Introduction

I have often joined in the laughter when some one offered the dogs a bit of bread on the point of a knife and when they snapped at it, rapped them on the muzzle with the handle, so that the poor dogs not only lost the bread, but had the pain beside. It was a good joke, but I never thought, at that time, that the devil would have that kind of a joke on us men and take us for such poor dogs, until I found out how the most holy father, the pope, plays this same kind of a dog’s joke on Christendom in his bulls and books and daily practices; but, Lord God, with what loss to men’s souls and what mockery of the divine Majesty! That is what he is doing now with the council. The whole world has cried for and waited for it; the good emperor and the whole empire have been working for it for about twenty years; and the pope has always held out false hopes, and held off, and constantly offered it to the emperor, like a bit of bread to a dog, until he saw his time; then he raps him on the muzzle, and mocks him, as though the emperor were his fool and jumping-jack. For he now issues the third call for the council but before doing it, he sends his apostles into all lands and swears kings and princes to hold fast the pope’s doctrine. The bishops and their clergy are in agreement with this; they will yield nothing at all and will allow nothing to be reformed.

Thus the council is closed before it begins; we are to have no reforms, but everything is to keep on as it has been up to this time. Is not that a splendid council? It has not yet met, but it has already done what it was to do, if it were to begin. That is rapping the emperor on the muzzle; nay, it is overtaking the Holy Ghost and far outstripping Him. I have feared, however, — and have often written it and said it, — that they would not and could not hold a council unless they first captured the emperor, the kings, and the princes, and had them in their own hands, so that they might be altogether free to make what decrees they please, in order to strengthen their tyranny and oppress Christendom with far heavier burdens than it has ever had to bear before.

In God’s name, if you lords, — emperor, kings, princes, — are so fond of having such worthless, damnable people trample on your faces and rap you on the muzzle, then we have to let it be done, and remember that they used to do still worse things, when they deposed kings and emperors, cursed them, drove them out, betrayed and slew them, and played the devil’s will with them. History shows this; and they think to do the same thing still.

Nevertheless, Christ will know how to find His Christendom and maintain it even against the gates of hell, though emperor and kings neither can nor will do anything toward it. He can spare their help more easily than they can spare His help. What did He have to do before emperors and kings were born? And what would He have to do now, if there were no emperors and kings, even though a world full of devils raged against Him? He is not unused to sour food, and He can cook food that is sourer still; woe to them that must eat it!

But we poor, weak Christians, whom these saints call heretics, ought to be glad and happy. We ought joyfully to praise and thank God, the Father of all mercy, that He takes our part so heartily, and smites our murderers and blood-dogs with such Egyptian blindness and Jewish craziness that they propose to yield on no point, however small, and prefer to let Christendom be destroyed rather than allow the smallest of the idolatries (of which they are full) to be reformed. This is their boast; and they fulfill it, too. I say, we should be glad; for this way they make our case better than we had ever asked, and their own case worse than they now think. They know and confess that, on many points, they are wrong, and have the Scriptures and God against them besides; and yet they would force their way through against God, and knowingly defend wrong as right. In this confidence, a poor Christian ought to go to the Sacrament, even without confession, and risk a hundred necks, if he had them, when he sees so plainly that God reigns on our side, and the devil on theirs.

We have now seen the final conclusion of the future Council at Vicenza and the strict verdict of the last council, (or that which must be regarded as such). It is to the effect that all the world must despair of a reformation of the Church. The matter cannot be given a hearing, but they would rather (as they boast) allow Christendom to be destroyed; in other words, they would rather have the devil himself as god and lord, than have Christ and lay aside even a little of their idolatry. Not satisfied with that, they would compel us poor Christians, with the sword, to join knowingly in their worship of the devil and blasphemy of Christ. Such a defiance no history records and no age has known. Other tyrants have the poor honor of crucifying the Lord of Majesty unknowingly, as do the Turks, heathen, and Jews; but here are men who under Christ’s name, and as Christians, nay, as the highest of Christians, puff themselves up and arm themselves against Christ, and say, — “We know that Christ’s words and deeds are against us; nevertheless, we will not endure His Word or yield to it, but He must yield to us and endure our idolatry; and yet we will be Christians, and be known as such.”

Thus the pope, with his followers, refuses to hold a council and will neither reform the Church nor contribute advice or assistance to a reformation, but would defend his tyranny by force, and let the Church be destroyed.

