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Laocoon by August Strindberg

 

On the Esquiline Hill in Rome, on a spring day in 1506, Signer de Fredis was walking in his vineyard. The day before, his workmen had been digging a pit to seek water, but found none. Signer de Fredis stood by it, and asked himself whether it was not a pity that so much earth had been thrown out, and whether it could not be utilised in the vineyard. He felt about with his stick in the upper part of the pit to ascertain how deep the soil was. The stick sank in the earth up to its handle without meeting with any resistance.

“There must be a hollow under the ground,” he said to himself. He first thought of calling the workmen, but since it was better to make the discovery himself, he took a mattock and spade and set to work. By noon he had made a hole large enough to get through, but since it was pitch-black inside, he first went to fetch a lantern. Carrying this, he went down into the earth, and came into a vaulted room. He went through five rooms and found no treasures, but in the sixth he saw a sight that startled him.

Two enormous snakes had enfolded in the coils a bearded man of heroic stature and his two boys.

One snake had already bitten the man in the right side, and the other had bitten one of the boys in the left. The apparition was a statue of Pentelic marble, and might therefore possess as much value as a treasure. Signor de Fredis went at once to the Prefect of the City, who followed him in company with the Aedile and some learned antiquaries. The work of art was brought to the light, and inspected. Its subject was seen to be the Trojan priest Laocoon, against whom Apollo had sent two snakes because he had warned his countrymen against receiving the dangerous Greek gift of the Trojan horse, in which warriors lay concealed.

It was not an edifying story, nor a comforting one, since it illustrated the sad lot of a prophet in this world. The Romans, however, did not think of that, but greeted the statue as a sign of the Renaissance, a memorial of the classical period, and an omen of better times to come.

Pope Julius II bought the Laocoon for the Vatican, after Michael Angelo had declared it was the greatest work of art in the world, and Signor de Fredis received a pension for life. The excavation and cleaning of the statue took a considerable time. But when at last it was ready, it was decorated with flowers, and carried in procession though the streets of Rome, while all the church-bells rang for a whole hour.

As the procession passed up the Via Flaminia, an Augustinian monk came down it from the northern gate of the city. In front of Hadrian's triumphal arch, he met the crowd carrying their beloved Laocoon. The monk did not immediately understand the matter. He thought, it is true, that the statue was that of a martyr, but could not think of any martyr who had died in a pit of snakes. He therefore turned to a citizen, and asked in Latin, “Which of the holy Church martyrs is it?”

The citizen laughed as at a good jest, but did not think it necessary to answer.

Now came the crowd singing about the Trojan horse, and jesting about priests. The fact that it was a priest on whom the snakes had fastened seemed to afford especial delight to the sceptical and priest-hating rabble.

The Augustinian monk thought of his Virgil, when he heard the word Troy, and, as the statue came nearer, he could read the name Laocoon, the celebrated priest of Apollo. “Are the church-bells ringing for that?” he asked his neighbour again.

The latter nodded.

“Are the people mad?” he asked, and this time he received an answer: “No, they are wise; but you are somewhat stupid; probably you come from Germany.”

At the dawn of this day, the monk had seen the Holy City at sunrise, and had fallen on his knees in the high road to thank God for the great favour vouchsafed to him of at last treading the soil which had been hallowed by the footprints of Apostles and martyrs. But now he felt depressed, for he understood nothing of this heathenish business, and, wandering through the streets of the city, he tried to find the Scala Santa in the southern quarter, where all pilgrims first paid their devotions when they came to Rome.

Here, in the square by the Lateran, Constantine's wife, Helena, had caused the staircase of Pilate's Palace to be erected, and it was customary to ascend it kneeling, and not in an erect attitude.

The monk approached the holy spot with all the reverence with which his pious spirit inspired him. He hoped to feel the same ecstasy which he had felt before other sanctuaries and relics, for the Redeemer Himself had trodden these marble steps heavily as he went to His doom.

The monk's astonishment was therefore great when he saw street-urchins playing on them with buttons and little stones, and he could hardly contain himself when young priests came running and sprang up the eight and twenty steps in a few bounds.

He paid his devotions in the usual way, but without feeling the ecstasy which he had hoped for.

Then he went into the Church of the Lateran and heard a mass. He had imagined that he would find a cathedral in the genuine Gothic style, something like that of Cologne, but he found a Basilica or Roman hall, where in heathen times a market had been held, and it looked very worldly.

