The rest of the Reformation, it is not too much to say, was but the application of the principles vindicated in these three works.
They were applied in different countries with varying wisdom and moderation; but nothing essential was added to them.
The special mission of the Church since the days of Gregory the Great had been to tame the fierce energies of the new barbarian world, and to bring the wild passions of the Teutonic races under the control of the Christian law.
It was the task to which the necessities of the hour seemed to summon the Church, and she roused herself to the effort with magnificent devotion.
They were all three produced in the latter half of the critical year 1520, when nearly three years’ controversy, since the publication of the Theses, on Oct.
31 1517, had convinced Luther of the falseness of the Court of Rome, and the hollowness of its claims; and they were immediately followed by the bull of excommunication in the winter of the same year, and the summons to the Diet of Worms in 1521.Here it is only necessary to state that, of the works of Luther contained in it, the “Address to the Nobility of the German Nation,” which was written in German, has been translated by Professor Buchheim, from the text given in the Erlangen, or Frankfort, Edition.The translation of this work offered very great difficulties, as it was written in Luther’s earliest German style, before the language had been improved, and rendered comparatively definite, by his translation of the Bible. Buchheim has endeavoured to make it as literal as was compatible with the genius of the English language, and with the necessity of modifying, now and then, some obscure or obsolete expression; and he has offered a few annotations.Yet, as is well understood in Germany, it is in these that the whole genius of the Reformer appears in its most complete and energetic form.They are bound together in the closest dramatic unity.An insight into the deepest theological principles is combined with the keenest apprehension of practical details.In the Treatise on Christian Liberty we have the most vivid of all embodiments of that life of Faith to which the Reformer recalled the Church and which was the mainspring of the Reformation.Those convictions had been slowly, and even reluctantly, admitted; but they had gradually accumulated in intense force in Luther’s mind and conscience; and when “the time for speech had come” they burst forth in a kind of volcanic eruption.Their maturity is proved by the completeness and thoroughness with which the questions at issue are treated.My colleague, in the Essay which follows this, has dealt with the political course of the Reformation during his career; and in the present remarks an endeavour will simply be made to indicate the nature and the bearings of the central principles of the Reformer’s life and work, as exhibited in the accompanying translations.It is by no mere accident of controversy that the Ninty-five Theses mark the starting-point of Luther’s career as a reformer.