At the conclusion of Luther’s trial before the Diet of Worms, he was allowed to return to his lodging to await the verdict, which he had been told would be handed down within twenty-four hours. Luther awoke the following morning in his sparsely furnished accommodations a troubled man. He hadn’t slept well. After what had transpired over the previous three days, there could be only one possible verdict. One to satisfy the doctrines of the Catholic Church. But what of Septum Montes and Luther’s role in it? He’d played his part and surely would, by some miracle, escape being burned at the stake for heresy. But how could that be achieved?
As the day wore on, Luther became more worried than ever, so much so that he could not concentrate on his work. If he were not burned at the stake, the Church would have to make a show and burn somebody else – someone who could be mistaken for him at a distance. But that would involve an innocent man going to the most horrible of deaths, something Luther could not bear to have on his conscience.
And what would become of Luther himself? He couldn’t be seen or heard in public, as he would be dead in the eyes of the wider world. He would be kept hidden somewhere for the rest of his days. But doing what? And communicating with whom? And what of his religious convictions? How would he be able to impart them? The answer came to him very quickly. He wouldn’t. He would become a prisoner of the Church, probably secreted away in Rome.
The other alternative was that having poked the hornet’s nest, as the Church had requested, he had now outlived his usefulness and would in fact be made an example of as a heretic. The fire awaited.
As he paced up and down the hard, unforgiving flagstone floor, a knock came at his door. It was a scruffy urchin employed by the owner of the hostel in which Luther was staying.
“Excuse me, sir,” he began, “there is a gentleman come to visit you.”
“Does he carry a weapon?”
“No, sir,” the worker replied. “He says he’s your brother.”
My brother? Luther thought. Jacob or James? Aware that it might be a trick, he asked, “Did he give you a name?”
“Yes, sir. He said he is called Jacob.”
Jacob, my brother. Can it really be you? How I have missed you. “Where is he now?” Luther asked.
“He’s outside, sir. I asked him to wait.”
Luther walked to the small window that gave onto the square. He opened it and peered to the right at a figure standing by the front stoop. Feeling a frisson of excitement, he turned back to the young man, still waiting outside the door. “Well, don’t just stand there gawping. Tell him to come up. And fetch us some beer.”
Meanwhile, the Council of the Diet of Worms, following a lively discussion about Luther’s fate the previous day, was back in session. Its rules required that in order to condemn Luther as a heretic, the members had to arrive at a unanimous verdict. But Prince Frederick III, who had been instrumental in granting Luther safe passage from Wittenburg to Worms for the Diet was proving difficult to persuade. He didn’t want Luther to die, thinking he could be a useful weapon for the prince in the future, as Frederick himself harbored doubts about the papacy and the Church. He could also see some grains of truth in Luther’s teachings, although he would never admit as much in public, and he wanted to see how far this strange monk, who lacked nothing in courage or spirit, was prepared to go. Frederick argued that Luther had attracted such widespread attention and support that any action taken against him could backfire and turn him into a martyr for the masses. Frederick’s last point was accepted by the rest of the Council and had taken up many hours of debate. The last thing the Church needed was a plaster saint.
Jacob entered Luther’s room. The two men strode towards each other and hugged.
“My brother, it has been too long,” Jacob said.
“My work has made me grow weary and neglectful over the months,” Luther replied. “But it is good to see you.”
The young servant brought in a jug of ale and two pewter cups.
“Off you go, boy, and close the door,” Jacob said, handing him a small coin.
In the privacy of the room, Jacob and Luther sat. “This is a most unexpected surprise,” Luther said. “I hope you are not here to bring me bad news of the family.”
Jacob smiled. “Have no fear. Our parents, our brother James and our three sisters are all enjoying good health, but naturally we are concerned about you.”
“God will protect me, just as I protected you when we were children.”
“That you did, and it is something I will never forget. Our father has a fearsome hand and a short temper, and for you to have taken those beatings on my behalf, I will be forever in your debt.”
“There are no debts within family,” Luther replied, “especially where younger brothers are concerned. I endured his wrath for seven years before you appeared on the scene, and also that of our mother, so I grew hardened to the pain he caused. But let us not talk of such things. Tell me why you are here.”