At the High Altar there stood two priests before the Epistle and the Gospel. However, they neither read nor sang; they only gossiped with each other, and pretended to turn the leaves; sometimes they laughed, and when it was over they went their way, without giving a blessing or making the sign of the cross.

“Is this the Holy City?” he asked himself, and went out into the streets again.

His business in Rome was to interview the Vicar-General of the Augustinians, about a matter which concerned his convent, but he first wished to look about him. As he went along he came to a little church on the outer wall. In the open space in front of it a pagan festival was being held: Bacchus was represented sitting on a barrel, scantily clothed nymphs rode on horses, and behind them were satyrs, fauns, Apollo, Mercury, Venus.

The monk hastened into the church to escape the sight of the abomination. But in the sacred place he came upon another scandal. Before the altar stood an ass with an open book before it; below the ass stood a priest and read mass. Instead of answering “Amen,” the congregation hee-hawed like asses, and everyone laughed.

That was the classical “Asses' Festival,” which had been forbidden in the previous century, but which, during the Carnival, had been again resumed. The monk did not understand where he was, but thought he was in the hell of the heathen; but it was still worse when a priest disguised as Bacchus, his face smeared with dregs of wine, entered the pulpit, and, taking a text from Boccaccio's Decameron, preached an indecent discourse, presently, with a skilful turn, going on to narrate a legend about St. Peter. It began in a poetical way, like other legends, but then made Peter come to an alehouse and cheat the innkeeper about the reckoning.

The monk rushed out of the church, and through the streets till he reached the Convent of the Augustines which he sought. He rang, was admitted, and led into the refectory, where the Prior sat at a covered table surrounded by priests who were entertained in the convent in order to make their confessions, and to take the communion during the fast. Before them were pheasants, with truffles and hard-boiled eggs, salmon and oysters, eels and heads of wild boar—above all, quantities of wine in pitchers and glasses.

“Sit down, little monk!” was the Prior's greeting. “You have a letter: good! Put it under the table-cloth. Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!”

The monk sat down, but it was Friday, and he could not bring himself to eat flesh on that day. It pained him also to see the licence which prevailed here; still they were his superiors, and the rule of his order forbade him to reprove them.

The Prior, who had just been speaking with some special guest, continued to talk volubly, although conversation was forbidden.

“Yes, worthy friend, we have come as far as this now in Rome. This is Christ's Kingdom as it was announced at the first Christmas, 'One Shepherd, One Sheepfold.' The Holy Father rules over the whole Roman Empire as it was under Caesar and Augustus. But mark well! this empire is a spiritual one, and all these earthly princes lie at the feet of Christ's representative. This is the crown of all epochs of the world's history. 'One Shepherd, One Sheepfold!' Bibamus!”

On the little platform, where formerly a reader used to read out of holy books while the meal was going on, some musicians now sat with flutes and lutes. They struck up an air, and the cups were emptied.

“Now,” continued the Prior to the monk, “you have come from far; what news have you brought?”

“Anything new under the sun? Yes,” answered a slightly inebriated prelate, “Christopher Columbus is dead, and buried in Valladolid. He died poor, as was to be expected.”

“Pride comes before a fall. He was not content with his honours, but wished to be Viceroy and to levy taxes.”

“Yes, but at any rate he got to India, to East India, after he had sailed westward. It is enough to make one crazy when one tries to understand it. Sailing west in order to go east!”

“Yes, it is all mad, but the worst is that he has brought the cursed sickness, lues”—(here he whispered). “It has already attacked Cardinal John de Medici. You know he is said to be the Pope's successor.”

“As regards the Holy Father, our great Julius II, he is a valiant champion of the Lord, and now the world has seen what this basilisk-egg, France, has hatched. Fancy! they want to come now and divide our Italy among them! As if we did not have enough with the Germans.”

“The French in Naples! What the deuce have we to do with them?”

The Prior now felt obliged to attend to his guest, the monk.

“Eat, little monk,” he said. “He who is weak, eateth herbs, and all flesh is grass, ergo....”

“I never eat meat on Friday, the day on which our Lord Jesus Christ suffered and died!”

“Then you are wrong! But you must not speak so loud, you understand, for if you sin, you must go in your room, and hold your mouth! Practise obedience and silence, the first virtues of our Order.”

The monk turned first red, then pale, and his cheekbones could be seen through his thin cheeks. But he kept silence, after he had taken a spoonful of salt in his mouth to help him to control his tongue.

“He is a Maccabee,” whispered the prelate.

“Conventual disciple is decaying,” continued the Prior, jocosely; “the young monks do not obey their superiors any more, but we must have a reformation! Drink, monk, and give me an answer!”

