Foxe's Book of Martyrs -- 145. MARTIN LUTHER -- INTRODUCTION

145. MARTIN LUTHER -- INTRODUCTION

 

Here beginneth the Reformation of the church of Christ, in the time of Martin Luther.

lthough it cannot be sufficiently expressed with tongue or pen of man, into what miserable ruin and desolation the church of Christ was brought in those latter days; yet partly by the reading of these stories afore past, some intelligence may be given to them which have judgment to mark, or eyes to see, in what blindness and darkness the world was drowned, during the space of these four hundred years heretofore and more. By the viewing and considering of which times and histories, thou mayest understand, gentle reader, how the religion of Christ, which only consisteth in spirit and verity, was wholly turned into outward observations, ceremonies, and idolatry. So many saints we had, so many gods; so many monasteries, so many pilgrimages; as many churches, as many relics forged and feigned we had again, so many relics, so many lying miracles we believed. Instead of the only living Lord, we worshipped dead stocks and stones: in place of Christ immortal, we adored mortal bread: instead of his blood, we worshipped the blood of ducks. How the people were led, so that the priests were fed, no care was taken. Instead of God's word, man's word was set up: instead of Christ's Testament, the pope's testament, that is, the canon law: instead of Paul, the Master of Sentences took place, and almost full possession. The law of God was little read, the use and end thereof was less known; and as the end of the law was unknown, so the difference between the gospel and the law was not understood, the benefit of Christ not considered, the effect of faith not expended: through the ignorance whereof it cannot be told what infinite errors, sects, and religions crept into the church, overwhelming the world as with a flood of ignorance and seduction. And no marvel; for where the foundation is not well laid, what building can stand and prosper? The foundation of all our Christianity is only this: The promise of God in the blood of Christ his Son, giving and promising life unto all that believe in him: giving (saith the Scripture) unto us, and not bargaining or indenting with us: and that freely (saith the Scripture) for Christ's sake; and not conditionally for out merit's sake.

Furthermore, freely (saith the Scripture) by grace, that the promise might be firm and sure; and not by the works that we do, which always are doubtful. By grace (saith the Scripture) through promise to all and upon all that believe; and not by the law, upon them that do deserve. For if it come by deserving, then is it not of grace: if it be not of grace, then is it not of promise, and contrariwise, if it be of grace and promise, then is it not of works, saith St. Paul. Upon this foundation of God's free promise and grace first builded the patriarchs, kings, and prophets: upon this same foundation also Christ the Lord builded his church: upon the which foundation the apostles likewise builded the church apostolical or catholical.

This apostolical and catholic foundation so long as the church did retain, so long it continued sincere and sound: which endured a long season after the apostles' time. But after, in process of years, through wealth and negligence crept into the church, so soon as this foundation began to be lost, came in new builders, which would build upon a new foundation a new church more glorious, which we call now the Church of Rome; who, being not contented with the old foundation, and the Head-cornerstone, which the Lord by his word had laid, in place thereof they laid the groundwork upon the condition and strength of the law and works. Although it is not to be denied, but that the doctrine of God's holy law, and of good works according to the same, is a thing most necessary to be learned, and followed of all men; yet is it not that foundation whereupon our salvation consisteth: neither is that foundation able to bear up the weight of the kingdom of heaven, but is rather the thing which is builded upon the foundation; which foundation is Jesus Christ, according as we are taught of St. Paul, saying, "No man can lay any other foundation beside that which is laid, Christ Jesus," &c.