Jacob lowered his voice. “I have come to warn you. The elders of the Church want you dead. They want to see you go up in flames as a warning to others, but they are having trouble getting Prince Frederick to give his consent.”
Luther frowned. “How do you come by this information?”
Jacob lowered his voice to a whisper. “I work for the Church as a spy. To the outside world, I’m just a humble copper smelter, but the Church looks after those who bring it information that may lead to uncovering heretical thought and those who promote it.”
Luther was dismayed at what he heard. “Jacob, how could you?”
“I was coerced,” he said. “Let me explain.” He took a draft of beer before beginning his tale. “Two years ago, I was friends with some men, also copper smelters, who drank at the same local tavern. That’s all it was, I swear. We spoke of many topics, mostly our work and sometimes our families, but never religion. Then one evening, after I’d taken my leave and gone home for my evening meal, one of the men became drunk and entered into a rowdy argument with others in the tavern. The alcohol loosened his tongue and words were exchanged. Shortly after, the constables came in and arrested my friend on a charge of blasphemy. Unfortunately, when he sobered up, he couldn’t remember what he’d said, but a witness, one of the Church’s spies, said that he’d heard him disparage the pope, saying he was corrupt and greedy and cared not for his congregation. As a result, he was branded a heretic, and tried as such, resulting in his death by fire.”
Luther was appalled. “From what I myself have observed, I can tell you that your friend was by no means incorrect in his accusations. However, he chose a poor time to voice them. May God have mercy on his soul. But how does that relate to you becoming a spy?”
“A few days later,” Jacob continued, “I was at home when the front door of my house was literally taken clean off its hinges by soldiers sent from the Church. They said I was under arrest for associating with a blasphemer. I denied it, of course, because as I told you, we never spoke about religion… for precisely the reasons my friend had been tried and found guilty… it just isn’t safe to do so in public. They threw me into a dirty prison cell, where I languished for a week before being taken in front of a Church board, where I was accused of my crime. I told them all I knew and pleaded with them for my life, even getting down on my knees to beg. And I swore my innocence and allegiance to the Church. I was scared witless because I knew they wouldn’t hesitate to torture me unless I threw myself on their mercy. However, God must have heard my prayers because they said they would spare my life, but only if I agreed to join their network of spies. I readily agreed, although I have suffered with feelings of shame ever since. But honestly, Martin, what choice did I have?”
Luther nodded his understanding. “You had none, Jacob. I am sorry I judged you.”
“There are no judgments with family,” Jacob replied, a smile playing on his lips.
Luther returned the look. “You are learning fast, little brother. Let us drink to our family bond. May it grow ever stronger.”
They both raised their cups in a toast.
Jacob was first to put his cup down. “I have heard whispers from the Diet that there will be no unanimous verdict to convict you, as Prince Frederick is staunch and obstinate with his arguments.”
“But surely that is good news.”
“Yes and no. It depends on whether you think you can trust those appointed to the Council of the Diet. They may not convict you, and allow you to go free now, but they will never be far away, watching and waiting for you to slip up. You’ll know no peace and be forever looking over your shoulder. The Church moves in mysterious ways, Martin. People have been known to disappear… vanish without trace. There is no protection for you here, Martin. I implore you to return to Wittenburg with me. I have a carriage waiting. We can be on the road by nightfall. There really is no time to lose if we are to ensure your safety.”
“Give me some moments to think, Jacob,” Luther said, rising to his feet. He put his left hand to his chin and started wandering around the room, a look of intense concentration on his face.
Jacob knows nothing of Septem Montes. Should I tell him? If the papacy is true in its words to me, I shall be safe, but what if I’m just a useful piece in their elaborate game of chess… a pawn that can be sacrificed without any consequence? Can I take that chance?
