Jerome Emser, son of a Swabian nobleman, whose escutcheon—the head of a goat topping a helmet and adorning a shield—he proudly placed on the title-page of his books, was secretary to Duke George of Saxony at Leipzig, and for his faithful services to his master had received the award of two prebends, at Dresden and at Meissen, with residence at Dresden.
His study of law and theology had been pursued at Tubingen and Basel; as private secretary to Cardinal Raymund von Gurk he had traveled extensively in Germany and Italy. Before he entered the service of Duke George he obtained the master’s degree at Erfurt and lectured at the university for a season, where, according to a statement of his own, Luther himself was among his students. f382 When Luther in 1518, shortly after the publication of his 95 Theses, came to Dresden in company with John Lang, vicar of the Augustinians in Saxony, on matters pertaining to the order, Emser insisted on their attendance at a social gathering at his home. It was not altogether pleasant; one of the guests denounced Luther’s stand on indulgences and Luther gained the impression that the insult had been prearranged. When Luther and Emser met again in Leipzig, six months later, Emser asserted vehemently that there was no sinister intention in his invitation at Dresden.
A third meeting of the two occurred after another interval of six months, during the disputation at Leipzig, when those words fell from Luther’s lips which are explained at length in the second of the writings here translated.
It was Luther’s public utterance on July 5, 1519, in the course of his debate with Eck at Leipzig, that not all the teachings of Hus, condemned by the Council of Constance, were heretical, which gave rise to the controversy of which the three writings of Luther herewith given are a part. The very same month two of the clergy in Prague, John Poduska and Wenzel Rozdalowsky, wrote to Luther expressing their approval and assuring him that many prayers were rising for him night and day in Bohemia. Though Luther did not see these letters until October, their contents were known early in August. Directly upon his return to Dresden, Emser, on August 13th, wrote a letter in Latin to the administrator of the archbishopric of Prague, the provost of Leitmeritz, John Zack, which he immediately published, in which he seemingly defends Luther against the boasting of the Hussites that they had found a patron in him, and pities him if he would rely upon the damnable prayers of heretics. This alternation of defense and pity, leaving the reader quite in doubt as to Luther’s position, together with a fulsome praise of Eck, and perhaps the memory of Dresden as well, roused Luther to an immediate reply, in Latin, which he addressed to “Wild-goat Emser,” a designation caused by the coat of arms which graced the title-page of Emser’s published letter. This reply was unsparing with invective, yet revealed Luther’s fortitude in his declared determination to stand by his statements made in Leipzig even if he should be stigmatized a Hussite.
Though Emser countered with a “Defence against Luther’s Chase,” in which he declares that now “he begins to suspect who is the father of this child, that is to say, Luther’s implacable hatred of the pope,” namely, the fact that Luther and his order did not share in the profits of the sale of the indulgences, Luther did not deign to reply to such arguments; nor did he consider it necessary to notice Eck’s assistance to his friend Emser. f385 The next year, 1520, marked the appearance of the Open letter to the Christian Nobi1ity. This caused Emser, who considered himself the chosen defender of the papacy, to renew the controversy in his elaborate Answer to the unchristian Book of the Augustinian Martin Luther addressed to the German Nobi1ity. Before it appeared, however, someone transmitted the first sheet to Luther, who decided upon an immediate rejoinder, even before the complete book was published. He was doubtless spurred on by his suspicion that Duke George was the real motive power back of Emser’s pen. Fuel was added to the flame by the appearance of a Latintreatise against Luther by the Dominican Thomas Rhadinus, published in Rome in the month of August, 1520, and soon thereafter reprinted in Leipzig. Both Luther and Melanchthon were convinced that it was Emser’s work, which opinion they never changed in spite of Emser’s emphatic denial. So Luther, early in January, 1521, sent his greeting to the Leipzig goat, in the first of the writings here offered to the English reader. Its purpose is to assure Emser that he will not be permitted to remain on the arena without a battle. “Perhaps you are encouraged by the pope’s bull to hope that I shall not dare to write again, so that you can remain on the field alone, fight without opposition or danger, and come out victorious with your pretensions .... Take notice, henceforth I will not remain silent, nor will I let you defile the Holy Scriptures with your goat’s snout.”
Emser replied at once, before his larger treatise appeared, addressing himself To the Wittenberg Bull. In his endeavor to discredit Luther he declares: “Three times I gave you a brotherly warning and begged you, for God’s sake, to spare the poor folk to whom you are giving such great offense by this affair, and you gave your final answer in these words: ‘Let the devil care! This thing was not begun for God’s sake and shall not stop for God’s sake!’” We do not wonder at Luther’s ire, in the heat of which he thrusts back immediately in the second of the writings here presented, the Reply to the Answer of the Leipzig Goat, in which he exposes this lie and explains the incident at Leipzig.