But this ancient foundation, with the old ancient church of Christ, as I said, hath been now of long time forsaken; and instead thereof, a new church with a new foundation hath been erected and framed, not upon God's promise, and his free grace in Christ Jesus, nor upon free justification by faith, but upon merits and deserts of men's working. And hereof have they planted all these their new devices, so infinite, that they cannot well be numbered; as masses-trecenaries, dirges, obsequies, matins, and hours-singing-service, vigils, midnight-rising, bare-foot-going, fish-tasting, Lent-fast, ember-fast, stations, rogations, jubilees, advocation of saints, praying to images, pilgrimage-walking, works of supererogation, application of merits, orders, rules, sects of religion, vows of chastity, wilful poverty, pardons, relations, indulgencies, penance, and satisfaction, with auricular confession, founding of abbeys, building of chapels, giving to churches: and who is able to recite all their laborious buildings, falsely framed upon a wrong ground; and all for ignorance of the true foundation, which is the free justification by faith in Christ Jesus the Son of God.

Moreover to note, that as this new-found Church of Rome was thus deformed in doctrine, so no less was it corrupted in order of life and deep hypocrisy, doing all things only under pretences and dissembled titles. So, under the pretence of Peter's chair, they exercised a majesty above emperors and kings. Under the visor of their vowed chastity, reigned adultery; under the yoke of professed poverty, they possessed the goods of the temporalty; under the title of being dead unto the world, they not only reigned in the world, but also ruled the world; under the colour of the keys of heaven to hang under their girdle, they brought all the states of the world under their girdle, and crept not only into the purses of men, but also into their consciences. They heard their confessions; they knew their secrets; they dispensed as they were disposed, and loosed what them listed. And finally, when they had brought the whole world under their subjections, yet did their pride neither cease to ascend, neither could their avarice be ever satisfied. And if the example of Cardinal Wolsey and other cardinals and popes cannot satisfy thee, I beseech thee, gentle reader! turn over the aforesaid book of "the Ploughman's Tale" in Chaucer, above-mentioned, where thou shalt understand much more of their demeanour than I have here described.

In these so blind and miserable corrupt days of darkness and ignorance, thou seest, good reader! I doubt not, how necessary it was, and high time, that reformation of the church should come, which now most happily and graciously began to work, through the merciful and no less needful providence of Almighty God; who, although he suffered his church to wander and start aside, through the seduction of pride and prosperity a long time, yet at length it pleased his goodness to respect his people, and to reduce his church into the pristine foundation and frame again, from whence it was piteously decayed. Whereof I have now consequently to treat; intending by the grace of Christ to declare how, and by what means this reformation of the church first began, and how it proceeded, increasing by little and little unto this perfection which now we see, and more I trust shall see.

And herein we have first to behold the admirable work of God's wisdom. For as the first decay and ruin of the church before began of rude ignorance, and lack of knowledge in teachers; so, to restore the church again by doctrine and learning, it pleased God to open to man the art of printing, the time whereof was shortly after the burning of Huss and Jerome. Printing being opened, incontinently ministered unto the church the instruments and tools of learning and knowledge; which were good books and authors which before lay hid and unknown. The science of printing being found, immediately followed the grace of God; which stirred up good wits aptly to conceive the light of knowledge and of judgment: by which light darkness began to be espied, and ignorance to be detected; truth from error, religion from superstition, to be discerned, as is above more largely discoursed, where was touched the invention of printing.

Furthermore, after these wits stirred up of God, other more, increasing daily more and more in science, in tongues, and perfection of knowledge; who now were able not only to discern in matters of judgment, but also were so armed and furnished with the help of good letters, that they did encounter also with the adversary, sustaining the cause and defence of learning against barbarity; of verity against error; of true religion against superstition. In number of whom, against many other here unnamed, were Picus, and Franciscus Mirandula, Laurentius Valla, Franciscus Petrarcha, Doctor de Wesalia, Revelinus, Grocinus, Doctor Colet, Rhenamus, Erasmus, &c. And here began the first push and assault to be given against the ignorant and barbarous faction of the pope's pretended church; who, after that, by their learned writings and laborious travail, they had opened a window of light unto the world, and had made, as it were, a way more ready for others to come after; immediately, according to God's gracious appointment, followed Martin Luther, with other after him; by whose ministry it pleased the Lord to work a more full reformation of his church, as by their acts and proceedings hereafter shall follow (Christ willing) more amply to be declared.

