It wasn’t just city life, beer and faulty internet connections that got under this monk’s robe. It was also the church. Martin Luther did not much care for his coworkers. He saw most of Rome’s priests as corrupt functionaries of a papacy concerned with one thing – MAKING MONEY.
At this point in its history, the Catholic Church was acting more like a political power than an agent of the Good News. Wars needed to be waged. Land needed to be grabbed. Churches needed to be built. Money needed to be raised… a lot of it. But how?
Like a flexible CEO looking to develop new revenue, Pope Leo X decided it was time to get proactive on sin. He decided to sell indulgences. In Monopoly terms indulgences are “GET OUT OF JAIL” cards. In Catholic terms, those with the ability to pay in cash, gold, land or shares of Wittenberg beer could receive a writ from the pope stating, “YOU NO LONGER HAVE TO MAKE SATISFACTION FOR YOU SINS. HAVE FUN IN AMSTERDAM!”
Sin without remorse is a shaky enterprise, but more bizarre is how the system worked. The Catholic leaders explained a scenario where Jesus and the saints so pleased God with their exemplary lives they were bestowed extra merits of good will, much the way modern business men and woman accumulate frequent flyer miles. Since Jesus and the saints were already in heaven, the Pope had the authority to dip into this celestial treasure and apply credits to those in the rear, provided they had equivalent tender.
If this sounds like a scam, it’s a good one. In fact there were pitchmen sent to all the cities of Europe to pedal this certificate.
Needless to say, Luther hated indulgences. He believed God needed to be feared not paid off. Pope Leo wanted a pyramid scheme. Luther wanted a more direct relationship. Retail? Wholesale? A feud broke out between the monk from Wittenberg and the Pope in Rome. The Pope may have had all the weight of the Catholic empire, but Luther had something more – German stubbornness.
Needless to say, Pope Leo did not care for Luther and Luther’s pronouncement that the pope was a big nincompoop. Pope Leo excommunicated Luther with a papal document known as a bull. Not only would Luther be banned from the Catholic Church, he would now have to pay taxes, possibly serve in the military, lose a housing subsidy and worse of all, he would have to do his own laundry. Oh, there was also the threat of death. To silence his arch-critic, Pope Leo in essence put a hit on Luther. It was every Catholic’s duty to burn Luther at the stake.
But before the bonfire, Luther was given one last chance to recant his belief at The Diet of Worms. (Kind of like a Native American Pow Wow for Catholics.)
Still thinking the Pope a plank of wood, Luther refused: “I cannot and will not recant anything. The pope can take his bull and shove it.”
At the end of the diet, Emperor Charles at the behest of Pope Leo signed a document making Luther an unprotected outlaw. But being a good sport, Charles turned around, counted to fifty and gave Luther a head start.
Before Luther could get into any further trouble, two horsemen, under the direction of the nobleman, Junker Georg, seized, blindfolded and whisked Luther to an abandoned castle where he was told to exchange his robe for nightly gear, grow a beard and go by the name Larry.
The ten months in seclusion were meant to take the heat out of Luther’s rhetoric. He still wrote and took long walks. He found it difficult to fight off a lonely melancholy, writing, “I sit here like a fool hardened in leisure and yet in this 218 room castle I cannot find one ping pong table.”
It was time to do something else.