by Rev. Donavon Riley
After days of back and forth between Martin Luther and the papal representatives, Elector Frederick finally urged his now infamous professor to write an appeal to Rome, to “the pope badly informed to the pope better informed.” At the same time, Luther’s colleague Staupitz encouraged him to write a final summary of his position to Cardinal Cajetan. In both letters Luther summed up his position saying he could not recant any of his teachings because that would, in effect, be creating new articles of faith. The Wittenberger could not recant, he argued, because what he taught was biblical and thus the very Word of God which could not err.
Once the letters had been sent, Luther and Staupitz met in private to talk about what would happen next. Martin’s position was clear. He was in mortal danger. He would have to flee under cover of darkness if he wanted to save his life. To this end, Staupitz released Martin from his monastic vows. He was no longer bound to obey the rules of his order or his superiors. After this was done, Staupitz and Luther’s companions fled Augsburg. Now Luther was alone.
Luther, for his part, snuck out through a hole in the city wall, left his monk’s cowl behind, climbed up on an old nag, and made his way to Wittenberg undetected. Later, upon reflection, Martin said that when he arrived at the gates of the city and dismounted he could barely stand he was so exhausted, overcome as he was by feelings of fear and hope. Emotions that would hound him for many days and months afterwards.
Cardinal Cajetan, learning of Luther’s escape, wrote to Frederick, promising the Elector that Rome would not so easily forget what had happened in Augsburg and the Elector’s part in all of it. The matter would be prosecuted and the glory of Rome would not be allowed to suffer blemish. Frederick either sent Luther to Rome in chains or, at the least, he must publicly reject Martin’s teachings. Whatever the case, the Cardinal was clear; turn over Luther or suffer the full power of Rome crashing down on Wittenberg.
Next week, we will examine more of the attacks on Luther after Augsburg and their consequences.
Rev. Donavon Riley is the pastor of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in Webster, Minnesota.