And now coming to the time and story of Martin Luther, whom the Lord did ordain and appoint to be the principal organ and minister under him, to reform religion; to subvert the see of the pope; first, before we enter into the tractation hereof, it shall not be impertinent to the purpose, to infer such prophecies and forewarnings as were sent before of God, by divers and sundry good men, long before the time of Luther, which foretold and prophesied of this reformation of the church to come.

 

Prophecies going before Martin Luther.

And first to begin with the prophecy of John Huss and Jerome, it is both notable, and also before mentioned, what the said John Huss, at the time of his burning, prophesied unto his enemies, saying: That after "a hundred years come and gone, they should give account to God and to him." Where is to be noted, that counting from the year 1415, (in the which year John Huss was burned,) or from the year 1416, (when Jerome did suffer,) unto the year 1516, (when Martin Luther began first to write,) we shall find the number of a hundred years expired.

Likewise to this may be adjoined the prophetical vision or dream, which chanced to the said John Huss, lying in the dungeon of the Friars in Constance, a little before he was burned. His dream, as he himself reporteth it in his epistles writing to Master John Clum, and as I have also before recorded the same, so will I now repeat the same again, in like effect of words as he wrote it himself in Latin, the effect of which Latin is this:

"I pray you expound to me the dream which I had this night. I saw that in my church at Bethlehem (whereof I was parson) they desired and laboured to abolish all the images of Christ, and did abolish them. I, the next day following, rose up, and saw many other painters, who painted both the same, and many more images, and more fair, which I was glad to behold. Whereupon the painters, with the great multitude of the people, said, Now let the bishops and priests come, and put us out these images if they can. Which thing done, much people rejoiced in Bethlehem, and I with them. And rising up, I felt myself to laugh."

This dream Master John of Clum first expounded. Then he, in the next epistle after, expounded it himself to this effect:

"The commandment of God standing, that we must observe no dreams, yet, notwithstanding, I trust that the life of Christ was painted in Bethlehem by me, through his word, in the hearts of men; the which preaching they went about in Bethlehem to destroy, first, in commanding that no preaching should be, neither in the church of Bethlehem, nor in the chapels thereby: secondly, that the church of Bethlehem should be thrown down to the ground. The same life of Christ shall be painted up again by more preachers much better than I, and after a much more better sort, so that a great number of people shall rejoice thereat; all such as love the life of Christ: and also I shall rejoice myself, at what time I shall awake, that is, when I shall rise again from the dead."

Also in his forty-eighth epistle he seemeth to have a like prophetical meaning, where he saith; that he trusted that those things, which he spake then within the house, should afterwards be preached above on the house-top, &c.

And because we are here in hand with the prophecies of John Huss, it is not to be omitted what he writeth in a certain treatise, De Sacerdotum et Monachorum carnalium abominatione, thus prophesying of the reformation of the church.

"The church," he saith, "cannot be reduced to his former dignity, and reformed, before all things first be made new (the truth whereof appeareth by the temple of Solomon); as well the clergy and priests, as also the people and laity. Or else, except all such as now be addicted to avarice, from the least to the most, be first converted and renewed, as well the people as the clerks and priests, things cannot be reformed. Albeit, as my mind now giveth me, I believe rather the first, that is, that then shall rise a new people, formed after the new man, which is created after God. Of the which people, new clerks and priests shall come forth and be taken, who all shall hate covetousness and glory of this life, labouring to a heavenly conversation. Notwithstanding, all these things shall be done and wrought in continuance and order of time, dispensed of God for the same purpose. And this God doth, and will do, of his own goodness and mercy, and for the riches of his patience and sufferance, giving time and space of repentance to them that have long lain in their sins, to amend and flee from the face of the Lord's fury, until at length all shall suffer together, and until both the carnal people, and priests, and clerks, in process and order of time, shall fall away and be consumed, as is the cloth consumed and eaten of the moth," &c.