“We must obey God rather than man,” answered the monk. There was an embarrassed pause, and the prelate who had to communicate in the evening declined to drink any more. But this vexed the Prior, who felt the implied reproof.

“You are from the country, my friend,” he said to the monk, “and know not the time, nor the spirit of the time. You must have a licence for me—it must be paid for of course—and then the day is not dishonoured. Besides—panis es et esto. Here you have wine and bread—with butter on it. More wine, boy!”

The monk rose to go; the Prior seemed to wake to recollection.

“What is your name, monk?”

“My name is Martin, Master of Philosophy, from Wittenberg.”

“Yes, yes, thank you. But don't go yet! Give me your letter.” The monk handed over the letter, which the Prior opened and glanced through.

“The Kurfurst of Saxony! Master Martin Luther, go if you wish to your chamber. Rest till the evening, then we will go together to the assembly at Chigi. There we shall meet elegant people like Cardinal John de Medici, great men like Raphael, and the Archangel Michael himself. Do you know Michael Angelo, who is building the new Church of St. Peter and painting the Sistine Chapel? No! then you will learn to know him. Vale, brother, and sleep well.”

Master Martin Luther went, sorely troubled, but resolved to see more of the state of affairs before judging too hastily.

Cards were now brought out, and the Prior shuffled them.

“That is an unpleasant fellow, whom the Kurfurst had sent to us. A hypocrite, who does not drink wine and crosses himself at the sight of a pheasant!”

“There was an ill-omened look about the man.”

“He looked something like the Trojan horse, and Beelzebub only knows what he has in his belly.”

       * * * * *

When Luther came into his lonely cell, he wept with a young man's boundless grief when reality contradicts his expectations, and he finds that all which he has learnt to prize is only contemptible and common.

He was not, however, allowed to be alone long, for there was a knock at the door, and there entered a young Augustinian monk, who seemed, with a confidential air, to invite his acquaintance.

“Brother Martin, you must not be solitary, but open your heart to sympathetic friends.”

He took Martin's hands. “Tell me,” he said, “what troubles you, and I will answer you.”

Luther looked at the young monk, and saw that he was a swarthy Italian with glowing eyes. But he had been so long alone that he felt the necessity of speech.

“What do you think,” he said, “our Lord Christ would say if he now arose and came into the Holy City?”

“He would rejoice that His churches, His three hundred and sixty-five churches, are built on the foundations of the heathen temples. You know that since Charles the Great dragged the great marble pillars to Aachen in order to build his cathedral, our Popes have also gone to work, and the heathen and their houses have been literally laid at the feet of Christ. That is grand and something to rejoice at! Ecclesia Triumphans! Would not Christ rejoice at it? How well Innocent III has expressed the 'Idea' of the conquering Church, as Plato would call it. You know Plato—the Pope has just paid five thousand ducats for a manuscript of the Timoeus. Pope Innocent says: 'St Peter's successors have received from God the commission not only to rule the Church but the whole world. As God has set two great lights in the sky, he has also set up two great powers on earth, the Papacy, which is the higher because the care of souls is committed to it, and the Royal power which is the lower, and to which only the charge of the bodies of men is committed.' If you have any objection to make to that, brother, speak it out.”

“No, not against that, but against everything which I have seen and heard.”

“For example? Do you mean eating and drinking?”

“Yes, that also.”

“How petty-minded you are! I speak of the highest things, and you talk about eating and drinking. Fie! Martin! you are a meat-rejector and a wine-eschewing Turk! But I accept your challenge. Our Lord Christ allowed His disciples to pluck ears of corn on the Sabbath; that was against the law of Moses, and was disapproved of by the Pharisees.... You are a Pharisee. But now I will also remind you of what Paul writes to the Romans—the Romans among whom we count ourselves; perhaps as a German subject, you have not the right to do that. Well, Paul writes: 'You look on the outside.'“

“Pardon me, that is the Epistle to the Corinthians.”

“Oh, you look on the outside too. But Paul says further, 'All things are lawful to me, but all things are not profitable. All that is sold in the market-place, that eat and ask nothing for conscience' sake; for the earth is the Lord's and the fulness thereof.' Those are clear words, and a Frenchman would call them liberal-minded. But you come here like a Pharisee, and wish to rebuke your superiors for trifles; and the ordinances of men are more to you than God's command. Fie! Martin! Remember your own words: 'We should obey God rather than men!' You conceited slave of the letter, you should read Paul.”

