On Condemning The Errors Of Martin Luther
Pope Leo X
June 15, 1520
O Lord, and judge your own cause. Remember your reproaches to
those who are filled with foolishness all through the day. Listen
to our prayers, for foxes have arisen seeking to destroy the
vineyard whose winepress you alone have trod. When you were about
to ascend to your Father, you committed the care, rule, and
administration of the vineyard, an image of the triumphant church,
to Peter, as the head and your vicar and his successors. The wild
boar from the forest seeks to destroy it and every wild beast
feeds upon it.
Peter, and fulfill this pastoral office divinely entrusted to you
as mentioned above. Give heed to the cause of the holy Roman
Church, mother of all churches and teacher of the faith, whom you
by the order of God, have consecrated by your blood. Against the
Roman Church, you warned, lying teachers are rising, introducing
ruinous sects, and drawing upon themselves speedy doom. Their
tongues are fire, a restless evil, full of deadly poison. They
have bitter zeal, contention in their hearts, and boast and lie
against the truth.
beseech you also, Paul, to arise. It was you that enlightened and
illuminated the Church by your doctrine and by a martyrdom like
Peter's. For now a new Porphyry rises who, as the old once
wrongfully assailed the holy apostles, now assails the holy
pontiffs, our predecessors.
them, in violation of your teaching, instead of imploring them, he
is not ashamed to assail them, to tear at them, and when he
despairs of his cause, to stoop to insults. He is like the
heretics "whose last defense," as Jerome says, "is
to start spewing out a serpent's venom with their tongue when they
see that their causes are about to be condemned, and spring to
insults when they see they are vanquished." For although you
have said that there must be heresies to test the faithful, still
they must be destroyed at their very birth by your intercession
and help, so they do not grow or wax strong like wolves.
Finally, let the whole church of the saints and the rest of the
universal church arise. Some, putting aside her true
interpretation of Sacred Scripture, are blinded in mind by the
father of lies. Wise in their own eyes, according to the ancient
practice of heretics, they interpret these same Scriptures
otherwise than the Holy Spirit demands, inspired only by their own
sense of ambition, and for the sake of popular acclaim, as the
Apostle declares. In fact, they twist and adulterate the
Scriptures. As a result, according to Jerome, "It is no
longer the Gospel of Christ, but a man's, or what is worse, the
all this holy Church of God, I say, arise, and with the blessed
apostles intercede with almighty God to purge the errors of His
sheep, to banish all heresies from the lands of the faithful, and
be pleased to maintain the peace and unity of His holy Church.
we can scarcely express, from distress and grief of mind, what has
reached our ears for some time by the report of reliable men and
general rumor; alas, we have even seen with our eyes and read the
many diverse errors. Some of these have already been condemned by
councils and the constitutions of our predecessors, and expressly
contain even the heresy of the Greeks and Bohemians. Other errors
are either heretical, false, scandalous, or offensive to pious
ears, as seductive of simple minds, originating with false
exponents of the faith who in their proud curiosity yearn for the
world's glory, and contrary to the Apostle's teaching, wish to be
wiser than they should be. Their talkativeness, unsupported by the
authority of the Scriptures, as Jerome says, would not win
credence unless they appeared to support their perverse doctrine
even with divine testimonies however badly interpreted. From their
sight fear of God has now passed.
errors have, at the suggestion of the human race, been revived and
recently propagated among the more frivolous and the illustrious
German nation. We grieve the more that this happened there because
we and our predecessors have always held this nation in the bosom
of our affection. For after the empire had been transferred by the
Roman Church from the Greeks to these same Germans, our
predecessors and we always took the Church's advocates and
defenders from among them. Indeed it is certain that these
Germans, truly germane to the Catholic faith, have always been the
bitterest opponents of heresies, as witnessed by those commendable
constitutions of the German emperors in behalf of the Church's
independence, freedom, and the expulsion and extermination of all
heretics from Germany. Those constitutions formerly issued, and
then confirmed by our predecessors, were issued under the greatest
penalties even of loss of lands and dominions against anyone
sheltering or not expelling them. If they were observed today both
we and they would obviously be free of this disturbance. Witness
to this is the condemnation and punishment in the Council of
Constance of the infidelity of the Hussites and Wyclifites as well
as Jerome of Prague. Witness to this is the blood of Germans shed
so often in wars against the Bohemians. A final witness is the
refutation, rejection, and condemnation - no less learned than true
and holy - of the above errors, or many of them, by the universities
of Cologne and Louvain, most devoted and religious cultivators of
the Lord's field. We could allege many other facts too, which we
have decided to omit, lest we appear to be composing a history.
