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Life of Luther by Julius Koestlin

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[Illustration: LUTHER. (From a Portrait by Cranach in the Town
Church at Weimar.)]










'God's highest gift on earth is to have a pious, cheerful,
God-fearing, home-keeping wife.'


No German has ever influenced so powerfully as Luther the religious
life, and, through it, the whole history, of his people; none has
ever reflected so faithfully, in his whole personal character and
conduct, the peculiar features of that life and history, and been
enabled by that very means to render us a service so effectual and
so popular. If we recall to fresh life and remembrance the great men
of past ages, we Germans shall always put Luther in the van: for us
Protestants, the object of our love and veneration, who will not
prevent, however, or prejudice the most candid historical inquiry;
for others, a rock of offence, whom even slander and falsehood will
never overcome.

I have already in my larger work, 'Martin Luther: his Life and
Writings,' 2 vols., 1875, put together all the materials available
for that subject, together with the necessary references, historical
and critical, and have endeavoured to explain and illustrate at
length the subject matter of his various writings. I now offer this
sketch of his life to the wide circle of what are called educated
German readers. For further explanations and proofs of statements
herein contained I would refer them to my larger work. Further
investigation has prompted me to make some alterations, but only a
few, in matters of detail.

For the illustrations and illustrative documents I beg to express my
warm thanks, and those of the publisher, to the friends who have
kindly assisted us in the work.

J. KOSTLIN, Professor at the University of Halle-Wittenberg.

_Oct_. 31, 1881, the anniversary of Luther's 95 Theses.




I. Birth and Parentage

II. Childhood and School-days

III. Student-days at Erfurt and Entry into the Convent.--1501-1505



I. At the Convent at Erfurt, till 1508

II. Call to Wittenberg. Journey to Rome

III. Luther as Theological Teacher, to 1517



I. The Ninety-five Theses

II. The Controversy concerning Indulgences

III. Luther at Angsburg before Caietan. Appeal to a Council

IV. Miltitz and the Disputation at Leipzig, with its Results

V. Luther's further Work, Writings, and Inward Progress until 1520

VI. Alliance with the Humanists and Nobility

VII. Crisis of Secession: Luther's Works--to the Christian Nobility
of the German Nation, and on the Babylonian Captivity.

VIII. The Bull of Excommunication, and Luther's Reply

IX. The Diet of Worms



I. Luther at the Wartburg, to his Visit to Wittenberg in 1521.

II. Luther's further Sojourn at the Wartburg, and his Return to
Wittenberg, 1522

III. Luther's Reappearance and fresh Labours at Wittenberg, 1522

IV. Luther and his anti-Catholic work of Reformation, up to 1525

V. The Reformer against the Fanatics and Peasants, up to 1525

VI. Luther's Marriage


RELIGIOUS PEACE.--1525-1532._

I. Survey

II. Continued Labours and Personal Life

III. Erasmus and Henry VIII. Controversy with Zwingli and his
Followers, up to 1528

IV. Church Divisions in Germany. War with the Turks. The Conference
at Marburg, 1529

V. The Diet of Augsburg, and Luther at Coburg, 1530

VI. From the Diet of Augsburg to the Religious Peace of Nuremberg,
1632. Death of the Elector John



I. Luther under John Frederick

II. Negotiations respecting a Council and Union among the
Protestants. The Legate Vergerius, 1535. The Wittenberg Concord,

III. Negotiations respecting a Council and Union among the
Protestants (continued). The Meeting at Schmalkald, 1537. Peace with
the Swiss.

IV. Other Labours and Proceedings, 1533-39. The Archbishop Albert
and Schonitz. Agricola

V. Luther and the Progress and Internal Troubles of Protestantism,

VI. Luther and the Progress and Internal Troubles of Protestantism
(continued), 1541-44

VII. Luther's Later Life; Domestic and Personal

VIII. Luther's Last Year and Death


LUTHER. (From a Portrait by Cranach in the Town Church at Weimar)





5. STAUPITZ. (From the Portrait in St. Peter's Convent at Salzburg)


7. SPALATIN. (From L. Cranach's Portrait)

8. ERASMUS. (From the Portrait by A. Durer)

9. LEO X. (From his Portrait by Raphael) FACSIMILE OF PLACARD OF

10. THE ABCHBISHOP ALBERT. (From Durer's engraving)

REFORMATION, with an Illustration showing the Sale of Indulgences

12. THE CASTLE CHURCH. (From the Wittenberg Book of Relics, 1509)

13. THE EMPEROR MAXIMILIAN. (From his Portrait by Albert Durer)

14. DUKE GEORGE OF SAXONY. (From an old woodcut)

15. LUTHER. (From an engraving of Cranach, in 1520)

16. DR. JOHN ECK. (From an old woodcut)

17. MELANCTHON. (From a Portrait by Durer)

18. LUCAS CRANACH. (From a Portrait by himself)

19. W. PIRKHEIMER. (From a Portrait by Albert Durer)

20. ULRICH VON HUTTEN. (From an old woodcut)

21. FRANCIS VON SICKINGEN. (From an old engraving)


23. TITLE-PAGE, slightly reduced, of the original Tract 'On the
Liberty of a Christian Man'

24. CHARLES V. (From an engraving by B. Beham, in 1531)

25. LUTHER. (From an engraving by Cranach, in 1521)

26. LUTHER as "SQUIRE GEORGE." (From a woodcut by Cranach)

27. BUGENHAGEN. (From a picture by Cranach in his album, at Berlin,

28. MUNZER. (From an old woodcut)

29. LUTHER. (From a Portrait by Cranach in 1525.) At Wittenberg.

30. CATHARINE VON BORA, LUTHER'S WIPE. (From a Portrait by Cranach
about 1525.) At Berlin



FREDERICK. (From a Picture by Cranach.) At Nuremberg


35. PHILIP OF HESSE. (From a woodcut of Brosamer)

36. LUTHER. (From a Portrait by Cranach in 1528.) At Berlin

37. LUTHER'S WIFE. (From a Portrait by Cranach in 1528.) At Berlin

38. ZWINGLI. (From an old engraving)


40. VEIT DIETRICH, as Pastor of Nuremberg. (From an old woodcut)

41. LUTHER'S SEAL. (Taken from letters written in 1517)

42. LUTHER'S COAT OF ARMS. (From old prints)

43. BUTZER. (From the old original woodcut of Beusner)

44. AGRICOLA. (From a miniature Portrait by Cranach, in the
University Album at Wittenberg, 1531)

45. JONAS. (From a Portrait by Cranach, in his Album at Berlin,

46. AMSDORF. (From an old woodcut)

47. LUTHER. (From a Portrait by Cranach, in his Album, at Berlin)

48. WITTENBERG. (From an old engraving)

49. THE "LUTHER-HOUSE" (previously the Convent), before its recent


51. LUTHER'S DAUGHTER 'LENE.' (From Cranach's Portrait)


53. MATHESIUS. (From an old woodcut)

54. LUTHER IN 1546. (From a woodcut of Cranach)



57. LUTHER AFTER DEATH. (From a Picture ascribed to Cranach)


title and conclusion, with the signature of the Emperor Charles

EDITION OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, 1522. (From the original in the Royal
Public Library at Stuttgart)

attestations of Melancthon, Crueiger, and Bugenhagen. (At Pesth)







On the 10th of November, 1483, their first child was born to a young
couple, Hans and Margaret Luder, at Eisleben, in Saxony, where the
former earned his living as a miner. That child was Martin Luther.

His parents had shortly before removed thither from Mohra, the old
home of his family. This place, called in old records More and More,
lies among the low hills where the Thuringian chain of wooded
heights runs out westwards towards the valley of the Werra, about
eight miles south of Eisenach, and four miles north of Salzungen,
close to the railway which now connects these two towns. Luther thus
comes from the very centre of Germany. The ruler there was the
Elector of Saxony.

Mohra was an insignificant village, without even a priest of its
own, and with only a chapel affiliated to the church of the
neighbouring parish. The population consisted for the most part of
independent peasants, with house and farmstead, cattle and horses.
Mining, moreover, was being carried on there in the fifteenth
century, and copper was being discovered in the copper schist, of
which the names of Schieferhalden and Schlackenhaufen still survive
to remind us. The soil was not very favourable for agriculture, and
consisted partly of moorland, which gave the place its name. Those
peasants who possessed land were obliged to work extremely hard.
They were a strong and sturdy race.

From this peasantry sprang Luther. 'I am a peasant's son,' he said
once to Melancthon in conversation. 'My father, grandfather--all my
ancestors were thorough peasants.'

[Illustration: Coat of arms]

His father's relations were to be found in several families and
houses in Mohra, and even scattered in the country around. The name
was then written Luder, and also Ludher, Luder, and Leuder. We find
the name of Luther for the first time as that of Martin Luther, the
Professor at Wittenberg, shortly before he entered on his war of
Reformation, and from him it was adopted by the other branches of
the family. Originally it was not a surname, but a Christian name,
identical with Lothar, which signifies one renowned in battle. A
very singular coat of arms, consisting of a cross-bow, with a rose
on each side, had been handed down through, no doubt, many
generations in the family, and is to be seen on the seal of Luther's
brother James. The origin of these arms is unknown; the device leads
one to conclude that the family must have blended with another by
intermarriage, or by succeeding to its property. Contemporaneous
records exist to show how conspicuously the relatives of Luther, at
Mohra and in the district, shared the sturdy character of the local
peasantry, always ready for self-help, and equally ready for
fisticuffs. Firmly and resolutely, for many generations, and amidst
grievous persecutions and disorders, such as visited Mohra in
particular during the Thirty Years' War, this race maintained its
ground. Three families of Luther exist there at this day, who are
all engaged in agriculture; and a striking likeness to the features
of Martin Luther may still be traced in many of his descendants, and
even in other inhabitants of Mohra. Not less remarkable, as noted by
one who is familiar with the present people of the place, are the
depth of feeling and strong common sense which distinguish them, in
general, to this day. The house in which Luther's grandfather lived,
or rather that which was afterwards built on the site, can still, it
is believed, but not with certainty, be identified. Near this house
stands now a statue of Luther in bronze.