Luther was not yet so familiar with the Holy Scriptures as he afterwards became, for in the convent he had chiefly studied the Corpus Juris, Aristotle, Virgil, and the comedies of Plautus, and was somewhat depressed after his severe inward conflicts. Therefore he gave no answer, but chafed internally.

“Have you any other question for me?” began the Augustinian again, with an affected air of sympathy which irritated Luther still more. “I can understand that our national customs have annoyed you as a —foreigner. Every country has its own customs, and we keep our Roman Carnival by making ridicule of the dead gods of the old heathen, if one can call them gods! I believe you do the same in Germany, though in a coarser way. You must put up with that. As regards the 'Festival of the Ass,' that had originally a beautiful significance, since the poor animal was honoured with the task of carrying our Saviour and His mother into Egypt. But, as you know, the common people drag everything that is great and beautiful into the dust. Can we help it? Can I do you any service? Do you want anything?”

“Nothing; but I thank you!” Luther was again alone, and the fiends of doubt were again let loose upon him. The man was certainly right from his own point of view, and he had strengthened his assertions by arguments and by citations from Paul. But his point of view was false;—that was the matter. How, then, was one to alter one's point of view? That was only the effect of faith through grace, and therefore not the work of man.

Then his introspective mind, which had been trained in the Aristotelian dialectic, began to examine his opponent's point of view. A merciful loving Heavenly Father might very well smile at the follies and weaknesses of His human children; why, then, should we not be able to do the same? Why should we be stricter than He? As long as we live in the flesh, we must think according to the flesh, but that does not prevent the spirit obtaining its due rights.

Did not Paul himself say, “So then we hold that man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law”?

Yes, but were these drunken and licentious ecclesiastics really believers? The Prior had blasphemed the Sacrament, and given the prelate a dispensation from hearing confession and celebrating mass in consideration of a fee. That was monstrous, heathenish, and a Satanic abomination. Certainly, but faith itself was a gift bestowed by grace, and if these men had not obtained grace they were guiltless. But they were hardened sinners! Paul again gave the answer to this: “The Lord receives whom He will, and whom He will He hardeneth.” If God had hardened them, as He hardened Pharaoh's heart, then they were guiltless; and if so, why should we venture to judge and condemn them. A mill-wheel seemed to go round in his head, and he blamed Aristotle the heathen, who had seduced him in his youth, and taught him to split hairs about simple matters. He felt also that Paul could not help him, since such was his teaching. Feeling quite crushed, he knelt down again on his praying stool, and implored God to take him out of this world of lying deceit and uncertainty. In this world one was surrounded by darkness without being able to kindle a light; in this life one was driven to battle without having received weapons. So he prayed and struggled with himself till the evening.

Then the Prior came and fetched him. “My son,” he said, “my dear brother, you must not make a paramour of religion; you must not practise it as a daily task or a bad habit. You must live your life and regard it as a melody, while religion is a gentle accompaniment to it. Work is for every day, rest and festival for Sundays. But if you keep your Sabbath on the week-day you sin.... Come! now I will show you Rome!”

Martin followed him, but unwillingly. The streets were illuminated, and the people were amusing themselves with dancing, music, and jugglers' feats.

“You must know where we are going,” said the Prior. “This Agostino Chigi is a banker, almost as rich as the House of Fugger in Augsburg, and he looks after the Pope's business affairs. Moreover, he is a Maecenas, who patronises the fine arts. His especial protege is Raphael, who has just painted some beautiful large pictures in his villa, which we will now see.”

They reached the Tiber, followed the right bank, went over a bridge, and stood before a garden which was enclosed by marble pillars and a—gilded iron fence. It was now dark, and the garden was illuminated by lanterns which hung on the boughs of the orange-trees, and so lit up the ripe fruits that they gleamed like gold. 'White marble statues stood among the dark-leaved trees; fountains sent up jets of perfumed spray; among the shrubberies one saw ladies with their gallants; here a singer was accompanying himself on the lute; there a poet was reading his verses.

In the midst of the park stood the villa which resembled that of Maecenas in the Sabine Hills or Cicero's Tusculum, and was adorned with statues' of heathen gods. The doors stood open, and there was a sound of music within. “People are not introduced to the host here,” said the Prior, “for he does not like ceremony; therefore I leave you alone now, and you must find acquaintances for yourself; surprises are always pleasant.”

Luther found himself alone, and turned irresolutely to the right, where he saw a row of illuminated rooms. They were full of guests drinking and chatting, but no one noticed the poor monk, who could listen undisturbed to their conversation. In the first room a group had formed round a man who was distributing specimens of a printed book, the leaves of which people were eagerly turning.