Luther then ran over his thoughts from earlier that day, coming to the conclusion that if the Catholic Church could hatch such a plot as Septem Montes in order to ensure its future worldwide power and influence, thereby deceiving its millions of worshippers, then surely it would think nothing of snuffing out his life if those in power felt he’d outlived his usefulness or could be an obstacle in their way. One thing he was sure of was that the Church was not the institution many thought it to be. He’d been behind the scenes and smelt the rotten edifice for himself. Corruption, sloth, and greed abounded. Did he really want to be a part of that? Perhaps he should play them at their own game… say one thing and do another. Play his cards close to his chest and keep them guessing.
“I have made my decision,” he said, turning to face his brother. “We will leave for Wittenburg at the earliest possible moment. Perhaps it will be best at dusk, so no one will see us. That will give us a head start should they decide to follow. By tomorrow, they will have no idea where we are.”
“I’ll go and ready the carriage and horses,” Jacob replied. “Pack your belongings and I will return within the hour.”
Having nothing but his Bible and writing materials, Luther needed but a few minutes to gather his worldly possessions. With fear coursing through his veins, he dropped to his knees and prayed to God that He would grant both him and his brother safe passage back to the city they called home. Knowing he would be leaving without informing his guardian Prince Frederick III, Martin wrestled with whether or not to send word to advise the prince he was fleeing Worms. To leave without making any attempt at communication would be rude and would convey ingratitude. Martin did not want to upset the prince and be placed in his black book. But if the message fell into the wrong hands, he and his brother would likely be captured and arrested before nightfall, and then even Prince Frederick would be incapable of saving him.
Jacob could see Martin was troubled when he returned. “What ails you, brother?”
Luther explained his dilemma.
Jacob threw back his head. “There is no question,” he replied. “We must leave in secret. Prince Frederick can be informed as to your reasons at a later date. As your only friend on the Council, he will understand. He is a man of considerable mental and physical strength, not one to have his mind changed by the vagaries of the wind, no matter that it may blow hot and then cold. Come, my brother. Time is of the essence.”
The carriage was small and nondescript, very much like a hundred others in day-to-day use by the local peasantry. While Jacob sat up front to drive the two horses, Luther secreted himself in the back, under some sacks, remaining undetected as they made their way slowly out through the city gates and into the open plains. The journey to Worms had taken Luther ten days, but without the guaranteed protection of Frederick, he expected to make some diversions that would increase the length of the return. Once they were away from Worms, Jacob beckoned Luther to join him upfront on the box seat. They spoke little, only stopping to eat and drink from the supplies that Jacob had thought to bring and to answer calls of nature.
The sky was clear and the moon shone brightly, lighting their way along forest paths on the long journey north. Jacob insisted they make the most of their surprise start and put as much distance as possible between themselves and any pursuers from the Church, who would probably wait until the morning before setting out. Traveling throughout the night, they covered a considerable distance; by the time the sun rose the following morning, the horses were tired, so they were forced to stop for a few hours, recommencing their journey in the afternoon.
Over the next three days, the Luther brothers plowed on, taking turns to rest while also allowing their horses regular breaks. Jacob grew quietly more confident that they had given the Church officials the slip, but Martin remained worried. He might be safe in the tangle of forests, but what about when they eventually reached Wittenburg? The Council could guess where he was headed and would probably run him to ground there. He couldn’t keep fleeing them forever. That was no way to live. Perhaps he would have to accept his fate, and he was just delaying the inevitable. The thought played on his mind continually, bringing on a mood of depression and silence. Nothing Jacob said could lift Martin’s spirits.
Two days later, in the midst of a particularly dense forest, they heard gunshots.
“What was that?” Martin asked.
“Probably hunters,” Jacob replied.
Martin pulled the hood of his cowl over his head. “Yes, and I can guess who they’re hunting.”
“No, you are wrong, brother,” Jacob said. His shaking of the reins to hasten the horses belied his words. But the forest floor was uneven, with many ruts, holes and tree roots ready to snare the unwary, so their progress remained slow. The gunshots sounded once more. Six men, all cloaked, their faces hidden, rode out of the trees and surround the carriage, forcing it to a halt.