An interesting question in connection with this treatise is its dedication to H. E., probably the person who had sent Emser’s tirade against the Wittenberg Bull to Luther. For the conjecture of Buchwald that the initials stand for Hieronymus Emser, Luther playfully regarding his enemy against whom he writes as his friend to whom he dedicates his little treatise, is quite improbable and has not met with favor. Seidemann, f390 Enders, and Thiele unite in designating Haugold von Einsiedel as the friend whom Luther addressed, and explain his use of the initials by the fact that the Einsiedel domicile was under the jurisdiction of Duke George, Emser’s friend and Luther’s enemy.
Emser’s main treatise in this controversy, entitled Against the unchristian Book of the Augustinian monk Martin Luther addressed to the German Nobility, came into the hands of the Wittenbergers in the beginning of February, 1521. Luther prepared a reply which was in print by the end of March. It is the Answer to the Superchristian, Superspiritual, and Superlearned Book of Goat Emser of Leipzig, the third of the treatises here offered in English dress.
In this reply Luther does not trouble to defend himself against all the attacks of Emser, who had put a large part of his book in the form of a dialogue, quoting sentence after sentence from the Address to the Nobility and introducing himself as speaking in opposition in each case. Luther goes straight to the fundamental difference between them, the sole authority of Holy Scripture in matters of faith and the right exposition of the Scripture according to its grammatical sense. Over against Emser’s position, that he would fight with the sword—i.e., the word of Scripture—but that he would not permit it to remain in the scabbard of the word sense, but use the naked blade of the spiritual, secret sense, Luther, in the most important section of his Answer, under the subtitle “The Letter and the Spirit,” utters the foundationprinciples of Protestant exegesis, a position which was by no means new for him, being clearly discernible in the newly discovered commentary on the Romans from the years 1515-1516. f393 In an appendix to this treatise Luther also replies to the attacks of another opponent, the Strassburg friar, Thomas Murner, whom he terms a comrade of Emser because he likewise fortifies his case with tradition and not with Scripture. Of the thirty-two books he wrote against Luther not more than six or seven saw publication. Three of these had appeared in November and December, 1520; the first directed against Luther’s Treatise on the New Testament, the second against The Papacy at Rome, and the third against the Open Letter to the Nobility. Luther at first thought it quite unnecessary to answer and finally decided to dispose of Murner by adding a few pages to his book against Emser, though he is less severe in his treatment of Murner: “I do not discover so many lies in you.” Luther takes up only two points referred to in the first two of Murner’s treatises; he defends the Church as a spiritualassembly against Murner’s scoffing and opposes the interpretation of Matthew 16:18 as relating to the pope.
The subsequent stages of the controversy with Emser were barren of theological results. Emser’s Quadruplica appeared promptly in answer to Luther, and some months later Luter replied, ironically granting a two-fold priesthood as Emser desired on the basis of 1 Peter 2:9, but following this with the true explanation of the passage. Emser understood Luther’s jesting so little that he came again with another pamphlet, accepting Luther’s revocation and accusing him of gross inconsistency. Luther never replied. Every important publication of Luther thereafter called forth a disquisition from Emser’s busy pen, only to be met with disdain by the great warrior. Emser’s controversial activity was ended only by his sudden death at Dresden, November 8, 1527.
The brilliant and keen power of analysis, which penetrates to the core of a proposition without circumlocution or loss of time; the mastery and love of Scripture, which casts its glow upon every page; the broad knowledge of church history and patristic literature, which enabled him to deliver blow for blow to an adversary whose chiefpride is his ability to quote the fathers; the native humor, which never fails to restore his equilibrium when the “lies” and meannesses of his opponent arouse his ire; the style of warfare, which stamps him as a child of his age and reminds of his heritage as a miner’s son: they are all found in these writings, which gushed from his pen in incredible time, the longest requiring but several weeks between its inception and its appearance in print.
One of the companion volumes for the reader ought to be Augustine’s De spiritu et litera, with which Luther was evidently thoroughly familiar.
Striking passages in both Augustine’s and Luther’s discussion of the subject show remarkable similarity, without slavish dependence of the latter on the former. Luther was an Augustinian here,—in spirit as well as in name.
Literature .—The entire literature of the controversy in 1521 is given in Luther and Emser, ihre Streitschriften aus dem Jahre 1521 herausgegeben von Ludwig Enders, Halle, vols. 1 and 2, 1890 and 1892. See also the introductions in Weimar Ed., 7, pp. 259 f., 266 f., 614 ff.; 8, 241 ff. Also 2, 655 ff. Numerous references are found in Luther’s letters as given by DeWette, Luthers Briefwechsel, 1, 542 ff; Enders, Luthers Briefwechsel, 3, 30, 70 ff. Compare also Kostlin-Kawerau, 1, 259 ff., 395 ff.; Gustav Kawerau, Hieronymus Emser, Halle, 1898; Waldemar Kawerau, Thomas Murner und die deutsche Reformation, Halle, 1891; Berlin Ed., 4, 1; Realencyk., 5, 339ff.; 13, 569 ff; 23, 391. A. STEIMLE. ALLENTOWN,PA.