At Mohra, then, Luther's father, Hans, had grown up to manhood. His
grandfather's name was Henry, but of him we hear nothing during
Luther's time. His grandmother died in 1521. His mother's maiden
name was Ziegler; we afterwards find relations of hers at Eisenach;
the other old account, which made her maiden name Lindemann,
probably originated from confusing her with Luther's grandmother.

What brought Hans to Eisleben was the copper mining, which here, and
especially in the county of Mansfeld, to which Eisleben belonged,
had prospered to an extent never known around Mohra, and was even
then in full swing of activity. At Eisleben, the miners' settlements
soon formed two new quarters of the town. Hans had, as we know, two
brothers, and very possibly there were more of the family, so that
the paternal inheritance had to be divided. He was evidently the
eldest of the brothers, of whom one, Heinz, or Henry, who owned a
farm of his own, was still living in 1540, ten years after the death
of Hans. But at Mohra the law of primogeniture, which vests the
possession of the land in the eldest son, was not recognised; either
the property was equally divided, or, as was customary in other
parts of the country, the estate fell to the share of the youngest.
This custom was referred to in after years by Luther in his remark
that in this world, according to civil law, the youngest son is the
heir of his father's house.

We must not omit to notice the other reasons which have been
assigned for his leaving his old home. It has been repeatedly
asserted, in recent times, and even by Protestant writers, that the
father of our great Reformer had sought to escape the consequences
of a crime committed by him at Mohra. The matter stands thus: In
Luther's lifetime his Catholic opponent Witzel happened to call out
to Jonas, a friend of Luther's, in the heat of a quarrel, 'I might
call the father of your Luther a murderer.' Twenty years later the
anonymous author of a polemical work which appeared at Paris
actually calls the Reformer 'the son of the Mohra assassin.' With
these exceptions, not a trace of any story of this kind, in the
writings of either friend or foe, can be found in that or in the
following century. It was at the beginning of the eighteenth
century, in an official report on mining at Mohra, that the story,
evidently based on oral tradition, assumed all at once a more
definite shape; the statement being that Luther's father had
accidentally killed a peasant, who was minding some horses grazing.
This story has been told to travellers in our own time by people of
Mohra, who have gone so far as to point out the fatal meadow. We are
forced to notice it, not, indeed, as being in the least
authenticated, but simply on account of the authority recently
claimed for the tradition. For it is plain that what is now a matter
of hearsay at Mohra was a story wholly unknown there not many years
ago, was first introduced by strangers, and has since met with
several variations at their hands. The idea of a criminal flying
from Mohra to Mansfeld, which was only a few miles off, and was
equally subject to the Elector of Saxony, is absurd, and in this
case is strangely inconsistent with the honourable position soon
attained, as we shall see, by Hans Luther himself at Mansfeld.
Moreover, the very fact that Witzel's spiteful remark was long known
to Luther's enemies, coupled with the fact that they never turned it
to account, shows plainly how little they ventured to make it a
matter of serious reproach. Luther during his lifetime had to hear
from them that his father was a Bohemian heretic, his mother a loose
woman, employed at the baths, and he himself a changeling, born of
his mother and the Devil. How triumphantly would they have talked
about the murder or manslaughter committed by his father, had the
charge admitted of proof! Whatever occurrence may have given rise to
such a story, we have no right to ascribe it either to any fault or
any crime of the father. More on this subject it is needless to add;
the two strange statements we have mentioned do not attempt to
establish any definite connection between the supposed crime and the
removal to Eisleben.

The day, and even the very hour, when her first-born came into the
world, Luther's mother carefully treasured in her mind. It was
between eleven and twelve o'clock at night. Agreeably to the custom
of the time, he was baptised in the Church of St. Peter the next
day. It was the feast of St. Martin, and he was called after that
saint. Tradition still identifies the house where he was born; it
stands in the lower part of the town, close to St. Peter's Church.
Several conflagrations, which devastated Eisleben, have left it
undestroyed. But of the original building only the walls of the
ground-floor remain: within these there is a room facing the street,
which is pointed out as the one where Luther first saw the light.
The church was rebuilt soon after his birth, and was then called
after St. Peter and St. Paul; the present font still retains, it is
said, some portions of the old one.

[Illustration: Fig. 2.--HANS LUTHER.]

When the child was six months old, his parents removed to the town of
Mansfeld, about six miles off. So great was the number of the miners
who were then crowding to Eisleben, the most important place in the
county, that we can well understand how Luther's father failed there
to realise his expectations, and went in search of better prospects
to the other capital of the rich mining district. Here, at Mansfeld,
or, more strictly, at Lower Mansfeld, as it is called, from its
position, and to distinguish it from Cloister-Mansfeld, he came among
a people whose whole life and labour were devoted to mining. The town
itself lay on the banks of a stream, inclosed by hills, on the edge
of the Harz country. Above it towered the stately castle of the
Counts, to whom the place belonged. The character of the scenery is
more severe, and the air harsher than in the neighbourhood of Mohra.
Luther himself called his Mansfeld countrymen sons of the Harz. In
the main, these Harz people are much rougher than the Thuringians.

[Illustration: MARGARET LUTHER.]

Here also, at first, Luther's parents found it a hard struggle to
get on. 'My father,' said the Reformer, 'was a poor miner; my mother
carried in all the wood upon her back; they worked the flesh off
their bones to bring us up: no one nowadays would ever have such
endurance.' It must not, however, be forgotten that carrying wood in
those days was less a sign of poverty than now. Gradually their
affairs improved. The whole working of the mines belonged to the
Counts, and they leased out single portions, called smelting
furnaces, sometimes for lives, sometimes for a term of years. Harts
Luther succeeded in obtaining two furnaces, though only on a lease
of years. He must have risen in the esteem of his town-fellows even
more rapidly than in outward prosperity.

The magistracy of the town consisted of a bailiff, the chief
landowners, and four of the community. Among these four Hans Luther
appears in a public document as early as 1491. His children were
numerous enough to cause him constant anxiety for their maintenance
and education: there were at least seven of them, for we know of
three brothers and three sisters of the Reformer. The Luther family
never rose to be one of the rich families of Mansfeld, who possessed
furnaces by inheritance, and in time became landowners; but they
associated with them, and in some cases numbered them among their
intimate friends. The old Hans was also personally known to his
Counts, and was much esteemed by them. In 1520 the Reformer publicly
appealed to their personal acquaintance with his father and himself,
against the slanders circulated about his origin. Hans, in course of
time, bought himself a substantial dwelling-house in the principal
street of the town. A small portion of it remains standing to this
day. There is still to be seen a gateway, with a well-built arch of
sandstone, which bears the Luther arms of cross-bow and roses, and
the inscription J.L. 1530. This was, no doubt, the work of James
Luther, in the year when his father Hans died, and he took
possession of the property. It is only quite recently that the stone
has so far decayed as to cause the arms and part of the inscription
to peel off.

The earliest personal accounts that we have of Luther's parents,
date from the time when they already shared in the honour and renown
acquired by their son. They frequently visited him at Wittenberg,
and moved with simple dignity among his friends. The father, in
particular, Melancthon describes as a man, who, by purity of
character and conduct, won for himself universal affection and
esteem. Of the mother he says that the worthy woman, amongst other
virtues, was distinguished above all for her modesty, her fear of
God, and her constant communion with God in prayer. Luther's friend,
the Court-preacher Spalatin, spoke of her as a rare and exemplary
woman. As regards their personal appearance, the Swiss Kessler
describes them in 1522 as small and short persons, far surpassed by
their son Martin in height and build; he adds, also, that they were
dark-complexioned. Five years later their portraits were painted by
Lucas Cranach: these are now to be seen in the Wartburg, and are the
only ones of this couple which we possess. [Footnote: Strange to
say, subsequently and even in our own days, a portrait of Martin
Luther's wife in her old age has been mistaken for one of his
mother.] In these portraits, the features of both the parents have a
certain hardness; they indicate severe toil during a long life. At
the same time, the mouth and eyes of the father wear an intelligent,
lively, energetic, and clever expression. He has also, as his son
Martin observed, retained to old age a 'strong and hardy frame.' The
mother looks more wearied by life, but resigned, quiet, and
meditative. Her thin face, with its large bones, presents a mixture
of mildness and gravity. Spalatin was amazed, on seeing her for the
first time in 1522, how much Luther resembled her in bearing and
features. Indeed, a certain likeness is observable between him and
her portrait, in the eyes and the lower part of the face. At the
same time, from what is known of the appearance of the Luthers who
lived afterwards at Mohra, he must also have resembled his father's



As to the childhood of Martin Luther, and his further growth and
mental development, at Mansfeld and elsewhere, we have absolutely no
information from others to enlighten us. For this portion of his
life we can only avail ourselves of occasional and isolated remarks
of his own, partly met with in his writings, partly culled from his
lips by Melancthon, or his physician Ratzeberger, or his pupil
Mathesius, or other friends, and by them recorded for the benefit of
posterity. These remarks are very imperfect, but are significant
enough to enable us to understand the direction which his inner life
had taken, and which prepared him for his future calling. Nor less
significant is the fact that those opponents who, from the
commencement of his war with the Church, tracked out his origin, and
sought therein for evidence to his detriment, have failed, for their
part, to contribute anything new whatever to the history of his
childhood and youth, although, as the Reformer, he had plenty of
enemies at his own and his parents' home, and several of the Counts
of Mansfeld, in particular, continued in the Romish Church. There
was nothing, therefore, dark or discreditable, at any rate, to be
found attaching either to his home or to his own youth.