“Hylacompus? is that a pseudonym?” asked one of them.

“He is a—printer called Waldseemuller in Saint-Die.”

Cosmographies Introductio—a description of the New World.”

“We shall at last get information about these fables of Columbus.”

“Columbus will not travel any more.”

“Columbus has travelled to—hell! Now it is Amerigo Vespucci's turn.”

“He is a Florentine and a fellow-countrymen.”

“Well, Columbus was a Genoese.”

“Look you! Rome rules the world, the known and the unknown alike! Urbs est urbs! And nowadays you can meet all the nations of the world at the house of the Roman Chigi. I have, as a matter of fact, seen Turks, Mongols, Danes, and Russians here this evening.”

“I should like to see a Turk! I like the Turks especially, because they have blown that rotten Byzantium to pieces—Byzantium which dared to call itself the 'Eastern Rome.' Now there is only one Rome!”

“Do you know that our Holy Father is treating with Sultan Bajazet regarding help against Venice.”

“Yes, but that is diabolical! We must at any rate act as though we were Christians.”

“Act—yes; for I am not a Christian, nor are you.”

“If one must have a religion, give me Islam! God is One! That is the whole of its theology; a prayer-mat is its whole liturgy.”

“You have to have a washing-basin besides.”

“And a harem.”

“Things are certainly in a bad way with our religion. If one reads its history, it is a history of the decay of Christianity. That has been continually going on for fifteen hundred years since the days of the Apostles; soon the process of degeneration must be complete.”

“And if one reads the history of the Papacy, it is the same.”

“No, hush!” said a fat Cardinal, “you must let the papal throne remain till I have sat in it.”

“After a Borgia, it would suit as well to have a Medici like you, and especially a son of Lorenzo the Magnificent.”

“Will not the cardinals dance?” asked one, who seemed to be Chigi himself.

“Yes, after supper, in the pavilion, and behind closed doors,” answered the Cardinal de Medici, “and after I have hung up the red hat.”

So much was clear to Luther from the foregoing conversation,—that he had seen and heard the representatives of the highest ranks of the priesthood, and that the stout man was John de Medici, the candidate for the papal chair.

He went quickly through several other rooms where half-intoxicated women were coquetting with their paramours. At last he came into the great banqueting hall. There stood groups of ambassadors and pilgrims, representing all nations of the world. They were looking at the ceiling and admiring the paintings on it. Luther followed their example, while he listened to their remarks.

“This is like looking at the sky; one has to lie on one's back.”

“I know nothing more beautiful than sunrise and the nude.”

“Raphael is indeed a divine painter.” “What luck that Savonarola is burnt, else he would have burnt these paintings.”

At the mention of Savonarola's name the monk awoke from the state of aesthetic intoxication into which the pictures had brought him, and rushed out into the night. Savonarola, the last of the martyrs, who had sought to save Christendom and had been burnt! All were burnt who tried to serve Christ—by way of encouraging them.

How could one expect people to believe in Christianity? What added to his trouble of mind was the fact that this painter who had the name of an angel, and looked like an angel, painted Jupiter and nude women! Nothing kept what it promised; all was dust and ashes. Vanitas! But this heathenism which sprang from the earth, what was its object?

Even the divine Dante had chosen a heathen Roman poet, Virgil, as his guide through Hell, and a beautiful maiden as his companion on the way to heaven. That was foolishness and blasphemy.

The end of the world must be approaching, for Antichrist was come and ruled in Rome. But an Antichrist had always sat on the Papal throne, which was itself an evil, for Paul had taught that in Christ's Church we are all priests and should form a priesthood.

So he reached his cell again, and recovered himself and his God in solitude.

       * * * * *

The next morning he went out in order to see the Church of St. Peter and the Vatican, which had become the residence of the Popes after their return from Avignon. Since he did not know his way about the town, he happened to come into the Forum. There were several bodies of troops collected for review, and on a great black stallion sat an old man, armed from top to toe in steel. The troops passed in review before him, and he seemed to be the commander.

“He looks like a Rabbi,” said a citizen, “and he must be quite five and sixty now.”

“He seems to me to resemble the prophet Muhammed. And he began as a tradesman.”

“Yes, and he has bought the papal chair.”

“Well, let it go! But his summoning Charles VIII with the French to Naples was a betrayal of his country. Now he goes against Venice, and leads the troops himself.”

