Response to Luther’s Letter to Leo X (September 6, 1520)

A Treatise on Easter Tuesday
April 10, 2007
April 14, 2007

In persona Leo

Reverend Luther, the Augustinian at Wittenberg:

However you have treated the Roman Curia, I greet you in the name of the Holy Father, and of His Son, and of the Most Holy Spirit.

Know that your defense is well read, if warmly taken, and with great doubt of its sincerity. What minister of mine should recall the deeds of his brothers, saying “he turned his weapons against me”? Do you not know that it is the work of men to challenge themselves? And why should his words, our beloved Karlstadt, ring less godly than your own? Give it attention.

Further, you bow too low in your apology, Luther. What servant needs such idle flattery as the “majesty” you grant me? And what is my name before God? Let it be Leo, and none else. Whatever God ascribes to it, shall be ascribed. But do not make me, as you are wont, a lamb among wolves. I am a sentient servant, Luther, and have not lived incapacitated in my see. Therefore, I am as much to blame for the pestilential corruption of this state of God’s as the most insidious of wolves. I am, however you deny it, a Magus to you, or else an Eck, or a Karlstadt. But I am one and the same time the Bishop of Rome. And therefore, you are asked to give me attention and loyalty. Men of God do not go their separate ways on account of pestilence; they do so only by God’s decree, only in death—and that, if final.

You approach me with brotherly love and exalt me higher than the stars. You condemn the church from which you came and which you serve, yet you hold fast to your appointment within her. You quote the works of those come before us both, most especially that of St. Bernard, but figure it insufficient, therefore offering me a treatise of your own to consider. It is not the work that disturbs me, Luther, but its intention. Such observation must be taken in a community where Christ resides; men alone are mirrors into themselves, magnifying their many imperfections.

What should I do with the Curia? You have divorced her as a husband rich on love with another woman. Perhaps it is the right woman, and yet you have already married another. Do you called that marriage diseased only to justify the annulment you seek? On what grounds is it ill? Did you not mean the vow you professed before God, that which says: all days will we remain, through sickness and health? What now, though the church be drowning in its own malfeasance? Would you leave her to me? For surely you know, the shepherd does not merely abandon his flock. Had Christ so done, we would be damned, unable to converse so freely. I am held fast to the rock of Christ, to the See of great Peter. The rock does not falter, but the building has. If it is incumbent upon these bones and in this spirit to raze the host which serves our Lord and build anew what He desires, so be it. But I cannot retreat, nor flee, nor give her over to destruction. The Church is Christ’s body; how then, may it be abandoned? How, too, can you suggest such a thing, even as you are a minister to her?

Count your blessings, Luther. For the prince who holds you well is human as much as I, as feeble as this crumbling institution which I now hold with fetters together. Poor as you are, know that Christ has given you purpose, and opportunity, and love. But I cannot be a part of what you now pursue. Give over your flattery and disingenuousness to the grave; live according to the simplicity of heart and the purity of the spirit. Discern well; I cannot be there to guide or support you, lest you decide to return to what Christ himself established: the Holy Church of God’s beloved faithful, fitted to the city of Rome.

This work you have offered, I will care for it, and think on it carefully. But I can no more advise you in study than you can instruct me how to heal the Curia. God has devised different paths for us, Luther. Be wise and follow yours; leave me to follow mine. I can only pray that ours paths lead us together again in faith, hope, and love.

May the Lord protect you as you so wish of me. Whatever our ends, may they be the working of God, of Christ, and the mysterious majesty of the Holy Spirit. For surely, these are the only ones worthy of the grace which you so heartily bestowed upon me. May they be returned to their Creator, the only one worthy of such commendation.

In Christ, I write you these words. May His grace be forever with you, earnest and alive. Live fully the life of Christ: in sacrifice and in salvation. Amen.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.