It is said that childhood is a Paradise. Luther in after years found
it joyful and edifying to contemplate the happiness of those little
ones who know neither the cares of daily life nor the troubles of
the soul, and enjoy with light hearts the good thing which God has
given them. But in his own reminiscences of life, so far as he has
given them, no such sunny childhood is reflected. The hard time,
which his parents at first had to struggle through at Mansfeld, had
to be shared in by the children, and the lot fell most hardly on the
eldest. As the former spent their days in hard toil, and persevered
in it with unflinching severity, the tone of the house was unusually
earnest and severe. The upright, honourable, industrious father was
honestly resolved to make a useful man of his son, and enable him to
rise higher than himself. He strictly maintained at all times his
paternal authority. After his death, Martin recorded, in touching
language, instances of his father's love, and the sweet intercourse
he was permitted to have with him. But it is not surprising, if, at
the period of childhood, so peculiarly in need of tender affection,
the severity of the father was felt rather too much. He was once, as
he tells us, so severely flogged by his father that he fled from
him, and bore him a temporary grudge. Luther, in speaking of the
discipline of children, has even quoted his mother as an example of
the way in which parents, with the best intentions, are apt to go
too far in punishing, and forget to pay due attention to the
peculiarities of each child. His mother, he said, once whipped him
till the blood came, for having taken a paltry little nut. He adds,
that, in punishing children, the apple should be placed beside the
rod, and they should not be chastised for an offence about nuts or
cherries as if they had broken open a money-box. His parents, he
acknowledged, had meant it for the very best, but they had kept him,
nevertheless, so strictly that he had become shy and timid. Theirs,
however, was not that unloving severity which blunts the spirit of a
child, and leads to artfulness and deceit. Their strictness, well
intended, and proceeding from a genuine moral earnestness of
purpose, furthered in him a strictness and tenderness of conscience,
which then and in after years made him deeply and keenly sensitive
of every fault committed in the eyes of God; a sensitiveness,
indeed, which, so far from relieving him of fear, made him
apprehensive on account of sins that existed only in his
imagination. It was a later consequence of this discipline, as
Luther himself informs us, that he took refuge in a convent. He
adds, at the same time, that it is better not to spare the rod with
children even from the very cradle, than to let them grow up without
any punishment at all; and that it is pure mercy to young folk to
bend their wills, even though it costs labour and trouble, and leads
to threats and blows.

We have a reference by Luther to the lessons he learned in childhood
from his experience of poverty at home, in his remarks in later
life, on the sons of poor men, who by sheer hard work raise
themselves from obscurity, and have much to endure, and no time to
strut and swagger, but must be humble and learn to be silent and to
trust in God, and to whom God also has given good sound heads.

As to Luther's relations with his brothers and sisters we have the
testimony of one who knew the household at Mansfeld, and
particularly his brother James, that from childhood they were those
of brotherly companionship, and that from his mother's own account
he had exercised a governing influence both by word and deed on the
good conduct of the younger members of the family.

His father must have taken him to school at a very early age. Long
after, in fact only two years before his death, he noted down in the
Bible of a 'good old friend,' Emler, a townsman of Mansfeld, his
recollection how, more than once, Emler, as the elder, had carried
him, still a weakly child, to and from school; a proof, not indeed,
as a Catholic opponent of the next century imagined, that it was
necessary to compel the boy to go to school, but that he was still
of an age to benefit by being carried. The school-house, of which
the lower portion still remains, stood at the upper end of the
little town, part of which runs with steep streets up the hill. The
children there were taught not only reading and writing, but also
the rudiments of Latin, though doubtless in a very clumsy and
mechanical fashion. From his experience of the teaching here, Luther
speaks in later years of the vexations and torments with declining
and conjugating and other tasks which school children in his youth
had to undergo. The severity he there met with from his teacher was
a very different thing from the strictness of his parents.
Schoolmasters, he says, in those days were tyrants and executioners,
the schools were prisons and hells, and in spite of blows,
trembling, fear, and misery, nothing was ever taught. He had been
whipped, he tells us, fifteen times one morning, without any fault
of his own, having been called on to repeat what he had never been

At this school he remained till he was fourteen, when his father
resolved to send him to a better and higher-class place of
education. He chose for that purpose Magdeburg; but what particular
school he attended is not known. His friend Mathesius tells us that
the town-school there was 'far renowned above many others.' Luther
himself says that he went to school with the Null-brethren. These
Null-brethren or Noll-brethren, as they were called, were a
brotherhood of pious clergymen and laymen, who had combined
together, but without taking any vows, to promote among themselves
the salvation of their souls and the practice of a godly life, and
to labour at the same time for the social and moral welfare of the
people, by preaching the Word of God, by instruction, and by
spiritual ministration. They undertook in particular the care of
youth. They were, moreover, the chief originators of the great
movement in Germany, at that time, for promoting intellectual
culture, and reviving the treasures of ancient Roman and Greek
literature. Since 1488 a colony of them had existed at Magdeburg,
which had come from Hildesheim, one of their head-quarters. As there
is no evidence of heir having had a school of their own at
Magdeburg, they may have devoted their services to the town-school.
Thither, then, Hans Luther sent his eldest son in 1497. The idea had
probably been suggested by Peter Reinicke, the overseer of the
mines, who had a son there. With this son John, who afterwards rose
to an important office in the mines at Mansfeld, Martin Luther
contracted a lifelong friendship. Hans, however, only let his son
remain one year at Magdeburg, and then sent him to school at
Eisenach. Whether he was induced to make this change by finding his
expectations of the school not sufficiently realised, or whether
other reasons, possibly those regarding a cheaper maintenance of his
son, may have determined him in the matter, there is no evidence to
show. What strikes one here only is his zeal for the better
education of his son.

Ratzeberger is the only one who tells us of an incident he heard of
Luther from his own lips, during his stay at Magdeburg, and this was
one which, as a physician, he relates with interest. Luther, it
happened, was lying sick of a burning fever, and tormented with
thirst, and in the heat of the fever they refused him drink. So one
Friday, when the people of the house had gone to church, and left
him alone, he, no longer able to endure the thirst, crawled off on
hands and feet to the kitchen, where he drank off with great avidity
a jug of cold water. He could reach his room again, but having done
so he fell into a deep sleep, and on waking the fever had left him.

The maintenance his father was able to afford him was not sufficient
to cover the expenses of his board and lodging as well as of his
schooling, either at Magdeburg or afterwards at Eisenach. He was
obliged to help himself after the manner of poor scholars, who, as
he tells us, went about from door to door collecting small gifts or
doles by singing hymns. 'I myself,' he says,' was one of those young
colts, particularly at Eisenach, my beloved town.' He would also
ramble about the neighbourhood with his school-fellows; and often,
from the pulpit or the lecturer's chair, would he tell little
anecdotes about those days. The boys used to sing quartettes at
Christmas-time in the villages, carols on the birth of the Holy
Child at Bethlehem. Once, as they were singing before the door of a
solitary farmhouse, the farmer came out and called to them roughly,
'Where are you, young rascals?' He had two large sausages in his
hand for them, but they ran away terrified, till he shouted after
them to come back and fetch the sausages. So intimidated, says
Luther, had he become by the terrors of school discipline. His
object, however, in relating this incident was to show his hearers
how the heart of man too often construes manifestations of God's
goodness and mercy into messages of fear, and how men should pray to
God perseveringly, and without timidity or shamefacedness. In those
days it was not rare to find even scholars of the better classes,
such as the son of a magistrate at Mansfeld, and those who, for the
sake of a better education, were sent to distant schools, seeking to
add to their means in the manner we have mentioned.

After this, his father sent him to Eisenach, bearing in mind the
numerous relatives who lived in the town and surrounding country,
and who might be of service to him. But of these no mention has
reached us, except of one, named Konrad, who was sacristan in the
church of St. Nicholas. The others, no doubt, were not in a position
to give him any material assistance.

About this time his singing brought him under the notice of one Frau
Cotta, who with genuine affection took up the promising boy, and
whose memory, in connection with the great Reformer, still lives in
the hearts of the German people. Her husband, Konrad or Kunz, was
one of the most influential citizens of the town, and sprang from a
noble Italian family who had acquired wealth by commerce. Ursula
Cotta, as her name was, belonged to the Eisenach family of Schalbe.
She died in 1511. Mathesius tells us how the boy won her heart by
his singing and his earnestness in prayer, and she welcomed him to
her own table. Luther met with similar acts of kindness from a
brother or other relative of hers, and also from an institution
belonging to Franciscan friars at Eisenach, which was indebted to
the Schalbe family for several rich endowments, and was named, in
consequence, the Schalbe College. At Frau Cotta's, Luther was first
introduced to the life in a patrician's house, and learned to move
in that society.

At Eisenach he remained at school for four years. Many years
afterwards we find him on terms of friendly and grateful intercourse
with one Father Wiegand, who had been his schoolmaster there.
Ratzeberger, speaking of the then schoolmaster at Eisenach, mentions
a 'distinguished poet and man of learning, John Trebonius,' who, as
he tells us, every morning, on entering the schoolroom, would take
off his biretta, because God might have chosen many a one of the
lads present to be a future mayor, or chancellor, or learned doctor;
a thought which, as he adds, was amply realised afterwards in the
person of Doctor Luther. The relations of these two at the school,
which contained several classes, must be a matter of conjecture. But
the system of teaching pursued there was praised afterwards by
Luther himself to Melancthon. The former acquired there that
thorough knowledge of Latin which was then the chief preparation for
University study. He learned to write it, not only in prose, but
also in verse, which leads us to suppose that the school at Eisenach
took a part in the Humanistic movement already mentioned. Happily,
his active mind and quick understanding had already begun to
develop; not only did he make up for lost ground, but he even
outstripped those of his own age.

As we see him growing up to manhood, the future hero of the faith,
the teacher, and the warrior, the most important question for us is
the course which his religious development took from childhood.