Jacob held fast to the reins. There was no point in trying to escape, as he’d probably be shot, and what of his brother, hidden in the back? Luther, on hearing the hooves of the raiders’ horses, thought they might be the victims of a robbery, but when he heard a gruff voice ask, “Where’s Martin Luther?” he knew the gig was up. He was trapped and would be taken back to Worms to be burned. All Martin could do was plead for the raiders to spare his brother. While he waited to be discovered, he prayed silently, asking the Lord to spare him so he could finish the work he had started with Septem Montes, as he’d been told at the outset that should he fail, he would forfeit his salvation and be condemned to eternal hell.
Jacob remained silent.
“We have no quarrel with you,” the voice continued. “Hand him over!”
“I am his brother,” Jacob said. “If he is to die, then I will die with him. We are as one.”
On hearing his brother’s words, Martin drew back the canvas flap at the front of the carriage and showed his face. “I am Martin Luther,” he stated. “Leave my brother be.”
The raider who had spoken signaled to two of his companions who circled round on their horses, dismounted, and hopped onto the carriage. Producing two lengths of strong twine from their pockets, they tied the hands of Martin and Jacob behind their backs. The raider then tossed each of his companions a gunnysack, which they proceeded to pull over the heads of their two captives.
Another raider whispered in Martin’s ear, “Forgive us, Professor.”
The words confirmed that this wasn’t a random robbery by a band of forest ruffians, and that they were acting on someone’s orders. But whose?
Perhaps Pope Leo X had decided that Luther had fulfilled his role in Septem Montes and was now dispensable. Such a thing was possible, Luther thought, given the inherent corruption and deception present within the Church. That Luther had been successful in sparking a religious reformation could not be denied, and even though the work was not yet finished, the torch could be handed on to another. The game, not the player, was most important.
The alternative was the Council in Worms. They must have discovered he’d fled and had men ride day and night to catch up with him, which could only mean they had reached a verdict and it was the worst possible news.
The carriage jerked into motion and Luther could feel the vibrations as the wheels turned. Where are they taking us? And if they’re going to kill me, why not do it in this forest? Nobody will ever find my body and they’ll be rid of their problem with no evidence. He concluded that they must be looking to make a vicious public spectacle of him to put the fear of God into his followers, which, while not necessarily driving them to recant, would keep them under control if they were to witness his public punishment. It was a definite possibility. He had never been able to fathom the logic of papal thinking, and this was just another example.
But if they were going to burn him, they would need Pope Leo’s permission, which he may not give. The thought momentarily brightened Luther’s mood, until he thought once more about having possibly outlived his usefulness.
“I don’t think we’re going to Worms,” Jacob said, interrupting his brother’s thoughts.
“What? How do you know?”
“I’ve no idea if you’ve noticed, but the carriage is continuing along the way we were going. If we were returning to Worms, we would have been buffeted against each other and the sides of the carriage as it turned. That didn’t happen. We are still heading north.”
Although he was relieved to hear his brother’s reasoning, Luther’s thoughts became even more confused. Everything he’d been thinking since the kidnapping was off the table… unless he was being taken to Berlin, which lay beyond Wittenburg, to be made an example of there.
He engaged himself in prayer, worrying about his role in Septem Montes and occasionally whispering to Jacob should some thought of his require discussion. Sparse rations of food and water were administered from time to time, and the brothers were periodically allowed to answer the call of nature under supervision, although their gunnysacks were never removed. Even so, they could see light when it filtered through the weave of the sacks, but they couldn’t see anything that indicated where they were.
The creaking of the wagon’s wheels, annoying at first, soon came to act as a lullaby, sending both Martin and Jacob to sleep for long periods. They were constantly in the dark, and apart from the nature breaks, which lasted no longer than five minutes, their bodies became stiff and uncomfortable, so it was a relief when the wagon stopped rolling and their gunnysacks were removed.
“What’s happening? Where are we? Who are you?” Martin asked.
“I’m not at liberty to say. But you are safe.”
“Safe? How can that be?” Luther looked at Jacob, who shook his head.
“Come,” said the man. “Get out of the carriage.”
