EXSURGE DOMINE (Latin for "Arise O Lord") is a papal bull promulgated
on 15 June 1520 by
Pope Leo X
Pope Leo X . It was written in response to the
Martin Luther which opposed the views of the Church. It
censured forty one propositions extracted from Luther's
95 theses and
subsequent writings, and threatened him with excommunication unless he
recanted within a sixty-day period commencing upon the publication of
the bull in
Saxony and its neighboring regions. Luther refused to
recant and responded instead by composing polemical tracts lashing out
at the papacy and by publicly burning a copy of the bull on 10
December 1520. As a result, Luther was excommunicated in 1521.
* 1 History
* 2 Text
* 3 Reaction
* 3.1 Reactions by Luther and his sympathizers
* 3.2 Modern reactions
* 4 Manuscript copies
* 5 Notes
* 6 Citations
* 7 References
* 8 External links
The historical impetus for this bull arose from an effort to provide
a decisive papal response to the growing popularity of Luther's
teachings. Beginning in January 1520, a papal consistory was summoned
to examine Luther's fidelity to Catholic teachings. After a short
time, it produced a hasty list of several perceived errors found in
his writings, but Curial officials believed that a more thorough
consideration was warranted. The committee was reorganized and
subsequently produced a report determining that only a few of Luther's
teachings could potentially be deemed heretical or erroneous from the
standpoint of Catholic theology. His other teachings perceived as
problematic were deemed to warrant lesser degrees of theological
censure, including the designations "scandalous" or "offensive to
Johann Eck subsequently became involved in these proceedings. He had
personally confronted Luther a year earlier in the
and had obtained copies of condemnations issued against Luther by the
universities of Cologne and Leuven . In a letter to a friend, Eck
claimed he became involved because "no one else was sufficiently
familiar with Luther's errors." Soon after having joined the
committee when it was already halfway through its deliberations, he
began to exert his considerable influence on the direction it
The committee on which Eck sat consisted of some forty members,
including cardinals (among whom was
Cardinal Cajetan ), theologians
and canon lawyers . The heads of the three major mendicant orders ,
the Dominicans ,
Augustinians , were represented.
Central to the committee's proceedings was the matter of whether (and
in what manner) Luther and his teachings should be formally condemned.
Some members argued that Luther's popular support in Germany made it
too politically risky to issue a bull at that time. The theologians
supported an immediate condemnation of Luther. But the canon lawyers
advocated a mediating position: Luther should be given a hearing and a
chance to defend himself before being excommunicated as a heretic.
Ultimately the committee negotiated a compromise. Luther would be
given no hearing, but he would be offered a sixty-day window in which
to repent before further action would be taken.
Prior to Eck's involvement, Cajetan had expressed his desire that the
committee members examine the whole context of Luther's writings and
specify careful distinctions among the various degrees of censure to
be applied to Luther's teachings. Eck's approach was markedly
different. He bulldozed a final decision through the committee to
ensure a speedy publication. As a result, the text it ultimately
drafted simply contained a list of various statements by Luther
perceived as problematic. No attempt was made to provide specific
responses to Luther's propositions based upon Scripture or Catholic
tradition or any clarification of what degree of theological censure
should be associated with each proposition listed. All quoted
statements were to be condemned as a whole (in globo) as either
heretical, scandalous, false, offensive to pious ears, or seductive of
simple minds. Eck may have employed this tactic in order to associate
more strongly the taint of error with all of Luther's censured
teachings. However, this in globo formula for censure had already
been employed by the earlier
Council of Constance
Council of Constance to condemn various
propositions extracted from the writings of
Jan Hus .
When the committee members had obtained agreement among themselves
regarding the selection of forty-one propositions which they deemed to
be problematic, they subsequently submitted their draft text to Leo X.
He appended a preface and conclusion and issued the document as an
official papal bull on 15 June 1520. Copies were printed, notarized,
sealed and distributed to specially appointed papal nuncios who were
tasked with disseminating the bull, especially in those regions where
Luther's followers were most active, and ensuring that its
instructions were carried out.
Printed copies of this bull bore the Latin title Bulla contra errores
Martini Lutheri et sequacium (Bull against the errors of Martin Luther
and his followers), but it is more commonly known by its Latin incipit
Exsurge Domine (Arise O Lord). These words also serve to open a
prefatory prayer within the text of the bull calling on the Lord to
arise against the "foxes have arisen seeking to destroy the vineyard"
and the destructive "wild boar from the forest." Both references to
passages of Scripture: "Catch the foxes for us, The little foxes that
are ruining the vineyards, While our vineyards are in blossom..."