He who, in after years, waged such a tremendous warfare with the
Church of his time, always gratefully acknowledged, and in his own
teaching and conduct kept steadily in view, how, within herself, and
underneath all the corruptions he denounced, she still preserved the
groundwork of a Christian life, the charter of salvation, the
fundamental truths of Christianity, and the means of redemption and
blessing, vouchsafed by the grace of God. Especially did he
acknowledge all that he had himself received from the Church since
childhood. In that House, he says on one occasion, he was baptised,
and catechised in the Christian truth, and for that reason he would
always honour it as the House of his Father. The Church would at any
rate take care that children, at home and at school, should learn by
heart the Apostles' Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the Ten
Commandments; that they should pray, and sing psalms and Christian
hymns. Printed books, containing them, were already in existence.
Among the old Christian hymns in the German language, of which a
surprisingly rich collection has been formed, a certain number, at
least, were in common use in the churches, especially for festivals.
'Fine songs' Luther called them, and he took care that they should
live on in the Evangelical communities. Those old verses form in
part the foundation of the hymns which we owe to his own poetical
genius. Thus for Christmas we still have the carol of those times,
_Ein Kindelein so lobelich_; and the first verse of Luther's
Whitsun hymn, _Nun bitten wir den Heiligen Geist_, is taken, he
tells us, from one of those old-fashioned melodies. Of the portions
of Scripture read in church, the Gospels and Epistles were given in
the mother-tongue. Sermons, also, had long been preached in German,
and there were printed collections of them for the use of the

The places where Luther grew up were certainly better off in this
respect than many others. For, in the main, very much was still
wanting to realise what had been recommended and striven for by
pious Churchmen, and writers and religious fraternities, or even
enjoined by the Church herself. The Reformers had, indeed, a heavy
and an irrefutable indictment to bring against the Catholic Church
system of their time. The grossest ignorance and shortcomings were
exposed by the Visitations which they undertook, and from these we
may fairly judge of the actual state of things existing for many
years before. It appeared, that even where these portions of the
catechism were taught by parents and schoolmasters, they never
formed the subject of clerical instruction to the young. It was
precisely one of the charges brought against the enemies of the
Reformation, that, notwithstanding the injunctions of their Church,
they habitually neglected this instruction, and preferred teaching
the children such things as carrying banners in processions and holy
tapers. Priests were found, in the course of these visitations, who
had scarcely any knowledge of the chief articles of the faith. His
own personal experience of this neglect, when young, is not noticed
by Luther in his later complaints on the subject.

But the main fault and failing which he recognised in after life,
and which, as he tells us, was a source of inward suffering to him
from childhood, was the distorted view, held up to him at school and
from the pulpit, of the conditions of Christian salvation, and,
consequently, of his own proper religious attitude and demeanour.

Luther himself, as we learn from him later life, would have
Christian children brought up in the happy assurance that God is a
loving Father, Christ a faithful Saviour, and that it is their
privilege and duty to approach their Father with frank and childlike
confidence, and, if aroused to a consciousness of sin or wrong, to
entreat at once His forgiveness. Such however, he tells us, was not
what he was taught. On the contrary, he was instructed, and trained
up from childhood in that narrowing conception of Christianity, and
that outward form of religiousness, against which, more than
anything, he bore witness as a Reformer.

God was pictured to him as a Being unapproachably sublime, and of
awful holiness; Christ, the Saviour, Mediator, and Advocate, whose
revelation can only bring judgment to those who reject salvation, as
the threatening Judge, against whose wrath, as against that of God,
man sought for intercession and mediation from the Virgin and the
other saints. This latter worship, towards the close of the middle
ages, had increased in importance and extent. Peculiar honour was
paid to particular saints, in particular places, and for the
furtherance of particular interests. The warlike St. George was the
special saint of the town and county of Mansfeld: his effigy still
surmounts the entrance to the old school-house. Among the miners the
worship of St. Anne, the mother of the Virgin, soon became popular
towards the end of the century, and the mining town of Annaberg,
built in 1496, was named after her. Luther records how the 'great
stir' was first made about her, when he was a boy of fifteen, and
how he was then anxious to place himself under her protection. There
is no lack of religious writings of that time, which, with the view
of preserving the Catholic faith, warn men earnestly against the
danger of overvaluing the saints, and of placing their hopes more in
them than in God; but we see from those very warnings how necessary
they were, and later history shows us how little fruit they bore. As
for Luther, certain beautiful features in the lives and legends of
the saints exercised over him a power of attraction which he never
afterwards renounced; and of the Virgin he always spoke with tender
reverence, only regretting that men wished to make an idol of her.
But of his early religious belief, he says that Christ appeared to
him as seated on a rainbow, like a stern Judge; from Christ men
turned to the saints, to be their patrons, and called on the Virgin
to bare her breasts to her Son, and dispose him thereby to mercy. An
example of what deceptions were sometimes practised in such worship
came to the notice of the Elector John Frederick, the friend of
Luther, and probably originated in a convent at Eisenach. It was a
figure, carved in wood, of the Virgin with the infant Saviour in her
arms, which was furnished with a secret contrivance by means of
which the Child, when the people prayed to him, first turned away to
His mother, and only when they had invoked her as intercessor, bowed
towards them with His little arms outstretched.

On the other hand, the sinner who was troubled with cares about his
soul and thoughts of Divine judgment, found himself directed to the
performance of particular acts of penance and pious exercises, as
the means to appease a righteous God. He received judgment and
commands through the Church at the confessional. The Reformers
themselves, and Luther especially, fully recognised the value of
being able to pour out the inner temptations of the heart to some
Christian father-confessor, or even to some other brother in the
faith, and to obtain from his lips that comfort of forgiveness which
God, in His love and mercy, bestows freely on the faithful. But
nothing of this kind, they said, was to be found in the
confessional. The conscience was tormented with the enumeration of
single sins, and burdened with all sorts of penitential formalities;
and it was just with a view that everyone should be drawn to this
discipline of the Church, should use it regularly, and should seek
for no other way to make his peace with God, that the educational
activity of the Church, both with young and old, was especially

Luther, in after life, as we have already remarked, always
recognised and found comfort in the fact that, even under such
conditions as the above, enough of the simple message of salvation
in the Bible could penetrate the heart, and awaken a faith which, in
spite of all artificial restraints and perplexing dogmas, should
throw itself, with inward longing and childlike trust, into the arms
of God's mercy, and so enjoy true forgiveness. He received, as we
shall see, some salutary directions for so doing from later friends
of his, who belonged to the Romish Church, nor was that character of
ecclesiastical religiousness, so to speak, stamped everywhere, or to
the same degree, on Christian life in Germany during his youth.
Nevertheless, his whole inner being, from boyhood, was dominated by
its influence; he, at all events, had never been taught to
appreciate the Gospel as a child. Looking back in later years on his
monastic days, and the whole of his previous life, he declared that
he never could feel assured that his baptism in Christ was
sufficient for his salvation, and that he was sorely troubled with
doubt whether any piety of his own would be able to secure for him
God's mercy. Thoughts of this kind he said induced him to become a

Men have never been wanting, either before or since the time of
Luther's youth, to denounce the abuses and corruptions of the
Church, and particularly of the clergy. Language of this sort had
long found its way to the popular ear, and had proceeded also from
the people themselves. Complaints were made of the tyranny of the
Papal hierarchy, and of their encroachments on social and civil
life, as well as of the worldliness and gross immorality of the
priests and monks. The Papacy had reached its lowest depth of moral
degradation under Pope Alexander VI. We hear nothing, however, of
the impressions produced on Luther, in this respect, in the
circumstances of his early life. The news of such scandals as were
then enacted at Rome, shamelessly and in open day, very likely took
a long while to reach Luther and those about him. With regard to the
carnal offences of the clergy, against which, to the honour of
Germany be it said, the German conscience especially revolted, he
made afterwards the noteworthy remark, that although during his
boyhood the priests allowed themselves mistresses, they never
incurred the suspicion of anything like unbridled sensuality or
adulterous conduct. Examples of such kind date only from a later

The loyalty with which Mansfeld, his home, adhered to the ancient
Church, is shown by several foundations of that time, all of which
have reference to altars and the celebration of mass. The overseer
of the mines, Reinicke, the friend of Luther's family, is among the
founders: he left provision for keeping up services in honour of the
Virgin and St. George.

A peculiarly reverential demeanour, in regard to religion and the
Church, is observable in Luther's father, and one which was common
no doubt among his honest, simple, pious fellow townsfolk. His
conduct was consistently God-fearing. In his house it was afterwards
told how he would often pray at the bedside of his little Martin,--how,
as the friend of godliness and learning, he had enjoyed the friendship
of priests and school-teachers. Words of pious reflection from his
lips remained stamped on Luther's memory from his boyhood. Thus
Luther tells us, in a sermon preached towards the close of his life,
how he had often heard his dear father say, that, as his own parents
had told him, the earth contains many more who require to be fed
than there are sheaves, even if collected from all the fields in the
world; and yet how wondrously does God know how to preserve mankind!
In common with his fellow-townsmen, he followed the precepts and
commands of his Church. When, in the year in which he sent his son to
Magdeburg, two new altars in the church at Mansfeld were consecrated
to a number of saints, and sixty days' indulgence was granted to
anyone who heard mass at them, Hans Luther, with Reinicke and other
fellow-magistrates, was among the first to make use of the invitation.
The enemies of the Reformer, while fain to trace his origin to a
heretic Bohemian, had not a shadow of a reason for suspecting his real
father of any leanings to heresy. Nor do we hear a word in later years
from the Reformer, after his father had separated with him from the
Catholic Church, to show a trace of any hostile or critical remark
against that Church, remembered from the lips of his father during
childhood. Quietly but firmly the latter asserted his own judgment,
and framed his will accordingly. He was firm, in particular, in the
consciousness of his paternal rights and duties, even against the
pretensions of the clergy. Thus, as his son Martin tells us, when he
lay once on the point of death, and the priest admonished him to
leave something to the clergy, he replied in the simplicity of his
heart, 'I have many children: I will leave it them, for they want it
more.' We shall see how unyieldingly, when his son entered a convent,
he insisted, as against all the value and usefulness of monasticism,
on the paramount obligation of God's command, that children should
obey their parents. Luther also tells us how his father once praised
in high terms the will left by a Count of Mansfeld, who without
leaving any property to the Church, was content to depart from this
world trusting solely to the bitter sufferings and death of Christ,
and commending his soul to Him. Luther himself, when a young student,
would have considered, as he tells us, a bequest to churches or
convents a proper will to make. His father afterwards accepted his
son's doctrine of salvation without hesitation, and with the full
conviction that it was right. But remarks of his such as we have
quoted, were consistent with a perfectly blameless demeanour in
regard to the forms of conduct and belief as prescribed by the Church,
with an avoidance of criticism and argument on ecclesiastical matters,
which he knew were not his vocation, and above all with a complete
abstention from such talk in the presence of his children. As to what
concerns further the positive religious influence which he exercised
over his children, any such impressions as he might have given by what
he said of the Count of Mansfeld, were fully counterbalanced by the
severity and firmness of his paternal discipline.

