Martin Luther was incognito as a knight, named Sir George, on his way back to Wittenberg University from the Wartburg Castle. He stopped in the Black Bear Inn for dinner.
Two Swiss students had dinner with Luther, not knowing it was him. At one of the tables sat a man alone dressed as a knight. He wore a red cap, “man capris” pants, and a short, snug-fitted jacket; his right hand rested on the pommel (top) of his sword, his left grasped the handle. His eyes were fixed reading the book opened on the table, but at the entrance of these two young men, he raised his head, waved to them warmly, and invited them to come and sit at his table; then, presenting them with a glass of beer and noticing their accent, they began a conversation. The two students mentioned that they were determined to study under the great Martin Luther.
How did Luther end up dressed as a knight in 1522?
Five years Earlier (1517) the Indulgence Controversy Erupted
It was not over food & beer, but over Pope Leo X’s financial problem, having exhausted the Church’s money in wars and in the massive building project of St. Peter’s and the Vatican.
Indulgences were certificates sold by the church that guaranteed the purchaser, or the designated beneficiary, relief from a stipulated period of time in purgatory.
The sale of indulgences was entrusted to a Dominican friar, Johann Tetzel, a profane man and a brilliant salesman, who used jingles (according to Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses) such as the gem: “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs,” and made the assertion that even if one had raped the Virgin Mary, one of his indulgences would be sufficient to cover the sin.
Luther preached against indulgences, but the standard academic protocol for announcing a debate was to nail to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg theses. Luther nailed his 95 theses against the practice of selling indulgences. (The printing press published it & hit the Church’s revenue dept even harder!)
The Diet of Worms 1521
The church had now exhausted its options for handling Luther. Excommunication was the final sanction – April 1521 – excom-munication meant that Luther was a nonperson. Thus, in April 1521, Luther arrived in Worms to face his greatest challenge so far. Here, at age 38, Luther stood before Charles V and said:
“Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience.”
As he left Worms to return to Wittenberg, he was surrounded by a group of armed men and kidnapped. (After nearly four years as the center of attention for both church and empire, Luther would vanish from the public eye for the better part of a year.)
1521 Sir George, the resident knight of the Wartburg Castle
Luther spent the rest of 1521 incognito on a mountain over the town of Eisenach, translating the New Testament into German. He would sneak into town occasionally to meet Philip Melanchthon for dinner. He said:
“All I have done is to put forth, preach and write the Word of God, and apart from this I have done nothing. While I have been sleeping, or drinking Wittenberg beer with Philip…the Word has done great things. I have done nothing; the Word has done and achieved everything.”