(Song 2:15 NASB) and "A boar from the forest eats it away And whatever
moves in the field feeds on it. O God of hosts, turn again now, we
beseech You; Look down from heaven and see, and take care of this
vine..." (Ps 80:13-14 NASB) In these poetic metaphors may also be
found an echo of Leo X's engagement in the hunting of wild boars while
residing at a hunting lodge in the Italian hills during the spring of
Following additional prayers of intercession directed towards the
Apostles Peter and Paul and the "whole church of the saints" to defend
Catholicism against Luther, the bull proceeds to list the forty-one
propositions previously selected by the committee. The condemned
propositions do not cover all disputed points of doctrine advocated by
Luther. Many of Luther's important works setting forth his
disagreements with Catholic theology, including On the Babylonian
Captivity of the Church , had not yet been published when this bull
was issued. Moreover, on account of Eck's efforts to speed the
committee along, it did not have sufficient opportunity to thoroughly
examine the material Luther had already published. Therefore, the list
of condemned propositions draws in large part upon the material with
which Eck was personally familiar, including the 95 Theses, the lists
of censures against Luther issued by the universities at Cologne and
Leuven which Eck had brought with him to Rome, and Luther's
Resolutiones (a detailed exposition of the 95 Theses). More than
half of the forty-one censured propositions come from the 95 Theses or
the Resolutiones; the larger part of the remainder are derived from
Leipzig debate. The selection of censures themselves in large
part combines and amplifies those statements already selected as
problematic by the universities of Cologne and Leuven.
Some of the condemnations confirmed prior judgments by the papacy.
Luther's support for conciliarism is explicitly censured (proposition
#28) and is singled out for further condemnation in the bull's
conclusion: "... broke forth in a rash appeal to a future council.
This to be sure was contrary to the constitution of Pius II and Pope
Julius II our predecessors that all appealing in this way are to be
punished with the penalties of heretics. In vain does he implore the
help of a council, since he openly admits that he does not believe in
a council." Other condemnations represent new papal interventions on
matters that had been freely disputed among Catholic scholars and
theologians before that time. For example, Luther's opposition to the
burning of heretics (proposition #33) and his anti-war stance with
respect to the
Ottoman Turks (proposition #34) reflect opinions also
Desiderus Erasmus . Moreover, Luther explicitly referred to
the church father
Jerome for support when he opposed the practice of
Leo X then proceeded to issue an authoritative condemnation of these
forty-one propositions in the following words:
With the advice and consent of these our venerable brothers, with
mature deliberation on each and every one of the above theses, and by
the authority of almighty God, the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul,
and our own authority, we condemn, reprobate, and reject completely
each of these theses or errors as either heretical, scandalous, false,
offensive to pious ears or seductive of simple minds, and against
Catholic truth. By listing them, we decree and declare that all the
faithful of both sexes must regard them as condemned, reprobated, and
rejected . . . We restrain all in the virtue of holy obedience and
under the penalty of an automatic major excommunication....
Additionally, the bull contains a directive forbidding any use of
Luther's works and decreeing that they should be burned:
...we likewise condemn, reprobate, and reject completely the books
and all the writings and sermons of the said Martin, whether in Latin
or any other language, containing the said errors or any one of them;
and we wish them to be regarded as utterly condemned, reprobated, and
rejected. We forbid each and every one of the faithful of either sex,
in virtue of holy obedience and under the above penalties to be
incurred automatically, to read, assert, preach, praise, print,
publish, or defend them. ... Indeed immediately after the publication
of this letter these works, wherever they may be, shall be sought out
carefully by the ordinaries and others , and under each and every one
of the above penalties shall be burned publicly and solemnly in the
presence of the clerics and people.:
Luther, along with his "supporters, adherents and accomplices," were
given sixty days from the publication of this bull in which to desist
"from preaching, both expounding their views and denouncing others,
from publishing books and pamphlets concerning some or all of their
errors." Luther himself was instructed to "inform us of such
recantation through an open document, sealed by two prelates , which
we should receive within another sixty days. Or he should personally,
with safe conduct, inform us of his recantation by coming to Rome."
REACTIONS BY LUTHER AND HIS SYMPATHIZERS
The Pope assigned to Eck and Cardinal
Girolamo Aleandro the task of
publishing this bull in Saxony, its neighboring regions, and the Low
They found this task more difficult than had initially been
anticipated on account of the widespread public support for Luther,
particularly in Germany. At
Erfurt , students who sympathized with
Luther tossed copies of the bull into the local river and at
a posted copy was torn down and defaced. Even some Catholic bishops
hesitated as much as six months before publishing the bull's contents.