Concurrent with the doctrine of salvation through the intercession
of the saints and the Church, and one's own good works, which Luther
had been taught from his youth, were the dark popular ideas of the
power of the devil--ideas, which, though not actually invented, were
at least patronised by the Church, and which not only threaten the
souls of men, but cast a baneful spell over all their natural life.
Luther, as is well known, has frequently expressed his own opinions
about the devil, in connection with the enchantments supposed to be
practised by the Evil One on mankind, and, more especially, on the
subject of witchcraft. Of one thing he was certain, that in God's
hand we are safe from the Evil One, and can triumph over him. But
even he believed the devil's work was manifested in sudden accidents
and striking phenomena of Nature, in storms, conflagrations, and the
like. As to the tales of sorcery and magic, which were told and
believed in by the people, some he declared to be incredible, others
he ascribed to the hallucinations effected by the devil. But that
witches had power to do one bodily harm, that they plagued children
in particular, and that their spells could affect the soul, he never
seriously doubted.

From his earliest childhood, and especially at home, ideas of that
kind had been instilled into Luther, and accordingly they ministered
strong food to his imagination. They had just then spread to a
remarkable extent among the Germans, and had developed in remarkable
ways. They had affected the administration of ecclesiastical and
civil law, they had given rise to the Inquisition and the most
barbarous cruelties in the punishment of those who were pretended to
be in league with the devil, and they had gradually multiplied their
baneful effects. The year after Luther's birth, appeared the
remarkable Papal bull which sanctioned the trial of witches. When a
boy, Luther heard a great deal about witches, though later in life
he thought there was no longer so much talk about them, and he would
not scruple to tell stories of how they harmed men and cattle, and
brought down storms and hail. Nay, of his own mother he believed
that she had suffered much from the witcheries of a female
neighbour, who, as he said, 'plagued her children till they nearly
screamed themselves to death.' Delusions such as these are certainly
dark shadows in the picture of Luther's youth, and are important
towards understanding his inner life as a man.

But while admitting the existence of these superstitious and
pseudo-religious notions, we must not imagine that they composed the
whole portraiture of Luther's early life. He was, as Mathesius
describes him, a merry, jovial young fellow. In his later reflections
on himself and his youthful days, the very war he was waging against
the false teachings of the Church, from which he himself had
suffered, made him dwell, as was natural, on this side of his early
life. But amidst all those trials and depressing influences, the
fresh and elastic vigour of his nature stood the strain--a vigour
innate and inherited, and which afterwards shone forth in a new and
brighter light, under a new aspect of religious life. His childlike
joy in Nature around him, which afterwards distinguished so
remarkably the theologian and champion of the faith, must be
referred back to his original bent of mind and his life, when a boy,
amid Nature's surroundings.

How much he lived, from childhood, with the peasantry, is shown by
the natural ease with which he spoke in the popular dialect, even
when he was learning Latin and enjoying a higher culture, and by the
frequency with which the native roughnesses of that dialect broke
out in his learned discourses or sermons. In no other theologian,
nay, in no other known German writer of his century, do we meet with
so many popular proverbs as in Luther, to whom they came naturally
in his conversations and letters. German legends also, and popular
tales, such as the history of Dietrich von Bern and other heroes, or
of Eulenspiegel or Markolf, would hardly have been remembered so
accurately by him in later years, if he had not familiarised himself
with them in childhood. He would at times inveigh against the
worthless, and even shameless tales and 'gossip,' as he called it,
which such books contained, and especially against the priests who
used to spice their sermons with such stories; but that he also
recognised their value we know from his allusion to 'some people,
who had written songs about Dietrich and other giants, and in so
doing had expounded much greater subjects in a short and simple
manner.' The pleasure with which he himself may have read or
listened to them, can be gathered from his remark that 'when a story
of Dietrich von Bern is told, one is bound to remember it
afterwards, even though one has only heard it once.'

He maintained through life a faithful devotion to the places where he
had grown up. Eisenach remained, as we have already seen, his beloved
town. Mansfeld was particularly dear to him as his home, and the whole
county as his 'fatherland;' he calls it with pride a 'noble and famous
county.' The miners also, who were his fellow-countrymen and his dear
father's work-mates, he loved all his life long. But a wider horizon
was not opened to him among the people of the little town of Mansfeld,
or where he afterwards went to school. To this fact, and to his quiet
life as a monk, we must ascribe the peculiar feature of his later
activity, namely, that while prosecuting with far-seeing eye and a
warm heart the highest and most extensive tasks for his Church and
for the German people in general, still, at the beginning of his work
and campaign, he understood but little of the great world outside,
and of politics, or even of the general state of Germany; nay, he
shows at times a touchingly childlike simplicity in these matters.

The last few years of his school-life enabled him to make brave
progress on the road to intellectual culture, which his father
wished him to pursue. Thus equipped, he was prepared at the age of
eighteen, to remove, in the summer of 1501 to the university at



Among the German universities, that of Erfurt, which could count
already a hundred years of prosperous existence, occupied at this
time a brilliant position. So high, Luther tells us, was its
standing and reputation, that all its sister institutions were
regarded as mere pigmies by its side. His parents could now afford
to give him the necessary means for studying at such a place. 'My
dear father,' he says, 'maintained me there with loyal affection,
and by his labour and the sweat of his brow enabled me to go there.'
He had now begun to feel a burning thirst for learning, and here, at
the 'fountain of all knowledge,' to use Melancthon's words, he hoped
to be able to quench it.

He began with a complete course of philosophy, as that science was
then understood. It dealt, in the first place, with the laws and
forms of thought and knowledge, with language, in which Latin formed
the basis, or with grammar and rhetoric, as also with the highest
problems and most abstruse questions of physics, and comprised even
a general knowledge of natural science and astronomy. A complete
study of all these subjects was not merely requisite for learned
theologians, but frequently served as an introduction to that of
law, and even of medicine.

When Luther first came from Eisenach to Erfurt, there was nothing
yet about him that attracted the attention of others so far as to
call forth any contemporary account of him. Enough, however, is
known of the most eminent teachers there, at whose feet he sat, and
also of the general kind of intellectual food which they
administered. He gained entrance into a circle of older and younger
men than himself, teachers and fellow-students, who in later years,
either as friends or opponents, were able to bear witness,
favourably or the reverse, as to his life and work at Erfurt.

The leading professor of philosophy at Erfurt was then Jodocus
Trutvetter, who, three years after Luther's arrival, became also
doctor of theology and lecturer of the theological faculty. Next to
him, in this department, ranked Bartholomew Arnoldi of Usingen. It
was to these two men above others, and particularly to the former,
that Luther looked for his instruction.

The philosophy which was then in vogue at Erfurt, and which found its
most vigorous champion in Trutvetter, was that of the Scholasticism of
later days. It is common to associate with the idea of Scholasticism,
or the theological and philosophical School-science of the middle
ages, a system of thought and instruction, embracing, indeed, the
highest questions of knowledge and existence, but at the same time
not venturing to strike into any independent paths, or to deviate an
inch from tradition, but submitting rather, in everything connected,
or supposed to be connected, with religious belief, to the dogmas and
decrees of the Church and the authority of the early Fathers, and
wasting the understanding and intellect in dry formalism or subtle
but barren controversies. This conception fails to appreciate the
vast labour of thought bestowed by leading minds on the attempt to
unravel the mass of ecclesiastical teaching which had twined round
the innermost lives of themselves and their fellow-Christians, and
at the same time to follow those general questions under the guidance
of the old philosophers, especially Aristotle, of whom they knew but
little. But it is applicable, at any rate, to the Scholasticism of
later days. The confidence with which its older exponents had thought
to explain and establish orthodoxy by means of their favourite science,
was gone; all the more, therefore, should that science keep silence in
face of the commands of the Church. Men, moreover, had grown tired of
the old questions of philosophy about the reality and real existence
of Universals. It had been formerly a question of dispute whether our
general ideas had a real existence, or whether they were nothing
more than words or names, mere abstractions, comprehending the
individual, which alone was supposed to possess Reality. At that
time the latter doctrine, that of Nominalism, as it was called,
prevailed. At length, these new or 'modern' philosophers abandoned
the question of Realism, and the relation of thought to Reality, in
favour of a system of pure logic or dialectics, dealing with the
mere forms and expressions of thought, the formal analysis of ideas
and words, the mutual relation of propositions and conclusions--in
short, all that constitutes what we call formal logic, in its widest
acceptation. At this point, the far-famed scholastic intellect, with
its subtleties, its fine distinctions, its nice questions, its
sophistical conclusions, reached its zenith.