virtue of our pastoral office committed to us by the divine favor
we can under no circumstances tolerate or overlook any longer the
pernicious poison of the above errors without disgrace to the
Christian religion and injury to orthodox faith. Some of these
errors we have decided to include in the present document; their
substance is as follows:
It is a heretical opinion, but a common one, that the sacraments
of the New Law give pardoning grace to those who do not set up an
To deny that in a child after baptism sin remains is to treat with
contempt both Paul and Christ.
The inflammable sources of sin, even if there be no actual sin,
delay a soul departing from the body from entrance into heaven.
To one on the point of death imperfect charity necessarily brings
with it great fear, which in itself alone is enough to produce the
punishment of purgatory, and impedes entrance into the kingdom.
That there are three parts to penance: contrition, confession, and
satisfaction, has no foundation in Sacred Scripture nor in the
ancient sacred Christian doctors.
Contrition, which is acquired through discussion, collection, and
detestation of sins, by which one reflects upon his years in the
bitterness of his soul, by pondering over the gravity of sins,
their number, their baseness, the loss of eternal beatitude, and
the acquisition of eternal damnation, this contrition makes him a
hypocrite, indeed more a sinner.
It is a most truthful proverb and the doctrine concerning the
contritions given thus far is the more remarkable: "Not to do
so in the future is the highest penance; the best penance, a new
By no means may you presume to confess venial sins, nor even all
mortal sins, because it is impossible that you know all mortal
sins. Hence in the primitive Church only manifest mortal sins were
As long as we wish to confess all sins without exception, we are
doing nothing else than to wish to leave nothing to God's mercy
Sins are not forgiven to anyone, unless when the priest forgives
them he believes they are forgiven; on the contrary the sin would
remain unless he believed it was forgiven; for indeed the
remission of sin and the granting of grace does not suffice, but
it is necessary also to believe that there has been forgiveness.
By no means can you have reassurance of being absolved because of
your contrition, but because of the word of Christ:
"Whatsoever you shall loose, etc." Hence, I say, trust
confidently, if you have obtained the absolution of the priest,
and firmly believe yourself to have been absolved, and you will
truly be absolved, whatever there may be of contrition.
If through an impossibility he who confessed was not contrite, or
the priest did not absolve seriously, but in a jocose manner, if
nevertheless he believes that he has been absolved, he is most
In the sacrament of penance and the remission of sin the pope or
the bishop does no more than the lowest priest; indeed, where
there is no priest, any Christian, even if a woman or child, may
equally do as much.
No one ought to answer a priest that he is contrite, nor should
the priest inquire.
Great is the error of those who approach the sacrament of the
Eucharist relying on this, that they have confessed, that they are
not conscious of any mortal sin, that they have sent their prayers
on ahead and made preparations; all these eat and drink judgment
to themselves. But if they believe and trust that they will attain
grace, then this faith alone makes them pure and worthy.
It seems to have been decided that the Church in common Council
established that the laity should communicate under both species;
the Bohemians who communicate under both species are not heretics,
The treasures of the Church, from which the pope grants
indulgences, are not the merits of Christ and of the saints.
Indulgences are pious frauds of the faithful, and remissions of
good works; and they are among the number of those things which
are allowed, and not of the number of those which are
Indulgences are of no avail to those who truly gain them for the
remission of the penalty due to actual sin in the sight of divine
They are seduced who believe that indulgences are salutary and
useful for the fruit of the spirit.
Indulgences are necessary only for public crimes, and are properly
conceded only to the harsh and impatient.
For six kinds of men indulgences are neither necessary nor useful;
namely, for the dead and those about to die, the infirm, those
legitimately hindered, and those who have not committed crimes,
and those who have committed crimes, but not public ones, and
those who devote themselves to better things.
