“Love is capable of all things, and for unity nothing is too heavy” – Martin Luther, ‘Unterricht’, feb. 1519
In January 1519, in the midst of the indulgence controversy and not much more than a year after the 95 theses, Martin Luther met the papal nuncio Karl von Miltitz in the city of Altenburg, and the two came to an agreement on reconciliation between Luther and Rome. Unfortunately, in the months after their encounter they were not able to put into practice the proposals on which they had agreed in order to realize the reconciliation. Nevertheless, this moment of dialogue and the short interruption of polemics, not to mention the fact that Luther and a representative of the Pope agreed upon a proposal of reconciliation, is very significant. Unfortunately it has not received a lot of attention in most of the literature on Luther and the Reformation.
After their encounter, Luther and Miltitz began trying to put the proposals of their agreement into practice (unfortunately, they did not succeed in the months afterwards). One of these proposals was that Luther was to write and publish a text in which he explains the importance of unity with the Church of Rome. This became the ‘Unterricht’, published in February 1519. Unfortunately, also this text, like the encounter between Luther and Miltitz, has not received a lot of attention in most of the literature. As a matter of fact, a full translation of the Unterricht has never been published, in any modern language – the text has only been available in the original 15th-century German in which Luther wrote it.
So while studying this encounter and this text, I wrote an article on it which includes an English translation of the Unterricht. It was published recently in Lutheran Quarterly: Luther’s 1519 “Unterricht” amid the Negotiations with Papal Legate Karl von Miltitz. In the dialogue and agreement with Miltitz on reconciliation, and in the text of the Unterricht, we see a side of Luther which we often have not been aware of: Luther as a man of dialogue and spiritual unity.