To this logic Trutvetter also devoted himself, and in it he taught
his pupils. He had just then published a series of treatises on the
subject. To him this study was real earnest. Compared with others,
he has shown in these excursions a cautious and discreet moderation,
and no inclination for the quarrels and verbal combats often dear to
logicians. The same can be said of his colleague Usingen. Trutvetter
has shown also that he enjoyed and was widely read in earlier and
modern, especially, of course, in Scholastic literature, including
the works not only of the most important, but also of very obscure
authors. We can imagine what delight he took in all this when in his
professor's chair, and how much he expected from his pupils.

At Erfurt meanwhile, and by this same philosophical facility, a
fresh and vigorous impulse was being given to that study of
classical antiquity, which gave birth to a new learning, and ushered
in a new era of intellectual culture in Germany. We have already had
occasion to refer to the movement and influence of Humanism at the
schools which Luther attended at Magdeburg and Eisenach. He now
found himself at one of the chief nurseries of these 'arts and
letters' in Germany, nay, at the very place where their richest
blossoms were unfolded. Erfurt could boast of having issued the
first Greek book printed in Germany in Greek type, namely, a
grammar, printed in Luther's first year at the University. It was
the Greek and Latin poets, in particular, whose writings stirred the
enthusiasm and emulation of the students. For refined expression and
learned intercourse, the fluent and elegant Latin language was
studied, as given in the works of classical writers. But far more
important still was the free movement of thought, and the new world
of ideas thus opened up.

In proportion as these young disciples of antiquity learned to
despise the barbarous Latin and insipidity of the monkish and
scholastic education of the day, they began to revolt against
Scholasticism, against the dogmas of faith propounded by the Church,
and even against the religious opinions of Christendom in general.
History shows us the different paths taken, in this respect, by the
Humanists; and we shall come across them, in another way, during the
career of the Reformer, as having an important influence on the
course of the Reformation. With many, an honest striving after
religion and morality allied itself with the impulse for independent
intellectual culture, and tried to utilise it for improving the
condition of the Church. When the struggle of the Reformation began,
some followed Luther and the other religious teachers on his side,
some, shrinking back from his trenchant conclusions, and, above all,
concerned for their own stock-in-trade of learning, counselled
others to practise prudence and moderation, and themselves retired
to the service of their muses. Others again, broke away altogether
from the Christian faith and the principles of Christian morality.
They took delight in a new life of Heathenism, devoted sometimes to
sensual pleasures and gross immoralities, sometimes to the
indulgence of refined tastes and the enjoyment of art. These latter
never raised a weapon against the Church, but for the most part
accommodated themselves to her forms. In her teachings, her
ordinances, and her discipline, they saw something indispensable to
the multitude, as whose conscious superiors they behaved. Indeed,
they themselves wielded this government in the Church, and
comfortably enjoyed their authority and its fruits. In Italy, at
Rome, and on the Papal chair these despotic pretensions were then
asserted without shame or reserve. In Germany, on the other hand,
the leading champions of the new learning, even when in open arms
against the barbarism of the monks and clergy, sought, for
themselves and their disciples, to remain faithful on the ground of
their Mother Church. At Erfurt, in particular, the relations between
them and the representatives of Scholasticism were peaceful,
unconstrained, and friendly. The dry writings of a Trutvetter they
prefaced with panegyrics in Latin verse, and the Trutvetter would
try to imitate their purer style.

Some talented young students of the classics at Erfurt formed
themselves into a small coterie of their own. They enjoyed the
cheerful pleasures of youthful society, nor were poetry and wine
wanting, but the rules of decorum and good manners were not
overlooked. Several men, whom we shall come across afterwards in the
history of Luther, belonged to this circle;--for instance, John
Jager, known as Crotus Eubianus, the friend of Ulrich Hutten, and
George Spalatin (properly Burkhard), the trusted fellow-labourer of
the Reformer. Both had already been three years at the university
when Luther entered it. Three years after his arrival, came Eoban
Hess, the most brilliant, talented, and amiable of the young
Humanists and poets of Germany.

Such was the learned company to which Luther was introduced in the
philosophical faculty at Erfurt. So far, different avenues of
intellectual culture were opened to him. He threw himself into the
study of that philosophy in all its bearings, and, not content with
exploring the tangled and thorny paths of logic, took counsel how to
enjoy, as far as possible, the fruits of the newly-revived knowledge
of antiquity.

As regards the latter, he carried the study of Ovid, Virgil, and
Cicero, in particular, farther than was customary with the professed
students of Humanism, and the same with the poetical works of more
modern Latin writers. But his chief aim was not so much to master
the mere language of the classical authors, or to mould himself
according to their form, as to cull from their pages rich
apophthegms of human wisdom, and pictures of human life and of the
history of peoples. He learned to express pregnant and powerful
thoughts clearly and vigorously in learned Latin, but he was himself
well aware how much his language was wanting in the elegance,
refinement, and charm of the new school; indeed, this elegance he
never attempted to attain.

With the members of this circle of young Humanists, Luther was on
terms of personal friendship. Crotus was able to remind him in after
life how, in close intimacy, they had studied the fine arts together
at the university. But there is no mention of him in the numerous
letters and poems left to posterity by the aspiring Humanists at
Erfurt. He had made himself, Crotus adds, a name among his
companions as the 'learned philosopher' and the 'musician,' but he
never belonged to the 'poets,' which was the favourite title of the
young Humanists. Many, including even Melancthon, have lamented that
he was not more deeply imbued with the spirit of those 'noble arts
and letters,' which educate the mind, and would have tended to
soften his rugged nature and manner. But they would have been of
little value to him for the quick decision and energy required for
the war he had afterwards to wage. Those intellectual treasures and
enjoyments kept aloof not only from such contests, but also from
sharp and searching investigations of the highest questions of
religion and morality, and from the inward struggle, so often
painful, which they bring. As regards the merits of Humanism, which
Luther again, as a Reformer, eagerly acknowledged, we must not
forget how selfishly it withdrew itself from contact and communion
with German popular life, nor how it helped to create an exclusive
aristocracy of intellect, and allowed the noblest talents to become
as clumsy in their own natural mother-tongue, as they were clever in
the handling of foreign, acquired forms of art. Luther, in not
yielding further to those influences, remained a German.

Philosophy, then, engrossed him, and allowed him but little time for
other things. And in studying this, he sought to grapple with the
highest problems of the human understanding. These problems occupied
also the labours of the later Scholastics, however faulty were the
forms in which they clothed their ideas. At the same time, these
very forms attracted him, from the scope they gave to the exercise
of his natural acuteness and understanding. Disputation was his
great delight; and argumentative contests were then in fashion at
the universities. But in after years, as soon as the contents of the
Bible were opened to his inner understanding, and he recognised in
its pages the object of real theological knowledge, he regretted the
time and labour which he had wasted on those studies, and even spoke
of them with disgust.

Crotus has already told us of the sociable life that Luther led with his
friends. The love for music, which he had shown in school-days, he
continued to keep up, and indulged in it merrily with his fellow-students.
He had a high-pitched voice, not strong, but audible at a distance.
Besides singing, he learned also to play the lute, and this without a
master, and he employed his time in this way when laid up once by an
accident to his leg.

Such rapid progress did he make in his philosophical studies, that
in his third term he was able to attain his baccalaureate, the first
academical degree of the theological faculty. This degree, according
to the general custom of the universities, preceded that of Master,
corresponding to the present Doctor, of philosophy. The examination
for it, which Luther passed on Michaelmas day 1502, professed to
include the most important subjects in the province of philosophy.
But it could not have been very severe. The chief work came when he
took his next degree as Master, which was at the beginning of 1505.
He then experienced what afterwards, speaking of Erfurt's former
glory, he thus describes: 'What a moment of majesty and splendour
was that, when one took the degree of Master, and torches were
carried before, and honour was paid one. I consider that no temporal
or worldly joy can equal it.' Melancthon tells us, on the authority
of several of Luther's fellow-students, that his talent was then the
wonder of the whole university.

In accordance with the wish of his father and the advice of his
relations, he was now to fit himself for a lawyer. In this
profession, they thought, he would be able to turn his talents to
the best account, and make a name in the world. And in this
department also, the university of Erfurt could boast of one of the
most distinguished men of learning of that time, Henning Goede, who
was now in the prime of his vigour. Luther, accordingly, began to
attend the lectures on law, and his father allowed him to buy some
valuable books for that purpose, particularly a 'Corpus Juris.'

Meanwhile, however, in his inner religious life a change was being
prepared, which proved the turning-point of his career.

Luther himself, as we have seen, frequently pointed out in after
life the influences which, even from childhood, under the discipline
of home, the experiences of school, and the teaching of the Church,
combined to bring about this result. He could never shake off for
any length of time, even when in the midst of learned study or the
enjoyment of student life, the consciousness that he must be pious
and satisfy all the strict commands of God, that he must make good
all the shortcomings of his life, and reconcile himself with Heaven,
and that an angry Judge was throned above who threatened him with
damnation. Inner voices of this kind, in a man of sensitive and
tender conscience, were bound to assert themselves the more loudly
and earnestly, as, in his progress from youth to manhood, he
realised more fully his personal responsibility to God, and also his
personal independence. To religious observances, in which he had
been trained from childhood, Luther, as a student, remained
faithful. Regularly he began his day with prayer, and as regularly
attended mass. But of any new or comforting means of access to God
and salvation, he heard nothing, even here. In the town of Erfurt
there was an earnest and powerful preacher, named Sebastian
Weinmann, who denounced in incisive language the prevalent vices of
the day, and exposed the corruption of ecclesiastical life, and whom
the students thronged to hear. But even he had nothing to offer to
satisfy Luther's inward cravings of the soul. It was an episode in
his life when he once found a Latin Bible in the library of the
university. Though then nearly twenty years of age, he had never yet
seen a Bible. Now for the first time he saw how much more it
contained than was ever read out and explained in the churches. With
delight he perused the story of Samuel and his mother, on the first
pages that met his eye; though, as yet, he could make nothing more
out of the Sacred Book. It was not on account of any particular
offences, such as youthful excesses, that Luther feared the wrath of
God. Staunch Catholics at Erfurt, including even later avowed
enemies of the Reformer, who knew him there as a student, have never
hinted at anything of that sort against him. 'The more we wash our
hands, the fouler they become,' was a favourite saying of Luther's.
He referred, no doubt, to the numerous faults in thought, word, and
deed, which, in spite of human carefulness, every day brings, and
which, however insignificant they might seem to others, his
conscience told him were sins against God's holy law. Disquieting
questions, moreover, now arose in his mind, so sorely troubled with
temptation; and his subtle and penetrating intellect, so far from
being able to solve them, only plunged him deeper in distress. Was
it then really God's own will, he asked himself, that he should
become actually purged from sin and thereby be saved? Was not the
way to hell or the way to heaven already fixed for him immutably in
God's will and decree, by which everything is determined and
preordained? And did not the very futility of his own endeavours
hitherto prove that it was the former fate that hung over him? He
was in danger of going utterly astray in his conception of such a
God. Expressions in the Bible such as those which speak of serving
Him with fear became to him intolerable and hateful. He was seized
at times with fits of despair such as might have tempted him to
blaspheme God. It was this that he afterwards referred to as the
greatest temptation he had experienced when young.