Excommunications are only external penalties and they do not
deprive man of the common spiritual prayers of the Church.
Christians must be taught to cherish excommunications rather than
to fear them.
The Roman Pontiff, the successor of Peter, is not the vicar of
Christ over all the churches of the entire world, instituted by
Christ Himself in blessed Peter.
The word of Christ to Peter: "Whatsoever you shall loose on
earth," etc., is extended merely to those things bound by
It is certain that it is not in the power of the Church or the
pope to decide upon the articles of faith, and much less
concerning the laws for morals or for good works.
If the pope with a great part of the Church thought so and so, he
would not err; still it is not a sin or heresy to think the
contrary, especially in a matter not necessary for salvation,
until one alternative is condemned and another approved by a
A way has been made for us for weakening the authority of
councils, and for freely contradicting their actions, and judging
their decrees, and boldly confessing whatever seems true, whether
it has been approved or disapproved by any council whatsoever.
Some articles of John Hus, condemned in the Council of Constance,
are most Christian, wholly true and evangelical; these the
universal Church could not condemn.
In every good work the just man sins.
A good work done very well is a venial sin.
That heretics be burned is against the will of the Spirit. [Caution:
The Magisterium is the sole authority both to interpret its teaching
and to seek any punitive action. It should be noted that the
Church does not wish harm towards innocent people, but rather seeks to
protect the eternal salvation of those who may become infected by
others who obstinately persist in advocating "dangerous
doctrines". Our Lord Himself said it would be better for
those who cause others to sin to be drowned (see Mt. 18:6). Of
course, any such actions are not to be taken into our own
hands, but are rather left to the careful deliberation of those
with the proper authority.]
To go to war against the Turks is to resist God who punishes our
iniquities through them.
No one is certain that he is not always sinning mortally, because
of the most hidden vice of pride.
Free will after sin is a matter of title only; and as long as one
does what is in him, one sins mortally.
Purgatory cannot be proved from Sacred Scripture which is in the
The souls in purgatory are not sure of their salvation, at least
not all; nor is it proved by any arguments or by the Scriptures
that they are beyond the state of meriting or of increasing in
The souls in purgatory sin without intermission, as long as they
seek rest and abhor punishment.
The souls freed from purgatory by the suffrages of the living are
less happy than if they had made satisfactions by themselves.
Ecclesiastical prelates and secular princes would not act badly if
they destroyed all of the money bags of beggary.
one of sound mind is ignorant how destructive, pernicious,
scandalous, and seductive to pious and simple minds these various
errors are, how opposed they are to all charity and reverence for
the holy Roman Church who is the mother of all the faithful and
teacher of the faith; how destructive they are of the vigor of
ecclesiastical discipline, namely obedience. This virtue is the
font and origin of all virtues and without it anyone is readily
convicted of being unfaithful.
we, in this above enumeration, important as it is, wish to proceed
with great care as is proper, and to cut off the advance of this
plague and cancerous disease so it will not spread any further in
the Lord's field as harmful thornbushes. We have therefore held a
careful inquiry, scrutiny, discussion, strict examination, and
mature deliberation with each of the brothers, the eminent
cardinals of the holy Roman Church, as well as the priors and
ministers general of the religious orders, besides many other
professors and masters skilled in sacred theology and in civil and
canon law. We have found that these errors or theses are not
Catholic, as mentioned above, and are not to be taught, as such;
but rather are against the doctrine and tradition of the Catholic
Church, and against the true interpretation of the sacred
Scriptures received from the Church. Now Augustine maintained that
her authority had to be accepted so completely that he stated he
would not have believed the Gospel unless the authority of the
Catholic Church had vouched for it. For, according to these
errors, or any one or several of them, it clearly follows that the
Church which is guided by the Holy Spirit is in error and has
always erred. This is against what Christ at his ascension
promised to his disciples (as is read in the holy Gospel of
Matthew): "I will be with you to the consummation of the
world"; it is against the determinations of the holy Fathers,
or the express ordinances and canons of the councils and the
supreme pontiffs. Failure to comply with these canons, according
to the testimony of Cyprian, will be the fuel and cause of all
heresy and schism.
