Pope Leo X Condemned Luther of Heresy

Dan Graves, MSL

Pope Leo X Condemned Luther of Heresy

Arise, O Lord, and judge your own cause." With those words, Pope Leo X opened the bull that condemned Martin Luther's teachings. It was issued on this day, June 15, 1520.

A bull is a solemn letter from the pope, stamped with a red seal called a bullae.

The bull compared Martin Luther to a wild boar from the forest that sought to destroy the church. It is named Exsurge Domine because those are its first two words in Latin. The bull condemned 41 things taught by Luther.

In 1517, Luther, as was the custom of the day, had posted some theses which he felt needed to be debated. These had sprung out of his sense that it was wrong for the church to sell indulgences (pardons for sins). Luther had recently made a study of justification--the process by which God makes us righteous--and come to the conclusion that popes and priests cannot forgive sins. A man is made righteous instead by faith in God through Jesus Christ. Luther had no thought of breaking from the Roman Church.

However, events took a life of their own. His points were seized by the humanists of the day and became the hot topic of discussion. In the controversy that raged, Luther became more certain than ever that he was right. He based his arguments on the scriptures, which the invention of the printing press had recently made more generally available, and he declared many things that went contrary to Catholic doctrine, such as that there is no purgatory, that it is wrong to burn heretics, and that the pope is not really the Vicar of Christ.

Rome burned Luther's writings.

It took three months for a copy of the bull to reach the reformer. Then Luther read, "Moreover, because the preceding errors and many others are contained in the books or writings of Martin Luther, 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."

Luther showed his disdain for the pope's decision by burning the bull along with several books by popes. He also took time to reply to some of the charges leveled against him, and stuck by his opinions. As a consequence, the pope excommunicated Luther early the next year.


  1. Bainton, Roland. Here I Stand; a life of Martin Luther. Mentor, 1950.
  2. Brusher, Joseph Stanislaus. Popes through the Ages. Princeton, N. J.: Van Nostrand, 1959.
  3. De Rosa, Peter. Vicars of Christ; the dark side of the papacy. Dublin: Poolbeg Press, 2000.
  4. Lea, Henry C. Studies in Church History. Philadelphia: Henry C. Lea; London: Samson, Low, Son, & Marston, 1869.
  5. "Luther, Martin." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
  6. Pope Leo X. "Exsurge Domine; Condemning The Errors Of Martin Luther." http://www.ewtn.com

Last updated July, 2007

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