His physical condition probably contributed to this gloomy frame of
mind. Already during his baccalaureate we hear of an illness of his,
which awakened in him thoughts of death. A friend, represented by
later tradition as an aged priest, said to him on his sick bed,
'Take courage; God will yet make you the means of comfort to many
others;' and these words impressed him strongly even then. An
accident also, which threatened to be fatal, must have tended to
alarm him. As he was travelling home at Easter, and was within an
hour's distance of Erfurt, he accidentally injured the main artery
of his leg with the rapier which, like other students, he carried at
his side. Whilst a friend who was with him had gone for a doctor,
and he was left alone, he pressed the wound tightly as he lay on his
back, but the leg continued to swell. In the anguish of death he
called upon the Virgin to help him. That night his terror was
renewed when the wound broke open afresh, and again he invoked the
Mother of God. It was during his convalescence after this accident
that he resolved upon learning to play the lute.

He was terribly distressed also, a few months after he had taken his
degree as Master, by the sudden death of one of his friends, not
further known to us, who was either assassinated or snatched away by
some other fatality.

Well might the thought even then have occurred to him, while so
disturbed in his mind and overpowered by feelings of sadness,
whether it would not be better to seek his cure in the monastic
holiness recommended by the Church, and to renounce altogether the
world and all the success he had hitherto aspired to. The young
Master of Arts, as he tells us himself in later years, was indeed a
sorrowful man.

Suddenly and offhand he was hurried into a most momentous decision.
Towards the end of June 1505, when several Church festivals fall
together, he paid a visit to his home at Mansfeld, in quest, very
possibly, of rest and comfort to his mind. Returning on July 2, the
feast of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary, he was already near
Erfurt, when, at the village of Stotternheim a terrific storm broke
over his head. A fearful flash of lightning darted from heaven
before his eyes. Trembling with fear, he fell to the earth, and
exclaimed, 'Help, Anna, beloved Saint! I will be a monk.' A few days
after, when quietly settled again at Erfurt, he repented having used
these words. But he felt that he had taken a vow, and that, on the
strength of that vow, he had obtained a hearing. The time, he knew,
was past for doubt or indecision. Nor did he think it necessary to
get his father's consent; his own conviction and the teaching of the
Church told him that no objection on the part of his father could
release him from his vow. Thus he severed himself at once from his
former life and companions. On July 16 he called his best friends
together to bid them leave. Once more they tried to keep him back;
he answered them, 'To-day you see me, and never again.' The next
day, that of St. Alexius, they accompanied him with tears to the
gates of the Augustinian convent in the town, which he thought was
to receive him for ever.

It is chiefly from what Luther himself has told us that we are
enabled to picture to ourselves this remarkable occurrence. Rumour,
and rumour only, has given the name of Alexius to that unknown
friend whose death so terrified him, and has represented this friend
as having been struck dead by lightning at his side.

The Luther of later days declared that his monastic vow was a
compulsory one, forced from him by terror and the fear of death.
But, at the same time, he never doubted that it was God who urged
him. Thus he said afterwards, 'I never thought to leave again the
convent. I was entirely dead to the world, until God thought that
the time had come.'





Luther's resolve to follow a monastic life was arrived at suddenly,
as we have seen. But he weighed that resolve well in his mind, and
just as carefully considered the choice of the convent which he

The Augustinian monks, whose society he announced his intention to join,
belonged at that time to the most important monastic order in Germany.
So much had already been said with justice, in the way of complaint and
ridicule, of the depravation of monastic life, its idleness, hypocrisy,
and gross immorality, that many of them fancied that the solemn
renunciation of marriage and the world's goods, and the absolute
submission of their wills to the commands of their superiors and the
regulations of their Order, constituted true service to God, and raised
them to a peculiar position of holiness and merit. Outward discipline,
at all events, was universally insisted on. Among the German institutions
of this Order, whilst neglect and depravity had crept in elsewhere, a
large number had, for some time past, distinguished themselves by a
strict adherence to their old statutes, originating, it was supposed,
from their founder St. Augustine, but relating, at the best, to mere
matters of form. These institutions formed themselves into an
association, presided over by a Vicar of the Order, as he was called,
a Vicar-General for Germany. To this association belonged the convent
at Erfurt. Its inmates were treated with marked favour and respect by
the higher and educated classes in the town. They were said to be
active in preaching and in the care of souls, and to cultivate among
themselves the study of theology. Arnoldi, Luther's teacher,
belonged to this convent. As the Order possessed no property, but
all its members lived on alms, the monks went about the town and
country to collect gifts of money, bread, cheese, and other

According to the rules of the Order, applications for admission were
not granted at once, but time was taken to see whether the applicant
was in earnest. After that he was received as a novice for at least
a year of probation. Until that year expired he was at liberty to
reconsider his wish.

Luther, before taking this final step, thought of his parents, with
a view to lay before them his resolve. The monastic brethren,
however, endeavoured to dissuade him, by reminding him how one must
leave father and mother for Christ and His Cross, and how no one who
has put his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom
of God. Upon his writing to his father on the subject, the latter,
strong in the conviction of his paternal rights, flew into a passion
with his son. 'My father,' says Luther later, 'was near going mad
about it; he was ill satisfied, and would not allow it. He sent me
an answer in writing, addressing me in terms that showed his
displeasure, and renouncing all further affection. Soon after he
lost two of his sons by the plague. This epidemic had likewise
broken out so violently at Erfurt, that about harvesttime whole
crowds of students fled with their teachers from the town, and
Luther's father received news that his son Martin had also fallen a
victim. His friends then urged him that, if the report proved false,
he ought at least to devote his dearest to God, by letting this son
who still remained to him, enter the blessed Order of God's
servants. At last the father let himself be talked over; but he
yielded, as Luther informs us, with a sad and reluctant heart.

The young novice was welcomed among his brethren with hymns of joy,
and prayers, and other ceremonies. He was soon clothed in the garb
of his Order. Over a white woollen shirt he was made to wear a frock
and cowl of black cloth, with a black leathern girdle. Whenever he
put these on or off a Latin prayer was repeated to him aloud, that
the Lord might put off the old and put on the new man, fashioned
according to God. Above the cowl he received a scapulary, as it was
called--in other words, a narrow strip of cloth hanging over
shoulders, breast, and back, and reaching down to his feet. This was
meant to signify that he took upon him the yoke of Him who said, 'My
yoke is easy, and my burden is light.' At the same time, he was
handed over to a superior, appointed to take charge of the novices,
to introduce them to the practices of monastic devotion, to
superintend their conduct, and to watch over their souls.

Above all, it was held important that the monks should be taught to
subdue their own wills. They had to learn to endure, without
opposition, whatever was imposed upon them, and that, indeed, all
the more cheerfully, the more distasteful it appeared. Any tendency
to pride was overcome by enjoining immediately the most menial
offices on the offender. Friends of Luther tell us how, during his
first period of probation in particular, he had to perform the
meanest daily labour with brush and broom, and how his jealous
brethren took particular pleasure in seeing the proud young graduate
of yesterday trudge through the streets, with his beggar's wallet on
his back, by the side of another monk more accustomed to the work.
At first, we are told, the university interceded on his behalf as a
member of their own body, and obtained for him at least some
relaxation from his menial duties. From Luther's own lips, in after
life, we hear not a word of complaint about any special vexations
and burdens. As far as was possible, he did not allow them to daunt
him; nay, he longed for even severer exercises, to enable him to win
the favour of God. Even as a Reformer he remembered with gratitude
the 'Pedagogue,' or superintendent of his noviciate; he was a fine
old man, he tells us, a true Christian under that execrable cowl.

The novice found each day, as it went by, fully occupied with the
repetition of set prayers and the performance of other acts of
devotion. For the day and night together there were seven or eight
appointed hours of prayer, or _Horae_. During each of these the
brethren who were not yet priests had to say twenty-five
Paternosters with the Ave Maria, more ample formulas of prayer being
prescribed meanwhile to the priests. Luther was also introduced
already then to certain theological studies, which were under the
supervision of two learned fathers of the monastery. But what was of
the most importance for him was that a Bible--the Latin translation
then in general use in the Church--was put into his hands. Just
about this time, a new code of statutes had come in force for these
Augustinian convents, drawn up by Staupitz, the Vicar of the Order,
which enjoined, as matters of duty, assiduous reading, devout
attention to the Hours, and a zealous study of Holy Writ. Teachers
were wanting to Luther, and he found it very difficult to understand
all he read. But with genuine appetite he read himself, so to speak,
into his Bible, and clung to it ever afterwards.