With this prophecy of John Huss above-mentioned, speaking of the hundred years, accordeth also the testimony of Jerome, his fellow martyr, in these words: "And I cite you all to answer before the most high and just Judge, after a hundred years."

This Jerome was burnt, A.D. 1416; and Luther began to write, A.D. 1516, which was just a hundred years, according to the right account of Jerome's prophecy.

Philip Melancthon, in his Apology, testifieth of one John Hilton, a monk in Thuringia, who, for speaking against certain abuses of the place and order where he lived, was cast into prison. At length being weak and feeble through imprisonment, he sent for the warden of the convent, desiring and beseeching him to have some respect of his woeful state and pitiful case. The warden rebuking and accusing him for what he had done and spoken; he answered again and said, That he had spoken nothing which might be prejudicial or hurtful to their monkery, or against their religion: but there should come one, (and assigned the year 1516,) who should utterly subvert all monkery, and they should never be able to resist him, &c.

Long it were to induce here all prophecies that be read in histories: certain I mind briefly to touch and pass over. And first to omit the revelations of Briget, (whereunto I do not much attribute,) who, prophesying of the destruction of Rome, Book iv. cap. 17, saith:

"Rome shall be scoured and purged with three things -- with sword, fire, and the plough. Resembling, moreover, the said Church of Rome to a plant removed out of the old place into a new: also to a body condemned by a judge to have the skin flayed off; the blood to be drawn from the flesh; the flesh to be cut out in pieces; and the bones thereof to be broken; and all the marrow to be squeezed out from the same; so that no part thereof remain whole and perfect," &c.

But to these speculations of Briget I give no great respect, as neither I do to the predictions of Katharine de Senis.

And yet, notwithstanding, Antoninus, writing of the same Katharine in his third part, reciteth her words thus (prophesying of the reformation of the church) to Friar Reymund, her ghostly father:

"By these tribulations," saith she "God, after a secret manner unknown to man, shall purge his holy church; and after those things shall follow such a reformation of the holy church of God, and such a renovation of the holy pastors, that only the cogitation and remembrance thereof maketh my spirit to rejoice in the Lord. And, as I have oftentimes told you heretofore, the spouse, which is now all deformed and ragged, shall be adorned and decked with most rich and precious ouches and brooches; and all the faithful shall be glad and rejoiced to see themselves so beautified with so holy pastors. Yea, and also the infidels, then allured by the sweet savour of Christ, shall return to the catholic fold, and be converted to the true Bishop and Shepherd of their souls. Give thanks therefore to God; for after this storm he will give a great calm." &c.

Of the authority of this prophetess I have not to affirm or judge, but rather to hear what the catholic judges will say of this their own saint and prophet. For if they do not credit her spirit of prophecy, why then do they authorize her for a pure saint among the sisters of dear St. Dominic? If they warrant her prophecy, let them say then, When was this glorious reformation of the church ever true, or like to be true, if it be not true now, in this marvellous alteration of the church in these our latter days? or when was there any such conversion of Christian people in all countries ever heard of, since the apostles' time, as hath been since the preaching of Martin Luther?

Of Hieronimus Savonarola I wrote before, showing that he prophesied, that one should pass over the Alps, like to Cyrus, who should subvert and destroy all Italy: which may well be applied to God's word, and the gospel of Christ, spreading now abroad since Luther's time.

Theodoric, bishop of Croatia, lived near about the time when Huss and Jerome were martyred; who, in the end of his prophetical verses, which are extant in print, declareth,

"That the see of Rome, which is so horribly polluted with simony and avarice, shall fall, and no more oppress men with tyranny, as it hath done, and that it shall be subverted by its own subjects; and that the church and true piety shall flourish again more than ever it did before."

