A Meeting With Luther

In Germany at the beginning of the sixteenth century a knight by the name of Eberhard von Erbach was living in his castle Erbach in the Oldenwood. This knight was known all over for his good qualifications, a hero without blemish, simple, upright and faithful. In addition, he was a man who prized it greatly to be a faithful son of the Church and to serve her with his goods and blood. He also had his sword consecrated by a priest to the service of the holy Bride of Christ. He was indeed a faithful son of the Roman Catholic Church.

An evening during the Spring of the year 1518, this knight, Eberhard von Erbach, entered the little town of Miltenberg with some armed servants. He stopped in front of the inn called the Giant and told the bustling innkeeper that he wished to lodge with him for the night. He kept only one of his servants with him and ordered the others to march on until they came to Wertheim. Considering this command and the serious countenance of the knights, we must conclude that he was planning to do something important. To the innkeeper, however, he remained silent.

He let the innkeeper take him to his room, after which he ate his supper and decided to go to bed quite early. He had just kneeled for his evening prayer when he heard through the thin partition a man’s clear voice raised in an evening song.

The knight understood every word of the song and its wonderful contents. The beautiful melody, remarkable voice, and the masterly playing of the lute filled his mind with delight.

As soon as.the singer had finished the first stanza of the song, the knight could not withhold a hearty "Amen." The gifted neighbor sang also the second and the third verse, and when he had ended his song he added a short and powerful prayer. The knight understood every word and had not been so edified and encouraged for a long time. He whispered his "Amen," and then he retired and fell asleep with the most pleasant thoughts in his heart.

Early the next morning the knight was awakened by the playing of the lute and the fine voice of his neighbor, who was singing his morning song. The knight was so touched that when the song was ended he quickly got dressed and went to the innkeeper asking, " who is my neighbor upstairs in the room on the corner, who has so refreshed me with his wonderful singing?"

"He is a spiritual gentleman, whom I do not know... around middle age and looks very respectable. A little while before you came last night he arrived and is planning to continue his journey today. He has already paid for his lodging and has asked that his cart be made ready."

"I, too, am in a hurry, but please go and tell him that I must thank him with my own lips for the precious songs I heard last night and also this morning. Ask him to give me fifteen minutes. I want to shake hands with him and see him."

The knight followed the innkeeper right in his footsteps, and arriving up- stairs he took the door latch out of his hands. The plow singer stood before the knight, responding to his hearty greetings in a friendly way.

Here was a man in his mid-thirties with a very impressive appearance. His large blue eyes looked lively and witty, and his mouth witnessed that he was a fluent speaker.

"I am coming to thank you personally for the edification you have surprised me with, honorable father," said the knight. "And although I have understood from the innkeeper that you are in a hurry to leave, I wish you would sing one more of those wonderful songs for me. My soul thirsts after the refreshment and encouragement they bring."

"To quench such a thirst with living water is my holy duty," answered the monk. At the same time, he took his lute and sang another song... an entreaty and supplication that the Lord would show mercy to poor sinners.

Deeply moved, the knight sat before the singer, his eye constantly fixed upon him as if he was afraid of losing a single word.

When the song was ended he rose and stretched both hands out to the monk, and these two men closed a covenant of love without words.

Then the knight started and said, "Your precious song brings this question to my lips. What do you think about the doctrine of St. Augustine, that we through penitence and good work will not be delivered from our sins, but only through the expiatory sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross?"

With a smile on his face the monk answered, "It seems to me that you are more than a common layman and know just as much about these important things as I do. But I will gladly tell you my opinion."

And then these two men had such an interesting discussion that they forgot everything else.

A knocking on the door interrupted them. The innkeeper had come to ask the gentlemen whether the cart could be unhitched and the horses unsaddled, because the servants downstairs did not know what to do any more.

The knight jumped up.

"Our conversation has made me forget all about my work. A very good work! I am ashamed that I did not show more zeal for it."

"May I ask what presses you so, Sir Erbach?"

"Surely! Because I know that you will give me your blessing, that it may prosper to the honor of God and the holy Mother church. I left my castle with my servants yesterday, and they have already occupied the road to Wertheim. I will join them soon, and then I hope to make a good catch. There is a very evil heretic, and I know for sure that he is on his way there."

"Whom do you mean?" asked the stranger.

"The Augustinian monk of Wittenberg, who raised up his violating hand last fall against our Mother Church, reviling her institutions. He is now on his way to Heidelberg."

"You mean Dr. Martin Luther?"

"Who else but that black sheep in the flock of believers, who has caused such an uproar throughout the whole empire by this terrible scandal and offense!" "An what will you then do with the monk of Wittenberg, if you catch him?"

"I will shut him up in my castle, where he will be under the influence of my priests until he turns back to the cross of Jesus Christ as a poor, penitent sinner."

"And what if he would hold to this conviction and ’not fulfill your praise- worthy desire... what then?"

"Do you think that I have spent a large sum of money in vain to know . exactly where he is? He shall know today that he shall run into the trap which I have set for him. If he stubbornly refuses to listen to friendly counsel, then I will take him to Rome. I will deliver him into the hands of the holy father myself. There he’ll have a foretaste of what awaits him at the stake, if he still hardens himself. I must leave now... but I cannot go, reverend father, before I know your name."

"I will gladly fulfill your wish. You do not have to trouble yourself any more, because the man you want to catch is standing right here in front of you. I am Martin Luther."

The knight was speechless. Motionless he stood before his prey; only his wide open eyes, staring dizzily, showed that he was still alive.

Smiling, Luther continued, "You see, I am in your power. Will you indeed shut a man up in your castle because he has a different opinion than you do about the indulgence business of the pope? Well, if this is so, let your servants then lead me away. I have no other weapon but the living Word of God."

"No... not this!" stammered Erbach, utterly ashamed. Now I have heard you myself, and I would like to hear more from you about these important things. There’s no need for haste now any more... I will have the wagon unhitched, and the horse can be unsaddled. I’ll send my servant to get the others at Wertheim. In the meantime, sing another one of your songs first, and then explain to me what you have against the indulgences of the church."

Luther took the lute in his hands and again the knight was deeply moved.

After this Luther told him what had moved him to witness publicly against the indulgences. Hour after hour passed while he uncovered to the knight the deepest grounds of his faith. The knight was all ears and repeatedly nodded his assent.

After a while the innkeeper came to the room to say that all the servants had returned and were waiting for orders from their master.

The horses were once again hitched to the wagon.

"And now you must go with me, Dr. Luther," said the knight. "you have me completely convicted, and God has enlightened my understanding by your clear discourses. Come along.to my castle. I bless the hand which has taken the covering from my eyes. Come, that my wife may also see the light of the truth which you have kindled."

The knight drew the monk along down the stairway and helped him to take a place in the wagon, which was surrounded by the servants, while he himself rode next to Dr. Luther. Through the green valley, the procession moved forward, between the exulting heights of the Oldenwood to the strong castle of Eberhard von Erbach. By the gate stood the lady of the castle, looking and waiting for her husband.

As he walked up to her he said, "Here he is, but the tables are turned .. . I am the prisoner. As Saul I set out .. . as Paul I came back. All thanks and praise to God for this blessing!"