Martin Luther Letter to Pope Leo X

This is the English translation of a letter sent by Martin Luther to Pope Leo X in 1518. Martin Luther had previously published his “95 Theses” and was starting to get into trouble with Rome. This letter accompanied his “Resolutions to the 95 Theses”.

Martin Luther tells the Pope that clergy are using the Pope’s name to intimidate people into giving money they cannot afford to give. He also tells the Pope he will follow whatever punishment the Pope declares for Martin Luther speaking out.

My favorite quote from this letter is: “But necessity compels me to be the goose that squawks among the swans.”

Here is the full letter in context:

_Letter to Pope Leo X,
Accompanying the “Resolutions”
to the XCV Theses_
by Dr. Martin Luther,
Published in:
_Works of Martin Luther_
Adolph Spaeth, L.D. Reed, Henry Eyster Jacobs, et Al., Trans. & Eds.
(Philadelphia: A. J. Holman Company, 1915),
Volume 1, pp. 44-48



To the

Most Blessed Father,


Martin Luther,

Augustinian Friar,

wisheth everlasting welfare.

I have heard evil reports about myself, most blessed Father,
by which I know that certain friends have put my name in very
bad odor with you and yours, saying that I have attempted to
belittle the power of the keys and of the Supreme Pontiff.
Therefore I am accused of heresy, apostasy, and perfidy, and
am called by six hundred other names of ignominy. My ears
shudder and my eyes are astounded. But the one thing in which
I put my confidence remains unshaken — my clear and quiet
conscience. Moreover, what I hear is nothing new. With such
like decorations I have been adorned in my own country by
those same honorable and truthful men, i.e., by the men whose
own conscience convicts them of wrongdoing, and who are trying
to put their own monstrous doings off on me, and to glorify
their own shame by bringing shame to me. But you will deign,
blessed Father, to hear the true case from me, though I am but
an uncouth child.

It is not long ago that the preaching of the Jubilee
indulgences was begun in our country, and matters went so far
that the preachers of indulgences, thinking that the
protection of your name made anything permissible, ventured
openly to teach the most impious and heretical doctrines,
which threatened to make the power of the Church a scandal and
a laughing-stock, as if the decretals De abusionibus
quaestorum did not apply to them.

Not content with spreading this poison of theirs by word of
mouth, they published tracts and scattered them among the
people. In these books — to say nothing of the insatiable and
unheard of avarice of which almost every letter in them vilely
smells — they laid down those same impious and heretical
doctrines, and laid them down in such wise that confessors
were bound by their oath to be faithful and insistent in
urging them upon the people. I speak the truth, and none of
them can hide himself from the heat thereof. The tracts are
extant and they cannot disown them. These teachings were so
successfully carried on, and the people, with their false
hopes, were sucked so dry that, as the Prophet says, “they
plucked their flesh from off their bones”; but they themselves
meanwhile were fed most pleasantly on the fat of the land.

There was just one means which they used to quiet opposition,
to wit, the protection of your name, the threat of burning at
the stake, and the disgrace of the name “heretic.” It is
incredible how ready they are to threaten, even, at times,
when they perceive that it is only their own mere silly
opinions which are contradicted. As though this were to quiet
opposition, and not rather to arouse schisms and seditions by
sheer tyranny!

None the less, however, stories about the avarice of the
priests were bruited in the taverns, and evil was spoken of
the power of the keys and of the Supreme Pontiff, and as
evidence of this, I could cite the common talk of this whole
land. I truly confess that I was on fire with zeal for Christ,
as I thought, or with the heat of youth, if you prefer to have
it so; and yet I saw that it was not in place for me to make
any decrees or to do anything in these matters. Therefore I
privately admonished some of the prelates of the Church. By
some of them I was kindly received, to others I seemed
ridiculous, to still others something worse; for the terror of
your name and the threat of Church censures prevailed. At
last, since I could do nothing else, it seemed good that I
should offer at least a gentle resistance to them, i.e.,
question and discuss their teachings. Therefore I published a
set of theses, inviting only the more learned to dispute with
me if they wished; as should be evident, even to my
adversaries, from the Preface to the Disputation.

Lo, this is the fire with which they complain that all the
world is now ablaze! Perhaps it is because they are indignant
that I, who by your own apostolic authority am a Master of
Theology, have the right to conduct public disputations,
according to the custom of all the Universities and of the
whole Church, not only about indulgences, but also about God’s
power and remission and mercy, which are incomparably greater
subjects. I am not much moved, however, by the fact that they
envy me the privilege granted me by the power of your
Holiness, since I am unwillingly compelled to yield to them in
things of far greater moment, viz., when they mix the dreams
of Aristotle with theological matters, and conduct nonsensical
disputations about the majesty of God, beyond and against the
privilege granted them.

It is a miracle to me by what fate it has come about that this
single Disputation of mine should, more than any other, of
mine or of any of the teachers, have gone out into very nearly
the whole land. It was made public at our University and for
our University only, and it was made public in such wise that
I cannot believe it has become known to all men. For it is a
set of theses, not doctrines or dogmas, and they are put,
according to custom, in an obscure and enigmatic way.
Otherwise, if I had been able to foresee what was coming, I
should have taken care, for my part, that they would be easier
to understand.

Now what shall I do? I cannot recant them; and yet I see that
marvelous enmity is inflamed against me because of their
dissemination. It is unwillingly that I incur the public and
perilous and various judgment of men, especially since I am
unlearned, dull of brain, empty of scholarship; and that too
in this brilliant age of ours, which by its achievements in
letters and learning can force even Cicero into the corner,
though he was no base follower of the public light. But
necessity compels me to be the goose that squawks among the

And so, to soften my enemies and to fulfil the desires of
many, I herewith send forth these trifling explanations of my
Disputation; I send them forth in order, too, that I may be
more safe under the defense of your name and the shadow of
your protection. In them all may see, who will, how purely and
simply I have sought after and cherished the power of the
Church and reverence for the keys; and, at the same time, how
unjustly and falsely my adversaries have befouled me with so
many names. For if I had been such a one as they wish to make
me out, and if I had not, on the contrary, done everything
correctly, according to my academic privilege, the Most
Illustrious Prince Frederick, Duke of Saxony, Imperial
Elector, etc., would never have tolerated such a pest in his
University, for he most dearly loves the Catholic and
Apostolic truth, nor could I have been tolerated by the keen
and learned men of our University. But what has been done, I
do because those most courteous men do not fear openly to
involve both the Prince and the University in the same
disgrace with myself.

Wherefore, most blessed Father, I cast myself at the feet of
your Holiness, with all that I have and all that I am.
Quicken, kill, call, recall, approve, reprove, as you will. In
your voice I shall recognize the voice of Christ directing you
and speaking in you. If I have deserved death, I shall not
refuse to die. For the earth is the Lord’s and the fulness
thereof. He is blessed forever. Amen.

May He have you too forever in His keeping. Amen.


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