“Scarcely had they been nailed to the church door of Wittenberg than the feeble sounds of the hammer were followed throughout all Germany by a mighty blow that reached even the foundations of haughty Rome, threatening with sudden ruin the walls, the gates, and the pillars of Catholicism, stunning and terrifying her champions, and at the same time awakening thousands from the sleep of error.
These theses spread with the rapidity of lightning. A month had not elapsed before they were at Rome.
‘In a fortnight,’ says a contemporary historian, ‘they were in every part of Germany, and in four weeks they had traversed nearly the whole of Christendom, as if the very angels had been their messengers and had placed them before the eyes of all men. No one can believe the noise they made.’
Somewhat later they were translated into Dutch and Spanish, and a traveler sold them in Jerusalem. ‘Everyone,’ said Luther, ‘complained of the indulgences; and as all the bishops and doctors had kept silence, and nobody was willing to bell the cat, poor Luther became a famous doctor, because, as they said,
‘There came one at last who ventured to do it. But I did not like this glory, and the tune was nearly too high for my voice.’
Many of the pilgrims, who had thronged to Wittenberg from every quarter for the Feast of All Saints, carried back with, instead of indulgences, the famous theses of the Augustinian monk. By this means they contributed to their circulation. Everyone read them, meditated and commented on them. Men conversed about them in all the convents and in all the universities. The pious monks who had entered the cloisters to save their souls, all the upright and honorable men, were delighted at this simple and striking confession of the truth, and heartily desired that Luther would continue the work he had begun.
At length, one man had found the courage to undertake the perilous struggle. This was a reparation accorded to Christendom: the public conscience was satisfied. Piety saw in these theses a blow aimed at every superstition; the new theology hailed in it the defeat of the scholastic dogmas; princes and magistrates considered them as a barrier raised against the invasions of the ecclesiastical power; and the nation rejoiced at seeing so positive a veto opposed by this monk to the cupidity of the Roman chancery.
‘I observe’, remarked Erasmus, one of the principal rivals of the reformer, ‘that the greater their evangelical piety and the purer their morals, the less are men opposed to Luther. His life is praised even by those who cannot endure his faith. The world was weary of a doctrine so full of puerile fables and human ordinances, and thirsted for that living, pure, and hidden water which springs from the veins of the evangelists and apostles. Luther’s genius was fitted to accomplish these things, and his zeal would naturally catch fire at so glorious an enterprise.'
THE TRIUMPH OF TRUTH M.L. D’Aubigne pgs. 86-87.