At times, the opposition faced by Eck and Aleandro was so fierce that
their very lives were endangered. At
Leipzig , Eck had to retreat for
an hour to a cloister in fear for his life.
Eck found his task to be particularly onerous. He had received secret
instructions permitting him to include more names under the bull's
threat of excommunication at his discretion. This power he chose to
exercise by supplementing the bull with the names of several prominent
Humanists and thereby aroused their opposition besides that of
Luther's supporters. In the Netherlands, Aleandro also experienced his
share of confrontations with Luther's sympathizers. Among those he
encountered was Desiderus Erasmus, who declared that "The inclemency
of the bull ill comports with the moderation of Leo" and also that
"Papal bulls are weighty, but scholars attach much more weight to
books with good arguments drawn from the testimony of divine
Scripture, which does not coerce but instructs."
For these reasons, its dissemination took several months to complete.
Luther himself received an official copy bearing the papal seal in
early October of that year. However, rumors of its existence reached
Luther well in advance of the official copy. At first he doubted their
veracity and thought that the document to which they referred may be a
forgery, possibly by Eck himself. Nonetheless he commented that it was
the work of
Antichrist , whatever its true origin may be, and started
to compose a response even before he had received an official copy.
His response was entitled Adversus Execrabile Antichristi Bullam
(Against the Execrable Bull of Antichrist).
Luther defiantly proclaimed in his response that "...whoever wrote
this bull, he is Antichrist. I protest before God, our Lord Jesus, his
sacred angels and the whole world that with my whole heart I dissent
from the damnation of this bull, that I curse and execrate it as
sacrilege and blasphemy of Christ, God's Son and our Lord. This be my
recantation, O bull, thou daughter of bulls." He subsequently took
issue with the in globo censure of his statements: "My articles are
called 'respectively some heretical, some erroneous, some scandalous,"
which is as much to say, 'We don't know which are which.' O meticulous
ignorance! I want to be instructed, not respectively, but absolutely
and certainly. ... Let them show where I am a heretic, or dry up their
spittle." Much of the remainder of the tract is devoted to a
discussion of the censured propositions.
With the publication of the bull, sporadic public burnings of
Luther's works began to take place in Germany in accordance with Leo
X's instructions. However, in some places this directive proved
impossible or difficult to carry out because of Luther's popular
support. On certain occasions, his followers managed to substitute his
condemned books with wastepaper or anti-Luther tracts, or rescue some
of his works from the flames before they were consumed.
On 29 November 1520, Luther published a second response to the bull
entitled Assertion of All the Articles Wrongly Condemned in the Roman
Bull. Luther's commentary on proposition #18 provides a representative
example of its general tone: "I was wrong, I admit it, when I said
that indulgences were 'the pious defrauding of the faithful.' I recant
and say, '
Indulgences are the most pious frauds and imposters of the
most rascally pontiffs, by which they deceive the souls and destroy
the goods of the faithful.'" Luther also published his On the Freedom
of a Christian that same month. Although this work was not penned as a
direct response to the bull, it nevertheless reaffirmed Luther's
commitment to certain themes censured therein, including the primacy
of ecumenical councils over papal decrees. Painting of Luther
burning the bull by Karl Aspelin (sv)
On 10 December 1520, sixty days after Luther had received a copy of
this bull, he and
Melanchthon invited the local university faculty and
students to assemble that morning at the Elster Gate in
Wittenberg . A
bonfire was lit and volumes of canon law , papal constitutions, and
works of scholastic theology were burned. Luther himself tossed a copy
of the bull into the flames. Having done so, Luther is reported to
have said, "Because you have confounded the truth of God, today the
Lord confounds you. Into the fire with you!", a declaration which
Psalm 21:9. Luther's act of defiance reflected deeper
motives than a mere retaliatory desire to treat these representations
of Catholic authority with the same regard that the papal bull had
shown for his own books. By burning these works, Luther signaled his
decisive break from Catholicism's traditions and institutions. Luther
himself later explained his actions that day:
Since they have burned my books, I burn theirs. The canon law was
included because it makes the pope a god on earth. So far I have
merely fooled with this business of the pope. All my articles
Antichrist are Christian. Seldom has the pope overcome
anyone with Scripture and with reason.