Therefore we, whom the pope has so sadly deserted, can do nothing else than go elsewhere for advice and help, and begin by seeking and praying a reformation from our Lord Christ. For because of these abandoned tyrants, who compel us to despair of a council and a reformation, we must not despair of Christ, or leave the Church without advice or help; but we must do what we can, and let them go to the devil, as they desire.

By this they loudly testify against themselves that they are true antichrists and autocatacrites who condemn themselves and obstinately desire to be condemned. Thus they exclude themselves from the Church, and openly proclaim that they are, and will continue to be, the Church’s worst enemies. For he who says that he would rather that the Church should be destroyed than that he should let himself be improved, or should yield on any point, confesses thereby that he is not only no Christian and does not want to be in the Church (which he would allow to be destroyed, in order that he might remain, and not be destroyed with the Church), but also that he will do what he can for the destruction of the Church. They offer terrible proof of this, not only in such words as these, but also in their deeds, letting so many hundred parishes go to wrack, and churches go to ruin, without shepherds, sermons, and sacraments.

In ancient days the bishops and, indeed, any Christian (as today), let themselves be tortured, and went to death with thankfulness and joy for their dear Church, and Christ went to death for His Church, in order that it might continue and be preserved. But the pope and his followers now declare that the Church must go to death for them, so that they may continue in their tyranny, idolatry, knavery, and all rascality. What think you of these fellows? They would remain; the Church shall be destroyed.

What are we going to do about it? But if the Church is to be destroyed, then Christ must first be destroyed; for it is built on Him, as on a rock, against the gates of hell. And if Christ is to be destroyed, God Himself must first be destroyed; for it is He who laid this rock and foundation. Now who could guess that these lords had such great power that the Church and Christ and God Himself must so easily go down before their threats? They must be far, far mightier than the gates of hell and all the devils, for the Church has remained, and must remain, in spite of them.

They cry out, I say, that they will not be the Church, or in the Church, but will be the Church’s worst enemies and help destroy it. Nevertheless they have plagued us and nagged us with the word, “Church, Church.” They have shouted and spit it out, without measure and without end, that they are to be considered the Church, and they have made us out heretics and cursed us and slain us, because we would not listen to them as though they were the Church. Now, I verily think, we are honorably and mightily absolved, and that they will not and cannot call us heretics anymore, since they do not want to be lauded as the Church, but, as enemies of the Church, want it to go to destruction, and even to help suppress it. For to be the Church and, at the same time, to let the Church be destroyed rather than be destroyed themselves, or have a hair’s-breadth of themselves destroyed, — those two things do not fit. That settles it — Ex ore tuo te judico, serve nequam. If the Last Day were not close at hand it would be small wonder if heaven and earth were to fall at such blasphemy. The fact that God can tolerate such things as this is a sign that the Day is not far off. And yet they laugh at that, unmindful that they have made God out to be blind, crazy, mad, and foolish, and they think that their doings are wise and manly. I, too, would be as care-free as they are, if I regarded only their raging; but the wrath of God, which is shown upon them, terrifies me sorely, and it is high time that we all wept and prayed earnestly, as Christ did over Jerusalem, when He bade the women weep not for Him, but for themselves and their children.

For they do not believe that the time of their visitation is near, and they will not believe it, even though they see it, hear it, smell it, taste it, touch it, and feel it.

Now how are we to attack this thing? The pope will neither give us a true council nor permit a reformation, but he and his will let the Church be destroyed. Thus he has turned himself out of the Church so that he may remain, and not be destroyed in the Church or with it. He is out; he has bidden the Church good-bye. How, I say, are we to attack this thing? How are we to proceed, since we must do it without the pope? For we are the Church, or in the Church, which the papists would let go to destruction in order that they may remain. But we, too, would like to remain and do not intend to go down so miserably, with our Lord Christ and His Father, the God of us all, before the defiance of the papists. Yet we feel that there is need for a council or reformation in the Church, because we see such gross abuses that, even if we were oxen and asses, and not men or Christians, and could not observe these things with eyes or ears, we must, nevertheless, feel them with paws and claws, and trip over them. Suppose that we, the transitory Church, were ourselves to hold a council against the abiding lords, without the pope and without their consent, and to undertake a reformation which the abiding junkers would consider very transitory, but which they would have to put up with!

But we shall now get down to the matter, since we have lost our most holy head, the pope, and will have to take such counsel with ourselves as our Lord may grant us.