After so long in one position, any movement was an effort. Every muscle seemed to cry out for mercy. Martin followed his brother as they were helped out into the open and onto a gravel driveway. Their eyes were met by the glare of the early morning sun, and they could hear birds chirruping in the trees. Martin felt someone untying his hands. Like the rest of his body, they were stiff and screamed with pain. Slowly, he began to flex his muscles, restoring his circulation and easing the soreness that beset his whole body. Arching his back and feeling the warm air on his face, he cried out, “Thank you, my Lord. I knew You would not forsake us.”
As he took in his surroundings, he could see that they had arrived at a castle. “What is this place?”
“Come inside and all will be explained,” the man said.
Accompanied by the six riders, Martin and Jacob were escorted across the gravel and onto a smooth stone path leading alongside the building until they came to a doorway. The lead rider tapped the thick oak door with a coded knock. A small peephole opened and a pair of eyes checked the identity of the caller. Then it closed and the sound of bolts being drawn back could be heard. Finally, the door swung open and Jacob and Martin were directed inside. Almost immediately, the door was closed and the bolts shot back into position.
The journey continued, along corridors lit by oil-filled sconces fixed to the walls, which reverberated to the sound of eight pairs of feet. Finally, they came to a room. There was a large table in the center, set with platters of bread, fruit, cheese, cold meat, beer, and wine.
“Please, take a seat,” the lead rider said.
The brothers sat at the table.
“Eat and drink,” the lead rider urged, “for you must be hungry and thirsty.”
“Where are we?” Martin asked. “And who are you?”
“Welcome to Wartburg Castle, “the lead rider said. “In case you haven’t heard of it, it is near Eisenach, a small town situated between Worms and Wittenberg. You are here as the guests of Prince Frederick, III.”
“Guests? But why?” Martin asked, nervously selecting a small bunch of red grapes from one of the overflowing fruit bowls.
“As you may recall, His Highness guaranteed you safe passage both to and from Worms. But during the trial, he became concerned that the verdict would go against you in spite of his own protestations. He believed you might flee the city, as you did. A watch was kept on your lodgings, and when you left, you were followed at a discreet distance. His Highness had us kidnap you to make it seem as though you had disappeared. He will return from Worms in a few days, and you shall learn more at that time. Rest assured that nobody will be able to find you here. To that end, His Highness has instructed that you are to remain out of sight at all times. And to complete the deception, while you are here, you will be referred to as Knight George. I cannot impart any further information, as I know no more.
“And as for you, Jacob, we were not expecting you to be a part of this. You will also remain and stay out of sight. Prince Frederick will be informed of your presence and he will decide on your future.”
Jacob stayed silent, but supped at a cup of wine while nibbling at some bread and cheese.
Feeling so overwhelmed, Martin could find nothing to say.
“Apart from yourselves,” the lead rider continued, “only Prince Frederick and we six know you are here. And that is the way His Highness wants it to remain. But I will leave you now and allow you to recover from your arduous journey. In the next room, there is a cot on which one of you can sleep. I will have another brought in. You may retire there after you have eaten.” He started to walk towards the door, but then stopped and turned around. “Before I go, I would like to apologize on behalf of Prince Frederick and myself for the rough treatment you received on the journey, but we had to keep you hidden at all times lest anyone see you and it become known you were brought here. I hope you understand that is was for your own safety. Gentlemen, I bid you good morning.” On that note, he bowed and left the room, closing the door behind him.
Martin and Jacob could only stare at each other in mutual disbelief.
Having found his brother a safe haven, albeit more by luck than judgment, Jacob wanted to leave the castle and return to his life. Prince Frederick was more than happy to aid him, engaging Jacob as a double agent to report back on anything he might hear about the Church from his trusted position. Jacob was pleased to accept the proposition, as it meant he would be helping his brother, even if he didn’t see eye to eye with him on all religious matters. Jacob had read his brother’s work and felt an affinity for much of it, and his private thoughts too were becoming more and more anti-Rome, spurred on by the Church’s treatment of both himself and his brother. But Jacob still could not bring himself to cross to the other side. Deep down, he was frightened at the possible consequences, not so much in the afterlife as in this one. While he privately debated the pros and cons of Martin’s works, over time deviating ever more from Rome, in public, Jacob said what he was expected to say and behaved as he was expected to behave. That would be even more important now he had been recruited to spy on his spymasters.