The breach between Luther and the papacy was finalized on 3 January
1521, when on account of Luther's failure to comply, the Pope issued
Decet Romanum Pontificem to declare that he had been formally
Exsurge Domine marks a watershed event in Christian history.
Philip Schaff notes that "The bull of
excommunication is the papal counter-manifesto to Luther's Theses, and
condemns in him the whole cause of the
Protestant Reformation. Therein
lies its historical significance. It was the last bull addressed to
Christendom as an undivided whole, and the first which was
disobeyed by a large part of it."
However, contemporary scholars of the
Reformation widely agree that
this bull itself is a "strange document and an evasive assessment of
Luther's theological concerns." Schaff notes that the condemned
propositions are "torn from the connection , and presented in the most
objectionable form as mere negations of Catholic doctrines. The
positive views of the Reformer are not stated, or distorted."
Catholic author John M. Todd calls the bull "contradictory, lacking in
charity, and incidentally far less effective than it might have been."
Not only does the text fail to identify precisely how each
proposition is censured, but also it avoids direct engagement with
numerous issues that are central to Luther's theology including Sola
Sola Scriptura . In part, this evasion was simply an
unavoidable consequence of the fact that Luther did not fully
articulate his mature theological position until some time after this
bull had been issued. Even so, Eck did not afford the committee
sufficient time to better grasp the core issues at stake in Luther's
teachings. As a result, some of the censured propositions are
ambiguous, peripheral to Luther's main concerns, or were misunderstood
or misrepresented by the committee. At least twelve of the forty-one
propositions fail to accurately quote Luther or misrepresent his
beliefs. The bull itself contains an internal contradiction: at one
point it orders all of Luther's works to be burned, but elsewhere
restricts this censorship only to those works which contain one of the
forty-one censored propositions.
The censure of certain theological propositions in this bull
continues to be a source of controversy. For example, proposition #33
censured by this bull states "It is contrary to the will of the Spirit
that heretics be burned.", something more recent Catholic teaching,
particularly in regards to the declaration of
Vatican II that "the
human person has a right to religious freedom" and that "This freedom
means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of
individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise
that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own
beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in
association with others, within due limits", seems to have softened.
This tension between these two authoritative sources of Catholic
teaching has sparked a contemporary debate on papal infallibility ,
however, Vatican II's declaration on religious freedom is not absolute
but only "within due limits" which is subject to a "just public
Eastern Orthodox author Laurent Cleenewerck asserts that Leo X's
condemnations technically satisfy the requirements of an infallible
(ex cathedra ) definition in accordance with the criteria laid down by
Vatican I . The declaration of Leo X that members of the Catholic
faithful must "condemn, reprobate, and reject completely each of these
theses or errors" on pain of an automatic (latae sententiae )
excommunication is claimed to constitute an authoritative papal
definition on doctrinal matters concerning faith and morals which must
be held by the whole Catholic Church. He then notes that the practice
of burning heretics poses a "serious ethical problem" and thus
Cleenewerck finds in
Exsurge Domine support for his conclusion that
"the idea that Papal Infallibility can be presented as independent of
any conciliar consent and as 'the constant belief of the universal
Church' is rejected."
Others disagree with these assessments and advance the alternative
view that a censure which may be heretical, but may also be merely
"scandalous", "offensive to pious ears" or "seductive of simple
minds", cannot be accepted as an infallible utterance of the
Magisterium . Brian Harrison argues that a censure of an unspecified
nature is potentially subject to future clarification or reform,
unlike an ex cathedra definition which is by nature irreformable. A
second argument advanced here asserts that censures which are merely
"scandalous", "offensive to pious ears" or "seductive of simple minds"
strongly depend upon a particular context of certain historical or
cultural circumstances. A proposition that causes scandal or offense
when it is advanced within a particular context "may not necessarily
be so noxious under different circumstances." Even if a proposition
is essentially true, but poorly worded or advanced in a particular
context with the intent of provoking scandal or offense, it may be
censured as "scandalous" or "offensive to pious ears".
A copy of
Exsurge Domine is extant in the
Vatican Library .
* ^ Catholicism has traditionally recognized several degrees of
theological censure. According to
Catholic Encyclopedia , "A
proposition is branded heretical when it goes directly and immediately
against a revealed or defined dogma, or dogma de fide ." An erroneous
proposition "contradicts only a certain theological conclusion or
truth clearly deduced from two premises, one an article of faith, the
other naturally certain." The
Magisterium may also apply censures of
lesser gravity to other propositions that are inherently neither
heretical nor erroneous. For example, a proposition may be deemed as
"scandalous" or "offensive to pious ears" if it is worded in a manner
that could lead to a scandalous interpretation or its "verbal
expression is such as rightly to shock the Catholic sense and delicacy
* ^ Here Leo X alludes to
Pope Pius II
Pope Pius II 's bull
promulgated in 1460.
