Condemning Luther's Theses & Threatening the Reformer with Excommunication

Leo X, Pope (Giovanni de Medici) (1475-1521)

Bulla Decimi Leonis, contra errores Martini Lutheri, & sequacium.

Strasbourg: Johann Prüß the younger, 1520


Quarto: [22] ff. (including the final blank leaf.)


Bound in modern boards. A very good copy with some light staining and finger soiling. With Leo X's woodcut Papal arms on the title-page.

The rare second (of two) issues of Hutten's annotated edition of the Papal bull that condemned Luther and his theses, published only a few weeks after Schott's first printing, which appeared before 8 November 1520. 

"The Papal bull against Luther, executed in Rome on 15 June 1520, was brought to Germany by Johann Eck, accompanied by the Papal nuntiusAlexander. In it, 41 propositions from Luther's writings are declared heretical, his books condemned to the pyre, the author is given 60 days to recant. Hutten glossed the bull, sometimes with irony, other times with pathos, and had it republished with the Papal arms on the cover. He includes a preface [...] to the effect that the Pope wishes to strangle the newly fledged "truth" and German freedom. In a postscript to Leo X, Hutten warns the pope to keep his bull and not to trouble Luther and his followers" (cf. Benzing).

"Leo X's bull "Exsurge Domine" is the papal counter-manifesto to Luther’s Theses, and condemns in him the whole cause of the Protestant Reformation. Therein lies its historical significance. It was the last bull addressed to Latin Christendom as an undivided whole, and the first that was disobeyed by a large part of it. Instead of causing Luther and his friends to be burnt, it was burnt by Luther. It is an elaborate document, prepared with great care in the usual heavy, turgid, and tedious style of the curia. It breathes the genuine spirit of the papal hierarchy, and mingles the tones of priestly arrogance, concern for truth, abomination of heresy and schism, fatherly sorrow, and penal severity.

"The papal bull did not excommunicate Luther outright but rather condemned forty-one theses taken from Luther's writings as either 'heretical or scandalous or false, or offensive to pious ears, or dangerous to simple minds, or subversive of catholic truth.' Luther was asked to recant these errors within sixty days or face excommunication.

"In order to focus public attention on this condemnation of Luther's writings, the men in charge of the bull's publication saw to it that the offending books were ceremoniously burned. Luther retaliated by burning the papal bull outside the gates of Wittenberg on December 10, 1520, thus demonstrating that, since books are combustible, both sides could play that game. He then proceeded to defend the condemned propositions in two Latin and two German works…

"As far as Luther was concerned, the pope and his bull did not speak for the true church. Rather the bull made it plain that the men in Rome were 'tyrants' and their condemnation of obvious Christian truth would now reveal their tyranny to everyone. His response to the condemnation of his statement, 'Indulgences are a pious fraud practiced upon Christians; they are remissions of good works and belong to the things that are permitted but not necessary,' is very significant. He stated his willingness to recant this proposition, because he now considered it far too mild. Luther was now prepared to say, 'The indulgences are not a pious fraud, but an infernal, diabolical, antichristian fraud, larceny and robbery, whereby the Roman Nimrod and teacher of sin peddles sin and hell to the whole world and sucks and entices away everybody's money as the price of this unspeakable harm.

"As far as his conflict with Rome was concerned, Luther appeared to be utterly sure of himself. In fact, the violent opposition from the papacy became for him a vindication of the truth of his cause. […] And Luther made the source of his confidence very clear. He said, 'I am sure the Word of God is with me and not with them, for I have the Scriptures on my side and they have only their own doctrine. This gives me courage, so that the more they despise and persecute me, the less I fear them.'" (Forell, The Concordia edition of Luther’s Works, Vol. 32, pp. ix-xiv)

VD 16, K 276. Benzing (Hutten) 223. Kuczynski 1087. Böcking XXXII, 2. Pegg (Swiss) 4621. Benzing (Strasbourg) 962. Muller II, p. 237, no. 46. Ritter IV, 2095. Not in Pegg (Britain) or Knaake; not in Adams or BM-STC German.