After Jacob was smuggled back out of the castle and taken to Wittenburg, Martin felt the reality of his isolation. His life had been turned upside down over the past few months. He had just experienced the drama of the Diet of Worms, which featured him as the main attraction, and now he was facing a solitary existence, hidden away from a world that would conclude he was dead. The energy he had expended and the elation he had felt during the Diet had evaporated, leaving him staring into a black hole of nothingness and depression, a condition he had been subject to since his early years. He rapidly sank into the despair and anguish that had been constant companions in his youth. To make matters worse, he had a very strong sense that the devil was haunting him. He believed the evil spirit was to be encountered every single day and that it was a full-time occupation keeping it at bay, one that required an enormous strength of belief and character. But for that belief and character to prosper and grow, they needed sustenance from the world around, something he was, at that time, being denied.
Luther retreated into himself. During long periods of introspection, self-doubt and melancholy, he mulled his role within Septem Montes, all the while suffering from a series of unpleasant physical symptoms, dominated by constipation and migraines. Prince Frederick was most concerned. This was not what he had planned. He provided Luther with comfortable accommodations and a room containing everything a scholar like Luther required, in hopes Luther would continue where he had left off before the Diet of Worms.
On the 25th of May, 1521, Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, finally issued the Edict of Worms which declared Luther to be a heretic and offered a generous reward to anyone who played a part in his subsequent apprehension. The emperor made abundantly clear that anyone who aided and abetted Luther or the spread of his works would be severely punished.
The Holy Roman Emperor could not easily implement the edict, however. Issuing it was effortless, but he had no executive organs with which to enforce it. Its success depended on the regional princes, each with autonomy over his own territory. If they did not publish it or enforce it, the Holy Roman Emperor could do nothing. So as long as Luther stayed at Wartburg Castle, his safety was assured, because there was no way Prince Frederick III would do the Holy Roman Emperor’s bidding on the matter of Martin Luther.
Although Luther was out of sight, he was not out of mind. The nascent printing press was spreading his writings across Europe. Even those who could not read or write – a goodly number of people – were inspired, as lay preachers sprang up everywhere, proclaiming Luther’s truth. Monks and nuns began to leave their monasteries and convents, priests abandoned Church law to be married and live the same kind of lives as their parishioners, and painted images and statues of saints in churches were torn down and destroyed.
When Jacob visited Martin after two months away and informed him of the increasing numbers hungering for his words, Martin’s spirits began to lift.
“So I am not forgotten, Jacob.”
“Far from it, brother. I would say you are more popular than ever.”
“I do not seek popularity. I only wish to expound the truth and expose the Church for the cesspit it has become. But what can I do in this prison?”
“You must continue to write and reach out to those who are still deaf to your voice.”
“And you, Jacob. How do you view my work?”
“I have read and digested everything you have written and I believe your intentions are pure, noble, and trustworthy.”
“But do I convince you? If I cannot persuade my own flesh and blood, then perhaps my cause is not so just after all.”
“But you have convinced me, brother. It may not have been that way at the beginning, but I have always respected your work. Now, the more I read your writings and the more I see the way the Church behaves, the more convinced I am that it does not have the answers mankind is seeking. It would keep ordinary people in ignorance and only tell them what it thinks they need to know, even twisting the scriptures to justify its bloated existence. And it is because of the Church’s vengefulness that you are where you are today. I cannot tolerate that. A man should be free to express himself without fear. The Church wishes to rule the world with an iron fist, accepting no other view than its own. It makes laws to persecute, not just to prosecute, and in doing so, it maintains a distance between itself and ordinary people who it looks down upon and despises, using them only to further its own selfish ends. I believe the selling of indulgences, to which you are rightly opposed, is a good example of that.”
Luther couldn’t help but smile. “That was quite a speech, Jacob. I don’t believe I have ever heard you speak so eloquently and for so long.”
Jacob blushed. “I know that here in the safe haven of this castle I can say what I think. In the outside world it is different. One slip of the tongue could be the last time a man is allowed to use it. The world has to change, Brother, and I believe your courage has shown the way.”
