Today in Catholic History – Pope Leo X issues the bull Exsurge Domine against Martin Luther

On 15 June 1520, Pope Leo X issued his bull Exsurge Domine, or Arise, O Lord, ordering Martin Luther to reject 41 errors or face excommunication. Leo X called for the public burning of any of Luther’s works containing these errors.*

Pope Leo X assigned the responsibility for publishing and distributing the bull in the Holy Roman Empire to Johan Eck. Eck was an adamant foe of Luther as well as the growing humanist movement in Germany. His presence combined with that of the harsh condemnations of Exsurge Domine caused much conflict in the Holy Roman Empire as both bishops and universities united against him. He was unable to publish the bull in several cities and indeed from a few was forced to flee for his life.

Martin Luther’s response to the bull of Leo X was to burn a copy of it along with several volumes of Canon Law, reportedly saying – “Because you have confounded the truth [or, the saints] of God, today the Lord confounds you. Into the fire with you!” On 3 January 1521, Leo X will excommunicate Luther with the bull Decet Romanum Pontificem. The bull which Leo X intended to bring Luther back into union with the Catholic Church instead to drove him further away.

The bull Exsurge Domine in English
An image of the Vatican’s copy of this bull

*Historian Hans J. Hillerbrand has questioned whether the bull accurately presented the ideas of Luther in these condemnations. Moreover, Jimmy Akin has shown the degree of difficulty in ascertaining how serious the condemnation in particular regards to any one of these 41 reputed errors.


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