Elector Frederic of Saxony

A Remarkable Dream

The morning of October 31, the elector said to Duke John, “‘Brother, I must tell you a dream which I had last night, and the meaning of which I should like much to know. It is so deeply impressed on my mind, that I will never forget it, were I to live a thousand years. For I dreamed it thrice, and each time with new circumstances.’

“Duke John: ‘Is it a good or a bad dream?’

“The elector: ‘I know not; God knows.’

“Duke John: ‘Don’t be uneasy at it; but be so good as to tell it to me.’

“The elector: ‘Having gone to bed last night, fatigued and out of spirits, I fell asleep shortly after my prayer, and slept calmly for about two hours and a half; I then awoke, and continued awake to midnight, all sorts of thoughts passing through my mind. Among other things, I thought how I was to observe the Feast of All Saints. I prayed for the poor souls in purgatory; and supplicated God to guide me, my counsels, and my people according to truth. I again fell asleep, and then dreamed that Almighty God sent me a monk, who was a true son of the Apostle Paul. All the saints accompanied him by order of God, in order to bear testimony before me, and to declare that he did not come to contrive any plot, but that all that he did was according to the will of God. They asked me to have the goodness graciously to permit him to write something on the door of the church of the Castle of Wittemberg. This I granted through my chancellor. Thereupon the monk went to the church, and began to write in such large characters that I could read the writing in Schweinitz. The pen which he used as so large that its end reached as far as Rome, where it pierced the ears of a lion that was crouching there, and caused the triple crown upon the head of the pope to shake. All the cardinals and princes running hastily up, tried to prevent it from falling. You and I, brother, wished also to assist, and I stretched out my arm;—but at this moment, I awoke with my arm in the air, quite amazed, and very much enraged at the monk for not managing his pen better. I recollected myself; it was only a dream.’

“ ‘I was still half asleep, and once more closed my eyes. The dream returned; the lion, still annoyed by the pen, began to roar with all his might, so much so that the whole city of Rome and all the States of the Holy Empire ran to see what the matter was. The pope requested them to oppose this monk, and applied particularly to me, on the account of his being in my country. I again awoke, repeated the Lord’s prayer, entreated God to preserve his holiness, and once more fell asleep.

“ ‘Then I dreamed that all the princes of the Empire, and we among them, hastened to Rome and strove, one after another, to break the pen; but the more we tried, the stiffer it became, sounding as if it had been made of iron. We at length desisted. I then asked the monk (for I was sometimes at Rome, and sometimes at Wittemberg) where he got this pen, and why it was so strong. “The pen,” replied he, “belonged to an old goose of Bohemia, a hundred years old. I got it from one of my old schoolmasters. As to its strength, it is owing to the impossibility of depriving it of its pith or marrow; and I am quite astonished at it myself.” Suddenly, I heard a loud noise—a large number of other pens had sprung out of the long pen of the monk. I awoke a third time; it was daylight.’

“Duke John: ‘Chancellor, what is your opinion? Would we had a Joseph, or a Daniel, enlightened by God!’ ” Wylie, History of Protestantism, vol. 1, 263–265

The elector had scarcely finished telling his dream in the royal castle of Schweinitz the morning of October 32, 1517, when Luther, with paper in hand, arrived at the castle church to interpret its meaning.
When he nailed his theses on the door of the church at Wittenberg, Luther acted without a plan, a fact that he later admitted. He was acting upon what he believed to be his duty of the moment, without thought that the sound of his hammer would resound throughout Christendom  for years to come, toppling the throne of the pontiff that, as of yet, he professed to revere. At the time, Luther’s great concern was that his flock at Wittenberg not be ensnared by Tetzel’s indulgences. Little did he dream that by the action that he was taking he would arouse the opposition that was soon to be manifest.

Theses nailed to the door

The theses spread with the rapidity of lightning. A month had not elapsed before they had arrived in Rome and, in as little time, they had been circulated throughout all of Christendom. A response was not lacking. The widespread interest that they aroused greatly increased the fears of the papal authorities, and Luther received a summons to appear in Rome within sixty days to answer the charge of heresy. In spite of the rising storm of opposition, however, Luther was unmoved. Though he stood alone, he was ready to stand on his theses. He had thrown down the gage, and he would not decline the battle. Luther’s friends, fearing greatly for his safety, petitioned the elector to have the case heard in Germany; and a hearing was eventually arranged in Augsburg.