Noviomagus testifieth, that he, A.D. 1620, heard Ostendorpius, a canon of Daventer, say, that when he was a young man, Doctor Weselus, a Friesian, which was then an old man, told him, that he should live to see this new school divinity of Scotus, Aquinas, and Bonaventure, to be utterly forsaken and exploded of all true Christians.

In a book of Charles Boville, mention is made of a certain vision which one Nicholas, a hermit of Helvetia, had; in which vision he saw the pope's head crowned with three swords proceeding from his face, and three swords coming towards it. This vision is also printed in the books of Martin Luther, with his preface before it.

Nicholas Medler, being of late superintendent of Brunswick, affirmed and testified,

"That he heard and knew a certain priest in his country, which told the priests there, that they laid aside Paul under their desks and pews; but the time would come, when Paul should come abroad, and drive them under the desks and dark stalls, where they should not appear," &c.

Matthius Flaccius, in the end of his book entitled, De Testibus Veritatis, speaketh of one Michael Stifelius:

This Michael, being an old man, told him, that he heard the priests and monks say many times, by old prophecies, that a violent reformation must needs come against them: and also that the said Michael heard Conrad Stifelius his father many times declare the same: who also, for the great hatred he bare against this filthy sect of monks and priests, told to one Peter Pirer, a friend and neighbour of his, that he should live and see the day; and therefore desired him, that when the day came, besides those priests which he should kill for himself, he would kill one priest more for his sake.

This Stifelius thought, belike, that this reformation should be wrought by outward violence, and force of sword; but he was therein deceived; although the adversary useth all forcible means, and violent tyranny, yet the proceeding of the gospel always beginneth with peace and quietness.

In the table of Amersham men I signified a little before, how one Haggar of London, speaking of this reformation to come, declared, that the priests should make battle, and have the upper hand a while, but shortly they should be vanquished and overthrown for ever.

In the time of Pope Alexander the Sixth, and about A.D. 1500, as is before specified, the high angel which stood on the top of the pope's church and castle of St. Angelo, was thrown down with a terrible thunder into the river Tiber: whereby might seem to be declared the ruin and fall of the popedom.

To this may be adjoined, which in certain chronicles, and in John Bale, is recorded; which saith, that in the year of our Lord 1516, (which was the same year when Martin Luther began,) Pope Leo the Tenth did create one and thirty cardinals: in the which year and day of their creation, there fell a tempest of thunder and lightning in Rome, which so struck the church where the cardinals were made, that it removed the little child Jesus out of the lap of his mother, and the keys out of St. Peter's hand: which thing many then did interpret to signify and foreshow the subversion and alteration of the see of Rome.

Hitherto pertaineth also a strange portent and a prodigious token from heaven, A.D. 1505, in the which year, under the reign of Maximilian the emperor, there appeared in Germany, upon the vestures of men, as well of priests as laymen; upon women's garments also, and upon their rocks as they were spinning, divers prints and tokens of the nails, of the sponge, of the spear, of the Lord's coat, and of bloody crosses, &c.: all which were seen upon their caps and gowns, as is most certainly testified and recorded by divers which both did see, and also did write upon the same. Of whom first was Maximilian the emperor, who both had and showed the same to Franciscus Mirandula, who wrote thereupon a book in Latin metre called Staurosticon.

Of this also writeth John Carion, Functius, Philip Melancthon, Flaccius, with divers other more. These marks and tokens, as they were very strange, so they were diversely expounded of many; some thinking that they portended affliction and persecution of the church to draw near; some, that God by that token did admonish them, or foreshowed unto them the true doctrine of their justification, which only is to be sought in the cross and passion of Christ, and in no other thing. This I marvel, that Christianus Masseus, and others of that profession, do leave it out. Belike they saw something in it that made not to their liking. For, whether it signifieth persecution to come upon the Germans, they cannot be evil that suffer and bear the cross with Christ: or whether it signifieth the true doctrine of Christ coming to the Germans, it cannot otherwise be, but that the doctrine of the bishop of Rome must needs be wrong, which is contrary to this which God hath stirred up in Germany.

