Out of Europe, 1555
On the first page it says: 'In the fresco I'm on the in the background.'
The meticulous handwriting, no smudges, tiny. Names, places, dates, reflections. The notebook of the final fevered days.
The yellowed and decrepit letters, the dust of decades.
The coin of the kingdom of the mad dangles on my chest to remind me of the eternal oscillation of human fortunes.
The book, perhaps the only remaining copy, has never been opened.
The names are the names of the dead. My names, and those who have travelled those twisting paths.
The years we have been through have buried the world's innocence for ever.
I promised you not to forget.
I've kept you safe in my memory.
I want to recall everything, right from the beginning, the de tails, chance, the flow of events. Before distance obscures my backward glance, muffling the hubbub of voices, of weapons, armies, laughter, shouts. And at the same time only distance allows us to go back to a likely beginning.
1514, Albert Hohenzollern becomes Archbishop of Magdeburg. At the age of twenty-three. More gold in the Pope's coffers: he also buys the bishopric of Halberstadt.
1517, Mainz. The biggest ecclesiastical principality in Ger many awaits the appointment of a new bishop. If he wins the appointment, Albert will get his hands on a third of the whole German territory.
He makes his offer: 14,000 ducats for the archbishopric, plus 10,000 for the papal dispensation that allows him to hold all these offices.
The deal is negotiated via the Fugger bank of Augsburg, which anticipates the sum required. Once the operation is concluded, Albert owes the Fuggers 30,000 ducats.
The bankers decree the mode of payment. Albert must pro mote the sale of the indulgences for Pope Leo X in his territory. The faithful will make a contribution to the construction of St Peter's basilica and will receive a certificate in exchange: the Pope absolves them of their sins.
Only half of the takings will go to the Roman builders. Albert will use the rest to pay the Fuggers.
The task is given to Johann Tetzel, the most expert preacher around.
Tetzel travels the villages for the whole of the summer of 1517. He stops on the borders with Thuringia, which belongs to Frederick the Wise, Duke of Saxony. He can't set foot there.
Frederick is collecting indulgences himself, through the sale of relics. He doesn't tolerate competitors on his territories. But Tetzel is a clever bastard: he knows that Frederick's subjects will happily travel a few miles beyond the border. A ticket to paradise is worth the trip.
The coming and going of souls in search of reassurance infuriates a young Augustinian friar, a doctor at Wittenberg University. He can't bear the obscene market that Tetzel has set in motion, with the Pope's coat of arms and the papal bull in full view.
31 October 1517, the friar nails ninety-five theses against the traffic in indulgences, written in his own hand, to the northern door of Wittenberg church.
His name is Martin Luther. With that gesture the Reformation begins.
A STARTING point. Memories reassembling the fragments of an era. Mine. And that of my enemy: Q
Letter sent to Rome from the Saxon cit of Wittenberq, addressed to Gianpietro Carafa, member of the theoloqical meetinq held by His Holiness Leo X, dated 17 May 1518.
To the most illustrious and reverend lord and honourable master Giovanni Pietro Carafa, at the theological meeting held by His Holiness Leo X, in Rome.
My Most Respected, Illustrious and Reverend Lord and Master,
Here is Your Lordship's most faithful servant's report on what is happening in these remote marshlands, which for a year now appear to have become a focus for all manner of diatribes.
Since the Augustinian monk Martin Luther nailed his notorious theses to the portal of the cathedral eight months ago, the name of Wittenberg has travelled far and wide on everyone's lips. Young students from bordering states are flowing into this town to listen to the preacher's incredible theories from his own mouth.
In particular, his sermons against the buying and selling of indulgences seem to have enjoyed the greatest success among young minds open to novelty. What was until yester day something perfectly ordinary and undisputed, the remission of sins in return for a pious donation to the Church, seems today to be criticised by everyone as though it were an unmentionable scandal.
Such sudden fame has made Luther pompous and over bearing; he feels as though he has been entrusted with a supernatural task, and that leads him to risk even more, to go even further.
Indeed yesterday, like every Sunday, preaching from the pulpit on the gospel of the day (the text was John 16, 2: 'They shall put you out of the synagogues'), he linked the 'scandal' of the market in indulgences with another thesis, one which is to my mind even more dangerous.
Luther asserted that one should not be overly frightened of the consequences of an unjust excommunication, because that concerns only external communion with the Church, and not internal communion. Indeed, only the latter concerns God's bond with the faithful, which no man can declare broken, not even the Pope. Furthermore, an unjust excommunication cannot harm the soul, and if it is sup ported with filial resignation towards the Church, it can even become a precious merit. So if someone is unjustly excommunicated, it can even be seen as a precious merit. S0 if someone is unjustly excommunicated, he must not deny with words or actions the cause for which he was excommunicated, and must patiently endure the excommunication even if it means dying excommunicated and not being buried in consecrated ground, because these things are much less important than truth and justice.
Finally he concluded with these words: 'Blessed be he who dies in an unjust excommunication; because by being subjected to that harsh punishment because of his love of justice, which he will neither deny nor abandon, he shall receive the eternal crown of salvation.'
Uniting the desire to serve you with gratitude for the confidence that you have shown in me, I shall now make so bold as to convey my opinion of the things that I have mentioned above. It seemed clear to Your Most Reverend Lord ship's humble servant that Luther had sniffed the air and smelt his own coming excommunication, just as the fox scents the smell of the hounds. He is already sharpening his doctrinal weapons and seeking allies for the immediate future. In particular, I believe he is seeking the support of his master the Elector Frederick of Saxony, who has not yet publicly disclosed his own state of mind as regards Friar Martin. Not for nothing is he called the Wise. The lord of Saxony continues to employ that skilled intermediary, Spalatin, the court librarian and counsellor, to assess the monk's intentions. Spalatin is a sly and treacherous character, of whom I gave you a brief description in my last missive.
Your Lordship will have a better understanding than his servant of the disastrous gravity of the thesis put forward by Luther: he wants to strip the Holy See of its greatest bulwark, the weapon of excommunication. And it is also apparent that Luther will never dare to put this thesis of his in writing, since he is aware of the enormity that it represents, and the danger it might present to his own person. So I have thought it opportune to do so myself, so that Your Lordship may have time to take all the precautions he considers necessary to stop this diabolical friar.
Kissing the hand of Your Most Illustrious and Reverend Lordship,
I beg that I may never fall from grace with Your Lordship.
Your Lordship's faithful servant