* ^ "Automatic major excommunication" translates the Latin
expression majoris excommunicationis latae sententiae .
* ^ Latin : Haereticos comburi, est contra voluntatem Spiritus.
* ^ It is itself a matter of controversy whether the 16th century
Magisterium would have permitted the Catholic faithful to embrace some
censured propositions as being generally true and worthy of censure
only when they are advanced in certain contexts with the intention of
generating scandal or causing offense. In a debate with Eck, Luther
himself attempted to defend some of
Jan Hus ' propositions which the
Council of Constance
Council of Constance had condemned in globo as either heretical,
erroneous, blasphemous, presumptuous, seditious or offensive to pious
ears. Eck replied to Luther with the retort, "Whichever they were,
none of them was called most Christian and evangelical, and if you
defend them, then you are heretical, erroneous, blasphemous
presumptuous, seditious, and offensive to pious ears respectively."
* ^ A B C Hillerbrand 2007 , p. 50.
* ^ Sollier 1908 .
* ^ Bainton 1950 , p. 143.
* ^ A B C Todd 1964 , p. 166.
* ^ Bainton 1950 , p. 144.
* ^ Bainton 1950 , pp. 143–144.
* ^ Dolan 1965 , p. 240.
* ^ A B Bainton 1950 , p. 147.
* ^ Bainton 1950 , p. 156.
* ^ A B C D E Leo X &
Exsurge Domine .
* ^ Luther, Martin (1518). Resolutiones disputationum de
Indulgentiarum virtute F. Martini Luther Augustiniani Vittenbergensis
(in Latin). Rhau-Grunenberg.
* ^ Hillerbrand 2007 , p. 40.
* ^ A B Hillerbrand 2007 , p. 51.
* ^ Bainton 1950 , p. 145.
* ^ Bainton 1950 , pp. 145–147.
* ^ A B Hillerbrand 1969 , p. 108.
* ^ A B C Bainton 1950 , p. 158.
* ^ A B Todd 1964 , p. 167.
* ^ Bainton 1950 , p. 157.
* ^ Todd 1964 , p. 168.
* ^ Luther, Martin (1520). Adversus Execrabile Antichristi Bullam
(in Latin). Wittenberg.
* ^ Bainton 1950 , pp. 161–162.
* ^ Bainton 1950 , p. 162.
* ^ Todd 1964 , p. 169.
* ^ Bainton 1950 , p. 165.
* ^ Bainton 1950 , p. 164.
* ^ Brecht 1993 , p. 424.
* ^ Psalms 21:9
* ^ Todd 1964 , p. 170.
* ^ Bainton 1950 , p. 166.
* ^ Schaff 1916 , p. 228.
* ^ Schaff 1916 , p. 229.
* ^ Hillerbrand 1969 , p. 111.
* ^ Pope Paul VI (7 December 1965). "Dignitatis Humanae".
Proceedings of Vatican II. Archived from the original on 2012-02-11.
* ^ Cleenewerck 2005 , pp. 311–313.
* ^ Cleenewerck 2005 , p. 313.
* ^ Cleenewerck 2005 , p. 315.
* ^ A B Harrison 2005 .
* ^ Akin 2001 .
* ^ Bainton 2005 , p. 116.
* ^ Vatican Secret Archives c. 2006 .
* Akin, Jimmy (September 2001). "Identifying infallible statements".
This Rock. San Diego, CA:
Catholic Answers . 12 (7). ISSN 1049-4561 .
Archived from the original on 2016-01-22. Retrieved 2012-03-10.
* Bainton, Roland H. (1950). Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther.
* Brecht, Martin (1993) . Martin Luther. 1. Translated by James
Schaaf. Philadelphia: Fortress. ISBN 978-0-8006-0738-8 .
* Cleenewerck, Laurent (2008). His Broken Body: Understanding and
Healing the Schism between the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox
Churches. Euclid University Press. ISBN 9780615183619 .
* Dolan, John P. (1965). History of the
ed.). Toronto: The New American Library of Canada Limited.
* Harrison, Brian W. (September 2005). "Torture and corporal
punishment as a problem in Catholic theology". Living Tradition. St.
Louis, MO: Oblates of Wisdom (119).
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original on 2007-02-10. Retrieved 2012-03-10.