By these and such-like prophecies, it is evident to understand, the time not to be far off, when God, of his determinate providence, was disposed to reform and to restore his church. And not only by those prophecies the same might well appear, but also, and much rather, by the hearts of the people at that time; whose minds were so incensed and inflamed with hatred against the pomp and pride of Rome, both through all nations, and especially the people of Germany, that it was easy to perceive the time was near at hand, when the pride of popish prelacy would have a fall. Such disdain there was, such contempt and derision began to rise on every side then, against the pope and the court of Rome, that it might soon appear, by the hearts of the people, that God was not disposed to have it long stand.

For neither were their detestable doings so secret, that men did not see them, neither did any man behold them, having any sparkle of godliness, that could abide them. And thereupon grew these proverbs to their derision, in every country, as in Germany it hath been a proverb amongst them.

 

"What is this, to see the world now round about,
That for these shaveling priests no man that once may rout?"

"As soon as a clerk is shorn into his order, by and by the devil entereth into him."

"In the name of God, beginneth all evil;" alluding to the pope's bulls, which commonly so begin.

"Item, When bulls come from Rome, bind well your purses."

"The nearer Rome, the farther from Christ."

"Item, He that goeth once to Rome, seeth a wicked man:

"He that goeth twice, learneth to know him:

"He that goeth thrice, bringeth him home with him."

"Item, The court of Rome never regardeth the sheep without the wool."

"Once were wooden chalices, and golden priests: "Now we have golden chalices, and wooden priests."

"Once Christian men had blind churches, and light hearts:

"Now they have blind hearts, and light churches."

"Item, Many are worshipped for saints in heaven, whose souls be burning in hell."

In France, Gallus Senonensis, writeth four hundred years ago, that amongst them it was an old saying, "That Satan was let loose at Rome to destroy the whole church."

Thomas Becket himself, in his time, writing to the college of cardinals, denieth it not but to be a common word both through town and city, "That there is no right in Rome."

To these may be adjoined also the A, B, C, which we find in the margin of a certain old register to be attributed to William Thorpe, whose story we have comprehended before.

 

"Awake, ye ghostly persons, awake, awake,
Both priest, pope, bishop, and cardinal!
Consider wisely, what ways ye take,
Dangerously being like to have a fall.
Every where the mischief of you all,
Far and near, breaketh out very fast;
God will needs be revenged at the last.
How long have ye the world captived,
In sore bondage of men's traditions?
Kings and emperors ye have deprived,
Lewdly usurping their chief possessions:
Much misery ye make in all regions.
Now your frauds be almost at their latter cast,
Of God sore to be revenged at the last.
Poor people to oppress ye have no shame,
Quaking for fear of your double tyranny.
Rightful justice ye have put out of frame,
Seeking the lust of your god, the belly.
Therefore I dare you boldly certify,
Very little though you be thereof aghast,
Yet God will be revenged at the last."

By these and such-like sayings, which may be collected innumerable, it may soon be seen what hearts and judgments the people had in those days of the Romish clergy; which thing, no doubt, was of God as a secret prophecy, that shortly religion should be restored; according as it came to pass about this present time, when Dr. Martin Luther first began to write; after Picus Mirandula, and Laurentius Valla, and last of all Erasmus of Rotterdam, had somewhat broken the way before, and had shaken the monks' houses. But Luther gave the stroke, and plucked down the foundation, and all by opening one vein, long hid before, wherein lieth the touchstone of all truth and doctrine, as the only principal origin of our salvation, which is, our free justifying by faith only, in Christ the Son of God. The laborious travails, and the whole process, and the constant preachings of this worthy man, because they are sufficiently declared in the history of John Sleiden, I shall the less need to stay long thereupon; but only to run over some principal matters of his life and acts, as they are briefly collected by Philip Melancthon.

 

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