“Thank you, Jacob, but there is something I must tell you. It is a secret I have been carrying for many years, but now in spite of my promise to never tell a soul, I feel the moment has come to unburden myself.”
Jacob looked aghast. “Is this why your humors have been so out of alignment?” he asked.
“It probably has something to do with that, yes, but pray, let me tell you the story.”
Over the next hour, Luther related all he knew about Septem Montes and the role he had been cast to play within it.
“But now, I am no longer interested in the plan,” he concluded. “The Church does need a reformation, but not one that’s staged. It needs a real one… a reformation that comes from the hearts and minds of the people. The problem is that so long as they remain in ignorance of the scriptures and have to rely on their parish priests to tell them what is what, their minds are too easily manipulated. What they need is first-hand information.”
“What you say is so true, Brother. But from what I now understand, I also feel that perhaps Septem Montes has spiraled a little out of the Church’s control.”
“You told me that the Church has been laying the groundwork to begin this new movement in other countries, using the founders as their tools…”
“In the same way they have used me,” interrupted Luther.
“Yes, in the same way they have used you. They see you and these others as useful idiots who’ll do their dirty work for them, leaving themselves as clean and bright as a widow’s washing on a Monday morning. However, you were only supposed to galvanize people in Germany, but since the Diet of Worms, your fame has spread all over. Your name is on the lips of people in places as far away as England.”
“Maybe,” mused Luther, “But what are they saying about me and my ideas? That is what’s important.”
“Do not underestimate the importance of people realizing that there is another way. You have planted a seed. That is what is important. The seed may flourish or remain dormant, but that depends on how it is nurtured. You are the gardener. You must prepare the soil and feed it well.”
“That’s all very well, but I’m a prisoner here in this castle. What can I do?”
“You must continue to stir the people’s consciences with more writing.”
“But that will alert the Catholic authorities to my whereabouts, won’t it? And anyone who publishes my work will suffer the most appalling of consequences. I cannot have that on my conscience. ”
“But what if the writings were to appear under another name?” Jacob ventured.
“You mean a pseudonym.”
“Exactly. I could take your work and organize its distribution.”
“You’d have to be very careful. Whatever I write is sure to anger the Church.”
“I know. But I know of some discreet printers who support your cause. They’d be willing to publish your work, and the Church need never know where it is coming from. Besides, you have come so far, you can’t give up now.”
The talk with Jacob inspired Martin, and as soon as his brother left the castle, he sat down at his desk and started writing the first of several short pamphlets on the shortcomings of the Catholic Church, re-iterating his solutions and expanding on the 95 theses he had nailed to the door of Wittenberg Cathedral three years earlier. Jacob collected the work the following month, and within weeks, it was circulating throughout the region.
The writings caused such a stir that Pope Leo X was informed a new heretic had emerged, one that was following very closely in Luther’s footsteps.
“Bring me the offending literature,” he ordered.
“This has to be the work of Luther,” he concluded upon reading it. “It is his style. Re-double the effort to find him and drag him to Rome with wild horses if need be. He has gone too far.”
Jacob brought Martin the news that the pope believed he was the power behind the pen. and that he was beside himself with anger. “You have made him look a fool,” said Jacob. “And he won’t allow that to stand. Everyone has been detailed to hunt you down, including me, but I have sworn blind that I have no idea of your whereabouts.”
“You place yourself in too much danger, Jacob. Be sure that the Church does not have a spy spying on you.”
“I will take care.”
Although Luther was pleased with the reaction to his pamphlets, he was not entirely satisfied. He needed something new, not just a rehash of old work. He paced up and down his workroom. How could he get Christians to cultivate their own faith and not be dependent on the Church’s ministers? Lacking inspiration, he turned to his Bible. Of course, he thought. This is it. In my hands.
To Luther, the Bible was the only source of Christian truth, and if the masses could read it, they could understand it and develop their own relationship with the Scriptures, and, in turn, take charge of their own faith. He rejected the Church doctrine that the pope was the sole authority to interpret the scriptures. The Bible was printed in ancient Greek, a language that only scholars knew. Luther was one of those scholars, and up to that point, he had not considered what a barrier the language placed between the people and their faith. To the average person, it might as well have been written in a hidden code. By keeping the scriptures in Greek, the Church was able to retain its power. If the people could read it for themselves, that power would slip away. That was the key to the real reformation.