Before Luther’s lodging in Augsburg, the Italian courtier, Urban of Serra Longa, presented himself. He made unbounded professions of friendship for the doctor of Wittenberg and had come, he said, “to give him a piece of advice before appearing in the presence of De Vio. . . .

“The advice of Urban was expressed in a single word—‘Submit. Surely he [Luther] had not come this long way to break a lance with the cardinal: of course, he had not. He was speaking, he presumed, to a wise man.’

“Luther hinted that the matter was not so plain as his advisor took it to be.

“ ‘Oh,’ continued the Italian, with a profusion of politeness, ‘I understand: you have posted up “Theses,” you have preached sermons, you have sworn oaths; but three syllables, just six letters, will do the business—Revoco.’ ”

God’s Word Luther’s Only Authority in Matters of Faith

“ ‘If I am convinced out of the sacred Scriptures,’ rejoined Luther, ‘that I have erred, I shall be but too glad to retract.’

“The Italian Urban opened his eyes somewhat widely when he heard the monk appeal to a Book which had long ceased to be read or believed at the metropolis of Christendom. But surely, he thought, Luther will not be so fanatical as to persist in putting the authority of the Bible in opposition to that of the pope; and so the courtier continued.

“ ‘The pope,’ said he, ‘can by a single nod change or suppress articles of faith, and surely you must feel yourself safe when you have the pope on your side, more especially when emolument, position, and life might all lie on your coming to the same conclusion with his Holiness.’ He exhorted him not to lose a moment in tearing down his ‘Theses’ and recalling his oaths.

“Urban of Serra Longa had overshot the mark. Luther found it necessary to tell him yet more plainly that the thing was impossible, unless the cardinal should convince him by arguments drawn from the Word of God that he had taught a false doctrine.” Wylie, History of Protestantism, vol. 1, 275, 276

Three times Luther appeared before the council at Augsburg. As he returned for the third meeting, accompanied by the elector’s councilors, he was immediately surrounded by the Italians, who were present at the conference in great numbers. They crowded around him, eager to obtain a glimpse of the monk who had stirred up such a commotion in Christianity. Luther advanced to present his protest to the cardinal. In this protest, Luther addressed two points on which he had been attacked. The concept that the indulgences were the treasure of the merit of Jesus Christ and of the saints was the first point to which he had objected. Second, Luther showed that no man can be justified before God if he has not faith, a point that he proved with a number of statements from Scripture.

The legate took the declaration from Luther’s hand; and after coldly looking it over, declared, “‘You have indulged in useless verbiage; you have penned many idle words; you have replied in a foolish manner to the two articles and have blackened your paper with a great number of passages from Scripture that have no connection with the subject.’ Then, with an air of contempt, De Vio flung Luther’s protest aside; as if it were of no value, . . . he began to exclaim with all his might that Luther ought to retract. The latter was immovable. . . . The cardinal then began a long speech, extracted from the writing of St. Thomas; he again extolled the constitution of Clement VI and persisted in maintaining that by virtue of this constitution it is the very merits of Jesus Christ that are dispensed to the believer by means of indulgences. He thought he had reduced Luther to silence; the latter sometimes interrupted him; but De Vio raved and stormed without intermission and claimed, as on the previous day, the sole right of speaking. . . .

“His [Luther’s] indignation burst out at last; it is his turn to astonish the spectators, who believe him already conquered by the prelate’s volubility. He raises his booming voice, seizes upon the cardinal’s favorite subject, and makes him pay dearly for his rashness in venturing to enter into discussion with him. ‘Retract, retract!’ repeated De Vio, pointing to the papal constitution.

 ‘Well, if it can be proved by this constitution,’ said Luther, ‘that the treasure of indulgences is the very merits of Jesus Christ, I consent to retract, according to your eminence’s good-will and pleasure.’ ” D’Aubigne, History of the Reformation, book 4, chapter 8

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