Martin Luther Biography, Part 14: Knight George
On the way back to Wittenberg from the Diet of Worms, the wagon bearing Luther, his friend Amsdorf, and several other companions was attacked by a band of ferocious men. Luther was dragged to the ground, and then he was placed on horseback, surrounded by the ruffians, who hurried him off into the woods. The other men who had been traveling with Luther quickly spread the word of his abduction. For a time, virtually no-one knew whether Luther was alive or dead.
But Frederick the Wise was confident that Luther was safe. Justifiably concerned for Luther's well-being following the Diet, Frederick had instructed certain of his court officials to hide Luther away. Frederick had remained intentionally ignorant of the location to which Luther would be taken so that, if anyone asked him, he could honestly say that he had no idea where Luther was.
In the middle of the night, Luther was brought by a circuitous route to Wartburg Castle outside of Eisenach. Luther was confined to the Castle (and its immediate grounds) for a period of months, with only a warden and two serving boys for company. At the Castle, Luther suffered physically from insomnia and severe constipation. He also suffered spiritually from doubts and fears. These fears were intensified as he received news from Wittenberg concerning the progress of the Reformation there.
Philipp Melanchthon, Luther's closest friend, had continued Luther's efforts in religious reform at Wittenberg. Melanchthon was assisted by Gabriel Zwilling (a monk from Luther's Augustinian order) and by Andreas Carlstadt (a fellow professor at the University of Wittenberg, who had been Luther's debate partner against John Eck at the Leipzig Disputation). Zwilling and Carlstadt were more radical than Melanchthon, and soon priests, monks, and nuns were abandoning their vows of celibacy in favor of marriage, common people were taking up the elements of communion with their own hands (rather than having the priests place the communion wafer on their tongue), and statues of saints were being destroyed. Luther approved of many of these changes, but the spirit with which they were being executed troubled him. Townspeople harassed pilgrims who were on their way to see the relics of the saints and stones were thrown at those who were saying private devotions to the Virgin Mary in churches.
On December 4, 1521, Luther returned to Wittenberg in disguise (Bainton, 158). Luther had grown out his beard, was dressed in knight's clothing, and introduced himself as Sir George. Luther was pleased with the advances made by Melanchthon, Zwilling, Carlstadt, and others, but he found the reports concerning violence to be confirmed as well (there was a riot in Wittenberg the day before Luther arrived). Upon returning to Wartburg Castle, Luther wrote letters warning his supporters that violence would not aid the spread of the gospel: that it would only aid the cause of the Reformation's enemies. A few months later, the Wittenberg City Council, feeling the need for Luther's leadership, sent a formal letter to Luther, requesting that he return from hiding. Luther accepted the request, and sent notice to Frederick the Wiseof his intention to return. Frederick urged Luther not to return, saying that he could not guarantee Luther's safety without risking all-out war with the Empire. Luther replied to Frederick that he was depending on God's protection alone (Luther later sent a letter to the Imperial Diet of Nurnberg testifying that Frederick had nothing to do with his return to Wittenberg).
On his return trip to Wittenberg, Luther stopped at the Black Bear Inn outside the city of Jena, still disguised as Sir George. As Luther sat studying at a table in the dining area, two men entered from out of the storm. Luther hospitably invited the men to share a drink with him. Learning that the men were travelers from Switzerland, he asked them what the Swiss thought concerning Dr. Luther. Perceiving that the knight seemed favorably disposed toward Luther, the men confided that they were traveling to Wittenberg with hopes of studying under Luther; they asked the "knight" whether he knew if Luther was currently in Wittenberg. "I know quite positively that he is not," Luther replied, "but he will be shortly." After Luther left the room, the Swiss travelers pondered over the fact that the book Sir George had been studying appeared to be written in Hebrew. The innkeeper, having overheard their conversation, and realizing that they were supporters of Martin Luther, informed them that "Sir George" was actually Luther himself. The Swiss travelers could not believe their ears, and imagined that the innkeeper had said "Hutten" (a well-known German knight at the time). They were quite surprised when they later met Luther in Wittenberg!
Upon returning to Wittenberg, Luther preached a series of sermons emphasizing the fruit of the Spirit and warning against violence.
During his time at Wartburg Castle, Luther wrote almost a dozen books, numerous tracts, and (most significantly) translated the New Testament into German.