A prayer for the safety of Martin Luther

Albrecht Dürer, 1521

[The following passage is taken from Albrecht Dürer’s personal journals while staying in Antwerp from April 11 to May 17, in 1521. On January third of that year, Pope Leo X issued the papal bull Decet Romanum Pontificem, excommunicating Martin Luther from the Catholic Church. After his excommunication, Luther was expected to recant his beliefs to Emperor Charles V, at the Imperial Diet in Worms, Germany. He was famously defiant to the emperor, who declaired him an outlaw. Before he could be punished by Charles V, Luther was abducted by a friendly German prince, Frederick the Wise — who hid him safely in Wartburg Castle. Though Luther was safe, his supporters worried frantically for his safety — assuming the worst after his abduction. This news strikes Dürer particularly hard, and he cries to God for Luther’s protection.]

On the Friday before Whitsuntide, 1521, tidings came to me at Antwerp that Martin Luther had been so treacherously taken prisoner, for he trusted the Emperor Charles’s herald, who had been granted to him with the Imperial safe conduct, but as soon as the herald had brought him near Eisenach, to an unfriendly place, he said that he would not need him any more and rode away. Immediately there appeared ten knights, who treacherously carried off the pious man, who had been betrayed; a man enlightened by the Holy Ghost, a follower of Christ and of the true Christian faith, and whether he lives yet or whether they have put him to death, I know not. If he has suffered, it is for the sake of Christian truth and because he has fought with the un-Christlike papacy, which strives with its heavy load of human laws against the redemption of Christ; and if so, it is that we may be again robbed and stripped of the fruit of our blood and sweat, that the same may be shamelessly and scandalously squandered while poor and sick men must therefore die of hunger. And this is above all most grievous to me, that God perhaps will let us remain yet under their false, blind doctrine, invented and set forth by the men whom they call “Fathers,” through whom the Word of God is in many places falsely expounded or not taught at all.

O God of Heaven, have pity on us, O Lord Jesus Christ, pray for Thy people. Deliver us in due time, uphold in us the right and true Christian Faith. Gather together Thy far scattered sheep by Thy voice, in the Scripture called Thy godly Word. Help us that we may know this Thy voice and may follow no other deceiving call of human error, that we may not, Lord Jesus Christ, fall away from Thee. Call together again the sheep of Thy pasture, who are still in part found in the Roman Church, and with them, too, the Indians, Muscovites, Russians, and Greeks, who have been thus cut off by the oppression and pride of the pope and by false appearance of holiness.

O God, redeem thy poor folk constrained by heavy ban and edict which it no wise willingly obeys, whereby it is bound continually to sin against its conscience if it disobeys them. O God, never hast Thou so heavily burdened a people under human laws as us poor ones beneath the Roman chair, who daily long to be free Christians ransomed by Thy blood.

O Highest Heavenly Father, pour into our hearts through Thy Son Jesus Christ such a light, that we may know thereby which messenger we are to obey, so that with good conscience we may lay aside the burdens of others, and may serve Thee, Eternal Heavenly Father, with free and joyful heart.

And if we lose this man, who has written more clearly than anyone in a hundred and forty years, and to whom Thou hast given such an evangelic spirit, we pray Thee, O Heavenly Father, that Thou give again Thy spirit to another, that he may gather together anew from all parts the holy Christian Church, that we may all live again in a pure and Christian manner, so that from our good works all unbelievers, with Turks, heathens, and Calicuts, may turn themselves to us and embrace the Christian faith.

But, Lord, Thou willest, ere Thou judgest, that as Thy Son Jesus Christ was constrained to die by the hands of the priests and rise from the dead and after to ascend to heaven, that so too, in like manner, it should be with Thy follower, Martin Luther, whose life the pope compasses, with money, treacherously towards God, him, Thou wilt quicken again. And as Thou, Lord, ordainedst that Jerusalem should be destroyed, so wilt Thou also destroy this self-assumed authority of the Roman chair. O lord, give us thereafter the new beautified Jerusalem, which descends from heaven, whereof the Apocalypse writes, the holy pure gospel which is not darkened by human doctrine.

Whoever reads Martin Luther’s books may see how clear and transparent his doctrine is, for he teaches the Holy Gospel. Wherefore his writings are to be held in the greatest honour, and not to be burned; unless, indeed, his opponents, who always fight against the truth, were also cast into the fire with all their opinions, they who would make gods out of men, but then only if there were printed new Lutheran books.

“O God, if Luther be dead, who will henceforth expound the Holy Gospel so clearly to us! Ah, God, what might he not have written for us in the next ten or twenty years!” Oh, all ye pious Christian men, help me to lament this God- inspired man and pray to Him that He will send us another enlightened man.

Oh, Erasmus of Rotterdam, where wilt thou stay? Dost thou see how the unjust tyranny of worldly power and the might of darkness prevail? Hear, thou knight of Christ, ride on beside the Lord Jesus; guard the truth, win the martyr’s crown! Thou art already only a little old man, and I have heard thee say that thou givest thyself but two years more in which thou mayest avail to accomplish something. Lay out the same now well for the gospel and the true Christian Faith and make thyself heard, so shall the gates of hell, the Roman Chair, as Christ says, in no wise prevail against thee: and if here, like thy Master Christ, thou were to suffer shame at the hands of the liars of this time and therefore were to die a little sooner, the sooner wouldst thou come from death into life and be glorified through Christ. For if thou drinkest out of the cup whereof He drank, with Him thou shalt reign, and judge with justice those who have dealt unrighteously.

Oh, Erasmus, hold to this, that God may be thy praise, even as it is written of David, for verily thou mayest overthrow Goliath. For God stands by the Holy Christian Church, as He only upholds the Romish Church according to His Godly will [text here corrupt]. May He help us to everlasting happiness, Who is God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, one God, Amen.

Oh, ye Christian men, pray God for help, for His judgment draws near and His justice shall appear. Then shall we behold the innocent blood which the pope, priests, bishops, and monks have shed, judged and condemned.

Apocalypse: “These are the slain who lie beneath the altar of God and cry for vengeance, to whom the voice of God answers, Await the full number of the innocent slain, then will I judge.”

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Albrecht Dürer

Taking printmaking to the next level

1471 – 1528

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