Luther delighted in his discovery and set to work immediately, translating the New Testament into German. But not formal German. He was determined that even the humblest mind would be able to read it, so he was careful to use only everyday language and colloquialisms.
As he translated, reacquainting himself with the passages he loved so much, Luther took a fresh look at the way their meanings could be conveyed. His was not a literal word-for-word translation, but more an expression of the meaning and ideas contained therein. He knew he had to communicate with the masses at a level they could understand. He fully realized that if people could make up their own minds about the Bible and not be told what to think, the Church’s plan for the newly formed sects to return to the fold would never come about. The only way the Church could ensure the success of its plan was to control the Holy Word. Without that control, it would lose the ability to maneuver the movements as it desired. That was not for Luther. He was going to promote a truly independent Church, not one that was simply a branch of Catholicism in disguise.
The very thought spurred him onward, although he was painfully aware that by doing so, he would probably never leave Wartburg Castle. The Church, when it discovered he had veered from Septem Montes, would surely put him to death.
Using the good offices of Jacob, he took the chance to communicate with Andreas Karlstadt and Gabriel Zwilling, two supporters and fellow reformers in Wittenberg, passing on advice and receiving, in return, progress reports of their reform agenda, which they were guiding in a more radical direction. Luther felt that with the translated Bible in their armory, the floodgates would open and the Catholic Church would have to accept the reformation on his terms.
With an end goal in mind, Luther worked night and day, taking very little rest and otherwise stopping only for food and drink and to send one of the castle servants out for more paper and ink. But all the while, he couldn’t shake the feeling that the devil was close at hand, doing all it could to prevent him from completing his work and forcing him to return to his role in Septem Montes. In the rare moments that he did sleep, his head was filled with satanic images of bodies being taunted by the horned beast while they burned in hell forever, their anguished screams and pleas for mercy being drowned out by the echoing sound of demonic laughter. The hallucinations grew more frequent and more detailed until one night, as Luther labored by candlelight, he looked up from his desk and saw the devil standing before him, his eyes aglow, set deep within a face fixed in a hideous rictus stare.
Luther jumped to his feet, sending his wooden chair clattering to the floor behind him. “Be gone, Satan,” he shouted. “Leave me in peace! I am doing the Lord’s work. Be gone and take your evil presence from this place.” But the devil stood and grew even larger before his eyes, his facial features becoming distended and fearsome. “Oh, Lord,” Luther cried out, “I beseech you to save me from this demon of hell.” He reached out to his desk and grabbed hold of the bottle of ink he had been using, flinging it in the devil’s face. Luther heard an ominous cackle before falling to the ground, unconscious.
Coming to a little while later, Luther opened his eyes and rubbed the side of his head, which felt sore and tender. The room was barely lit, the candle flickering and spluttering as it neared its end. Luther also felt a pain in his left ankle, and looking down, he could see the hem of his monk’s habit was torn. He concluded he must have caught his foot in it when throwing the ink and that had caused him to fall and strike his head. He tentatively rose to his knees and looked around the room. Apart from himself, his desk, chair, books, and writing paraphernalia, he was alone. All was silent. He rose to his feet and lit a fresh candle. In the renewed light, he could see a large ink stain on the wall opposite the desk and shards of glass from an ink bottle on the floor. In spite of the late hour and the trauma, Luther felt better than he had in weeks. The devil had gone. He fell back to his knees and gave thanks to the Lord.
Over the following months, Luther labored until his back and eyes could take no more, interrupted only by visits from his brother Jacob, who brought him news of the growing revolution taking place in cities and towns, far and wide, outside Wartburg Castle. Luther felt that some of the protests and actions were going too far and that he should try to control the passions of the people, but he had his translation to complete. Only in the spring of 1522, when he had completed his work, did he feel confident to leave his safe haven and journey to Wittenberg, heavily disguised, to witness firsthand the first fruits of the seed he had planted.