Young Luther

Luther Enters the Convent

On August 17, 1505, Luther entered the Augustinian Convent. He had expected that in a place so quiet and, as he thought, so near to heaven, he would find rest for his soul and relief from the burden of sin that was, to him, becoming an insupportable burden. “There is a city of refuge to which the sinner may flee when death and hell are on his track, but it is not that into which Luther had now entered.” Wylie, The History of Protestantism, vol. 1, book 2, 236.

At the news of his son’s change of plans, John Luther became indignant and wrote an angry letter to his son. He withdrew all of his favor, and declared him disinherited from his paternal affection. In vain did the father’s friends seek to effect reconciliation.

Not long after this, the plague deprived John of two of his sons. At that time, it was related to him that Martin had also been taken in death. The father’s friends seized this opportunity to reconcile him to the young novice. Somewhat grudgingly, and still half-rebellious, John relented. “Some time after this, when Luther, who had been reconciled to his father, related to him the event that had induced him to enter a monastic order: ‘God grant,’ replied the worthy miner, ‘that you may not have taken for a sign from heaven what was merely a delusion of the devil.’ ” D’Aubigne, History of the Reformation, book 2, chap. 3, 57.

The monks at the convent received Luther with joy. It was no small gratification to their vanity to have one of the most esteemed doctors of the age abandon the university and join their order. Nevertheless, they treated him harshly and imposed on him the lowliest occupations, seeking to humble him.

The drudgery of the monastery, combined with the late nights of study, worked a transformation in the communicative and jovial student. He became solitary and withdrawn. At times he fell to the floor of his cell in sheer weakness, more like a corpse than a living man. One day, when his door had not been opened as usual, they knocked on his door; but there was no response. “The door was burst in, and poor Fra Martin was found stretched on the floor in a state of ecstasy, scarcely breathing, and well-nigh dead. A monk took his flute, and gently playing upon it one of the airs that Luther loved, brought him gradually back to himself. The likelihood at that moment was that instead of living to do battle with the pope, and pull down the pillars of his kingdom, a quiet grave, somewhere in the precincts of the monastery, would erelong be the only memorial remaining to testify that such a one as Martin Luther had ever existed.” Wylie, The History of Protestantism, vol. 1, book 2, 237, 238.

Later, as a Reformer, he wrote to Duke George of Saxony, “I was indeed a pious monk and followed the rules of my order more strictly than I can express. If ever monk could obtain heaven by his monkish works, I should have certainly been entitled to it. Of this all the friars who have known me can testify. If it had continued much longer, I should have carried my mortifications even to death by means of my watchings, prayers, reading, and other labors. D’Aubigne, History of the Reformation, book 2, chap. 3, 59.

Staupitz Points Luther to Christ

A tender conscience inclined Luther to regard the slightest fault as a great sin. He would endeavor, by the severest mortifications, to make up for it; but in all of this, he found no peace.

Staupitz

It was at this time that the Lord brought the pious John Staupitz into Luther’s life. Staupitz was Vicar-General of the Augustines of Germany and through his study he had learned the way of salvation and though by the purity of his personal life he condemned the corruption that surrounded him, he lacked the courage that was to be so exemplified in Luther’s life. Staupitz opened the Word of God to Luther’s mind, urging him to look away from himself, and look to Jesus, his sin-pardoning Saviour. His words made a deep impression upon Luther’s mind and after a prolonged struggle with long-cherished errors, he was at last able to grasp the truth Christ’s free salvation, bringing peace to his troubled soul.

The light that pierced the darkness that surrounded Luther freed him from the principles of popery. He no longer looked to himself and to the Church for salvation, but to Jesus Christ. Before he left the convent cell to break the shackles of Rome from the Christian world, the Reformation was first played out in his cell at Erfurth.

A short time later, Luther was ordained a priest and accepted a call to a professorship in the University of Wittenberg. There he applied himself to his study of the Scriptures in the original tongues. He began to lecture on the book of Psalms, the Gospels, and the Epistles. His friend Staupitz urged him to ascend the pulpit and preach the Word of God; but Luther hesitated, feeling himself unworthy of such a high calling. It was only after a long struggle that he yielded to the invitation of friends.

Sometime later, in the providence of God, Luther was led to make a trip to Rome. About this time a quarrel broke out between seven monasteries of the Augustines and their Vicar-General. It was agreed to submit the matter to the pope, and Luther’s eloquence recommended him as the person most fit to undertake the task. Descending the mountains to the fertile plains of Lombardy, he stopped for a few days of rest at a monastery on the banks of the Po. He was filled with misgivings as he observed the magnificence and luxury everywhere evident. The monks, endowed with a princely income, lived in splendid apartments and dressed themselves in the richest and most costly attire. His mind became perplexed as he contrasted this lifestyle with the self-denial and hardship of his own life. Friday came and, according to church law, there was to be no meat served. The tables of the monks, however, were no different than any other day. Luther could no longer remain silent. “’On this day,’ said Luther, ‘such things my not be eaten. The pope has forbidden them.’” Wylie, The History of Protestantism, vol. 1, book 2, 248.

Though it did not spoil their appetites, the manners of this rude German did startle the monks. They became apprehensive that he might report their style of life to their superiors at headquarters, and they consulted how this danger might be avoided. A friendly porter disclosed to Luther that to remain longer would be to incur great risk. Profiting by the friendly warning, Luther quickly departed with as little delay as possible.

At the first sight of Rome, Luther fell to his knees, exclaiming, “Holy Rome, I salute thee!” Expecting there to find the spotless beauty of apostolic truth, he made his way into the city.

From Wycliffe, the good seed of the Word of God had been sown throughout Europe. In Bohemia and at Constance, it had been watered with the blood of the saints and proved by fire. A hundred years had passed since the martyrdom of Huss and Jerome. The condition of the church, rather than improving because of the light, had reached new depths of depravity. The court of Rome had been scandalized by acts of treason, murder, and incest. Even its most respectable members were utterly unfit to be ministers of religion. The Church of Rome had made plain her complete antagonism to the Word of God and to the way of salvation which she professed to know and of which she claimed to be the exclusive channel. By His faithful witnesses, God had sought to call her to repentance; but she would not. If reform could not be brought about within the church, the only course remaining was to do so from without.

Luther’s status as an envoy from Germany obtained him numerous invitations to meetings. At one of these meetings, several of the prelates were openly displaying their buffoonery and impious conversation. He discovered that many of the priests were but playing a part and that in private they held in contempt and treated with mockery the rites which in public they celebrated with such a show of devotion. Surely, he thought, faith and piety must still be found among the dignitaries of the Church. A short time later, he was to find how greatly mistaken he was.

One day he was with some prelates when they humorously related how, when they were repeating the mass at the altar, instead of the sacramental words that were to transform the bread and wine into the flesh and blood of our Saviour, they pronounced: “ ‘Bread thou art, and bread thou shalt remain. Wine thou art, and wine thou shalt remain. Then,’ continued they, ‘we elevate the host, and all the people bow down and worship it.’ ” D’Aubigne, History of the Reformation, book 2, chap. 6, 69. Luther was horrified, scarcely believing his ears.

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