“And expects help from the Turks.”

“They ought not to play with the Turks, who are already in Hungary and mean to get to Vienna.”

“We have forgotten the Crusades, and tolerance is a fine quality.”

“Yes, the last thing they did was to undertake a crusade against the Christian Albigenses, while they tried to conciliate the Muhammedans in Sicily.”

“The world is a madhouse.”

This, then, was Pope Julius II, who had overcome the monster Alexander VI, and now led his army against Venice, His kingdom was quite obviously of this world, and Luther lost all desire for an audience with him.

He went now to the Leonine quarter, where the new Church of St. Peter's was to be built in place of the one which had been pulled down. This, in its turn, was a successor of Nero's Circus, in which the first Christian martyrs had suffered. He found the site enclosed by a iron fence, but at the entrance stood two Dominican monks, and a civilian who looked like a clerk. Between them was a great iron chest, and the monks called aloud the scale of prices for the forgiveness of sins. All who entered, and wished to see the building, threw money to the clerk, who counted and entered it in his book. This functionary had been appointed by Hans Fugger, who farmed the sale of indulgences.

Luther also wished to see the building, and without thinking put down some silver pieces. As a receipt, he received a piece of paper on which was written the formula of forgiveness for some trifling sins.

When he had read the paper, he returned it to the clerk, and burst out, “I don't buy forgiveness of sins, but I gladly pay the entrance fee.”

He entered the site, but now noticed the dark-eyed Augustinian monk following him.

“Are you dissatisfied, brother?” said the latter. “Do you think that the forgiveness of sins is bought? Who ever said so? Don't you know that the Civil Law exacts fines for certain trespasses? Why should not the Ecclesiastical Law do the same? Tell me any reason. What nonsense you talk? What is buying? You pay out money, and by doing so deprive yourself of certain enjoyments! Instead of buying wine and women, you give this money to the Church. Good! By doing so, you renounce the sin with which you would otherwise have polluted yourself.”

“Who taught you such arguments?”

“We learn in the schools here to think, you see; we read Cicero and Aristotle.”

“Do you read the Bible also?”

“Yes, certainly. The Epistle always lies beside the Gospel on the altar-desk.”

“Do you understand what you read?”

“Now you are impolite, Martin, but you are also proud, and you must not be that. Look now at the new church. What we see is only the foundation, but we can go in the architect's cottage, and see the designs there.”

The designs were hung up in a little pavilion, and another fee was charged for entrance.

“Now what does my critical brother say?”

“That is simply a Roman bath-house,” answered Luther after a glance. “Caracalla's Thermae, I should say.”

“It is a heathen building, then!”

“Yes, if you like, but everything is heathenish here, although baptized. The heathen were not so stupid.... I won't see any more.”

“But look at those two great men there, before you go. The tall man with the patriarchal beard is Michael Angelo, and that slim youth with the long neck and feminine features is Raphael.”

“Is that Raphael?”

“Yes; he looks like an angel, but is not so dangerous. He is a very good man; they talk of getting him married. He does not want to, however, for his eye is on a cardinal's hat, which they have promised him.”

“Cardinal's hat?”

“Yes, he is spiritually-minded, although he paints worldly objects.”

“I remember, but I want to forget them.”

“Listen, Martin!” the monk interrupted him, with an insulting air of familiarity; “when you go away from here, and get home, don't forget to curb your tongue! Think of what I say: there are eyes and ears which follow you where you go, and when you least suspect it.”

“If the Lord is with me, what can men do against me?”

“Are you sure that the Lord is with you? Do you know His ways and His will?—You only? Can you interpret His meaning when He speaks?”

“Yes, I can; for I hear his voice in my conscience. Get thee hence, Satan, or I shall pray that heaven's lightning may smite thee! I came here as a believing child, but I shall depart as a believing man, for your questions have only evoked my silent answers which you have not heard, but which some day you will hear. You have killed Savonarola, but I am young and strong, and I shall live. Mark that!”

       * * * * *

Luther did not stay long in Rome, but he took the opportunity of learning Hebrew, and attended the lectures of the Jew Elia Levi ben Asher, surnamed Bachur or Elias Levita.

There he met Cardinal Viterbo, the patron of the Jews, and many other celebrities, for Oriental languages were then in fashion after the Turks had established themselves in Constantinople.

Luther enjoyed the friendship of the old Jew, for Elias was the only “Christian” whom he found in Rome. It was a pity, to be sure, that he lived under the Law, and was not acquainted with the Gospel, but he knew no better.

 
 
 

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