted by Melancthon and Carlostadt, together with other characters highly distinguished for their literary acquirements. Their success was commensurate to their highest expectations; for multitudes of the common people embraced the reformed religion, and even some of the German princes, who protected its propagators from the virulent machinations of their enemies. The church having been new modelled, an interesting era in ecclesiastical history commenced, which was productive of incalculable advantages, both to the moral and religious world.
We have already observed that papal Rome, previous to the commencement of the reformation, by a regular succession of
well concerted usurpations, had arrived to universal empire; and so formidable was her power, that a denunciation of excommunication made the haughtiest monarch tremble on his throne. That such an immense fabric, which had occupied so many centuries in its erection, should be partially demolished by an obscure Augustin monk, is eminently calculated to fill every rational mind with wonder and astonishment. Luther, however, was only an instrument appointed by God, to punish that queen of cities, because she made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication. But, notwithstanding his unexampled success, there were some exceptionable traits in his character. In his memorable disputation with Tetzel and his associates, respecting the sale of indulgences, he publicly declared, as we noticed above, that he would accede to the determination of his holiness; but when the pope interfered, and gave judgment against him, he would by no means acquiesce to his decision. The abusive and scurrilous language which he used against his adversaries, and his burning the pope's decretals, together with the bull of excommunication, were more agreeable to a revengeful spirit, than to the dictates of the meek and lowly Jesus. “ He was a man, a sinful man, a man of like passions with other corrupted creatures; exposed to peculiar provocations, and of a temper naturally irascible. Let those who blame him avoid his mistakes, and imitate his excellencies.”
John A. GETTY. (To be continued.)
FOR THE PRESBYTERIAN MAGAZINE. The Substance of a Sermon, on the Church and her Government, delivered twenty-eight years ago, before the Presbytery of —
The name of the Presbyterian church is assumed from the form of her government, which her members believe to be of divine original. A discussion of this subject will, therefore, coincide with the title, and design, of this periodical publication.
The foundation of the sermon was this: “ For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.” (Rom. xii. 4, 5.)
“ Christ loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word ; that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” (Ep. v. 25–27.)
And having purchased a peculiar people, at the expense of his blood, he appointed various means, in the use of which they might be trained up for the heavenly inheritance. Hence “ when he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and
gave gifts unto men. And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors, and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.” (Ep. iv. 8. 11, 12.)
By the body of Christ, here, and by the one body in Christ, the mystical body, or church of Christ, is evidently intended. And as the church is composed of different members, so, to each member, Christ has assigned a particular place, and granted suitable gifts and graces. Every member should occupy his proper station, and exercise his own function; and not invade the province, nor usurp the office, of another. These principles are stongly inculcated in the passage under investigation, where a comparison is drawn between the human body, and the church, the mystical body of Christ. In the human body each member has a distinct position, and distinct office. The eye is to see, the ear to hear, the foot to walk. So, in the mystical body of Christ, each member is to occupy his own place, and perform his own relative duties, for the good of the whole.
Here is a foundation for an inquiry concerning the nature of the Christian church, her members, and their particular offices.
This subject is very familiar, but not well understood by Christians in general, though it is important, and demands serious and attentive consideration. I shall give the result of my investigation.
The whole subject might be proposed under these interrogations, namely :
What is the scripture signification of the term church? What are her distinctive attributes ? What constitutes church membership? What qualifications should be required of adults for admission to the ordinances of the gospel? What is the government and discipline of the church? For what objects hath God established a church in the world?
But these interrogations open a field of discussion too extensive for my present purpose. On some of them I shall touch lightly, and some I shall wholly omit. The first and fifth shall engage my principal attention.
What is the scripture signification of the term church? The term church is equivocal, having different significations, in its application to different subjects. In regard to its etymology, I only remark that it signifies to call out of, and denotes a separation of some persons from others, who assemble together for some particular purpose. A very disorderly and tumultuous collection of persons, is recorded under the appellation of church. “ Some therefore cried one thing, and some another, for the assembly, éxxazoia, or church, was confused.” (Acts xix. 32.)