the advice and consent of these our venerable brothers, with
mature deliberation on each and every one of the above theses, and
by the authority of almighty God, the blessed Apostles Peter and
Paul, and our own authority, we condemn, reprobate, and reject
completely each of these theses or errors as either heretical,
scandalous, false, offensive to pious ears or seductive of simple
minds, and against Catholic truth. By listing them, we decree and
declare that all the faithful of both sexes must regard them as
condemned, reprobated, and rejected...We restrain all in the
virtue of holy obedience and under the penalty [of an automatic
because the preceding errors and many others are contained in the
books or writings of Martin Luther, we likewise condemn,
reprobate, and reject completely the books and all the writings
and sermons of the said Martin, whether in Latin or any other
language, containing the said errors or any one of them; and we
wish them to be regarded as utterly condemned, reprobated, and
rejected. We forbid each and every one of the faithful of either
sex, in virtue of holy obedience and under the above penalties to
be incurred automatically, to read, assert, preach, praise, print,
publish, or defend them. They will incur these penalties if they
presume to uphold them in any way, personally or through another
or others, directly or indirectly, tacitly or explicitly, publicly
or occultly, either in their own homes or in other public or
private places. Indeed immediately after the publication of this
letter these works, wherever they may be, shall be sought out
carefully by the ordinaries and others (ecclesiastics and
regulars), and under each and every one of the above penalties
shall be burned publicly and solemnly in the presence of the
clerics and people.
far as Martin himself is concerned, O good God, what have we
overlooked or not done? What fatherly charity have we omitted that
we might call him back from such errors? For after we had cited
him, wishing to deal more kindly with him, we urged him through
various conferences with our legate and through our personal
letters to abandon these errors. We have even offered him safe
conduct and the money necessary for the journey urging him to come
without fear or any misgivings, which perfect charity should cast
out, and to talk not secretly but openly and face to face after
the example of our Savior and the Apostle Paul. If he had done
this, we are certain he would have changed in heart, and he would
have recognized his errors. He would not have found all these
errors in the Roman Curia which he attacks so viciously, ascribing
to it more than he should because of the empty rumors of wicked
men. We would have shown him clearer than the light of day that
the Roman pontiffs, our predecessors, whom he injuriously attacks
beyond all decency, never erred in their canons or constitutions
which he tries to assail. For, according to the prophet, neither
is healing oil nor the doctor lacking in Galaad.
he always refused to listen and, despising the previous citation
and each and every one of the above overtures, disdained to come.
To the present day he has been contumacious. With a hardened
spirit he has continued under censure over a year. What is worse,
adding evil to evil, and on learning of the citation, he broke
forth in a rash appeal to a future council. This to be sure was
contrary to the constitution of Pius II and Julius II our
predecessors that all appealing in this way are to be punished
with the penalties of heretics. In vain does he implore the help
of a council, since he openly admits that he does not believe in a
we can, without any further citation or delay, proceed against him
to his condemnation and damnation as one whose faith is
notoriously suspect and in fact a true heretic with the full
severity of each and all of the above penalties and censures. Yet,
with the advice of our brothers, imitating the mercy of almighty
God who does not wish the death of a sinner but rather that he be
converted and live, and forgetting all the injuries inflicted on
us and the Apostolic See, we have decided to use all the
compassion we are capable of. It is our hope, so far as in us
lies, that he will experience a change of heart by taking the road
of mildness we have proposed, return, and turn away from his
errors. We will receive him kindly as the prodigal son returning
to the embrace of the Church.
let Martin himself and all those adhering to him, and those who
shelter and support him, through the merciful heart of our God and
the sprinkling of the blood of our Lord Jesus Christ by which and
through whom the redemption of the human race and the upbuilding
of holy mother Church was accomplished, know that from our heart
we exhort and beseech that he cease to disturb the peace, unity,
and truth of the Church for which the Savior prayed so earnestly
to the Father. Let him abstain from his pernicious errors that he
may come back to us. If they really will obey, and certify to us
by legal documents that they have obeyed, they will find in us the
affection of a father's love, the opening of the font of the
effects of paternal charity, and opening of the font of mercy and
enjoin, however, on Martin that in the meantime he cease from all
preaching or the office of preacher.
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