At the end of his year of probation followed his solemn admission to
the Order. Faithfully 'unto death' did Luther then promise to live
according to the rules of the holy father Augustine, and to render
obedience to Almighty God, to the Virgin Mary, and to the prior of
the monastery. Before doing so, he put on anew the dress of his
Order, which had been consecrated with holy water and incense. The
prior received his vows and sprinkled holy water upon him as he
prostrated himself upon the ground in the form of a cross. When the
ceremony was over, his brethren congratulated him on being now like
an innocent child fresh from the baptism. He was then given a cell
of his own, with table, bedstead, and chair. It looked out upon the
cloistered yard of the monastery. It was destroyed by a fire on
March 7, 1872.

[Illustration: Fig. 4.--LUTHER'S CELL AT ERFURT.]

Luther now, by an inviolable promise, had bound himself to that
vocation through which he aspired to gain heaven. The means whereby
he hoped to realise his aspiration were abundantly provided for him
in his new home. If he sought the favour of the Virgin and of other
saints who should intercede for him before the judgment-seat of God
and Christ, he found at once in his Order a fervent worship of the
Virgin in particular, and all possible directions for her service.
The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, which Pius IX., in our
own days, first ventured to raise into a dogma of the Church, was
zealously defended by the Augustinians, and firmly maintained by
Luther himself, even after the beginning of his war of Reformation.
John Palz, one of his two theological teachers in the convent, wrote
profusely in honour of this doctrine, and described all Christians
as its spiritual children. Under its mantle, says Luther, he had to
creep into the presence of Christ. From the multitude of other
saints Luther selected a number as his constant helpers in need. We
notice particularly that among these, in addition to St. Anne and
St. George, was the Apostle Thomas; from him who himself had once
betrayed such cowardice and want of faith he might well hope for
peculiar sympathy. We have already mentioned the set prayers which
filled up a great portion of the day. He was required above all
things to learn and repeat them accurately, word by word.
Afterwards, as he tells us, the _Horae_ were read aloud after
the manner of magpies, jackdaws, or parrots.

If he wished in penitence to be freed from the sins which had
tormented him so long, and were a daily burden on his conscience,
the means of confession provided by the Church were always ready for
him in the convent. Once a week, at the least, every brother had to
attend the private confessional. All his sins, without exception,
had then to be revealed, if he wished to obtain for them
forgiveness. Luther endeavoured to unbosom to his father-confessor
all he had done from his youth up; but this was too much even for
the priest. It was by means of a complete inward contrition,
corresponding to the infinite burden of sin, that the person
confessing was to make himself worthy of the forgiveness which the
priest then testified to him by absolution. According to the
prevailing doctrine, however, what was wanting to the penitent in
completeness of contrition, was supplied by the Sacrament of
Absolution. But the punishments reserved by God for sinners were not
supposed to be ended by this absolution or forgiveness; these had to
be atoned for by peculiar observances, imposed by the priest, and by
prayer, alms, fasting, and other acts of mortification. For him who
was not forgiven, remained hell; for him who had not expiated his
sins, at least the fear and pains of purgatory. Such was and still
is the teaching of the Catholic Church.

Thus Luther was now summoned and directed to pursue methodically the
painful work of self-examination, which had oppressed him even
before he entered the convent, and to use all the means of grace
here offered to him. But the more he searched into his life and
thoughts, the more transgressions of God's will he found, and the
more grievously did they afflict his conscience. It was not, indeed,
as might have been imagined with a strong young man like himself, a
question of any sensual appetites, stimulated all the more by the
restraints of the convent. It was with the passions of anger,
hatred, and envy against his brethren and fellow-creatures, that he
had to reproach himself. Those who disliked him accused him in
particular of self-conceit, and of letting his temper break out too
easily. Faults of that description, in thought, word, or deed, were
to his own conscience as deadly sins, though to the priest who
listened to him at confession, they seemed too trifling to call for
enumeration. To these were added a number of smaller offences
against the ordinances of the Church and the convent, with reference
to outward observances and forms of worship, prayers, and so on, all
of which, insignificant as they must seem to us, the Church was
accustomed to treat as grievous sins. Finally, there arose in his
mind a constant restlessness, which made him look for sins where
none in reality existed. What he had said once before about washing
one's hands, that it only made them become fouler, he had now to
experience for himself. His contrition made him feel pain and fear
in abundance, but not so as to enable him to say to himself that it
purged the evil in the sight of God. Absolution was pronounced over
him again and again, but who ever gave him any assurance that he had
fulfilled its conditions, and therefore could really confide in its
efficacy? As for acts of penance, he willingly performed them, and,
indeed, did far more in the way of prayer, fasting, and vigil than
either the rules of the convent demanded or his father-confessor
enjoined. His body, from his hardy training as a child, was well
prepared for such austerities, but in spite of that, he had for a
long while to suffer from their results. Luther, in later years,
could well bear witness of himself that he had caused his own body
far more pain and torture with those practices of penance than all
his enemies and persecutors had caused to theirs.

What leisure remained, after his other monastic duties were over, he
devoted most industriously to the study of theology. He read, in
particular, the writings of the later Scholastic theologians, with
whom he had partly occupied himself during his philosophical course.
Of some of these, such as the Englishman Occam, in particular, whose
acuteness of reasoning he especially admired, there were writings
which, in reference to questions of external Church polity, might
have led him even then into paths of his own, if his mind had been
disposed for it. These writings were directed against the absolute
power of the Pope in the Church, and against his aggressions in the
territory of Empire and State. But any such aim was very far removed
from the monastic Order to which Luther had devoted himself, and
from the theologians who were here his teachers. Palz, whom we have
mentioned already, had especially distinguished himself by his
glorification of the Papal indulgences. Moreover, the whole Order,
and the German convents belonging to it in particular, were indebted
to the Pope for various acts of favour. Nor was Luther himself less
careful to hold firmly to the ordinances of the hierarchy, than to
avail himself of the means of salvation offered by the Church.

What at all times in his theological studies enlisted his warmest
personal interest was the difficult question, how sinners could
obtain everlasting salvation. And all that he came to read on that
subject in the writings of those theologians, and to hear from his
learned teachers in the convent, served only to increase his
fruitless inward wrestlings, and his anxiety and sense of need. The
great father of the Church, from whom his Order was named, and to
whom their rules were ascribed, had once, on the ground of his own
experiences of the struggle with sin and the flesh, laid down with
great force, and in a triumphant controversy with his opponents, the
doctrine that, as the Apostle says, salvation depends not on the
conduct of man, but on the grace of God, not on the will of man, but
on the willingness of God to pardon, Who alone transforms the
sinner, and grants him the power and the will for good. But any
knowledge or understanding of this theology of Augustine was as
strange to his own Order as to the Scholastics. It was taught,
indeed, that heaven was too high for man to attain to otherwise than
by the grace of God. But it was also taught that the sinner, by his
own natural strength, both could and ought to do enough in God's
sight to earn that grace which would then help him further on the
way to heaven. He who had thus obtained that grace, it was said,
felt himself enabled and impelled to do even more than God's
commands require. Reference to the bitter passion and death of the
Saviour was not omitted, it is true, by the theologians with whom
Luther had to do, and frequently, as, for example, by his teacher
Palz, was impressed on Christian hearts in words full of feeling.
But the chief stress was laid, not on the redeeming love on which
man could rest his confident assurance, but on the necessity of
offering oneself to Him who had offered Himself for man, and of
submitting even to the pains of death, in imitation of Him, and to
pay the penalty of sin. In this way, again and again, Luther saw
before him claims on the part of God which he could never hope to
satisfy. His sorest trial was caused by the thought that God Himself
should have the will to let him fail after all his fruitless
efforts, and finally be numbered with the lost. And it was just with
the later Scholastics that he found, not indeed a theory according
to which God had simply predestined a part of mankind to perdition,
but a general conception of God which would represent Him as a Being
not so much of holy love, as of arbitrary, absolute will.

Luther spent two years in the convent amidst these strivings and
inward sufferings. His spiritual life, as it was called, of strict
discipline and asceticism was quoted in other convents as a model
for imitation. Now and then, indeed, he felt himself puffed up with
a sense of superior sanctity--'a proud saint,' as he afterwards
called himself. But humility was the ruling temper of his mind.
Frequently, in after life, he described his condition as a warning
to others. Thus he speaks of the disciples of the law, who try by
their own works, by constant labour, by wearing shirts of hair, by
self-scourging, by fasting, by every means, in short, to satisfy the
law. Such a one, he tells us, he himself had been. But he had also
learned by experience, he adds, what happens when a man is tempted,
and death or danger frightens him; how he despairs, nay, would fly
from God as from the devil, and would rather that there were no God
at all. So great became his inward sufferings, that he thought both
body and soul must succumb. Thus he tells us later on, when speaking
of the torments of purgatory, of a man, who doubtless was himself,
how he had often endured such agony, only momentary it is true, but
so hellish in its violence, that no tongue could express nor pen
describe it; that, had it lasted longer, even for half an hour, or
only five minutes, he must have died then and there, and his bones
have been consumed to ashes. He himself saw afterwards in these
pains, visitations of a special kind, such as God does not send to
everyone. But they served him then as a proof, and one of universal
application, that that school of the law, as he called it, would
bring no real holiness either to others or himself, but must teach a
man to despair of himself and of any claims or merits of his own.
And, indeed, as we know from all that had gone before, it was not
simply the external barrenness of the regulations of Church and
convent, or a sense of imperfect fulfilment on his part, that caused
his restlessness of conscience; what gave him the deepest anxiety
and harassed him the most were those very inward stirrings, which
revealed to him his opposition to God's eternal demands, the
fulfilment of which he thought indispensable for reconciliation to

His experiences at the convent led him to the perception of those
principles which formed the groundwork of his preaching as a
Reformer. From his exemplary conduct there, and his wonderful and
active conversion, he was compared to St. Paul. In quite another
sense he resembled the great Apostle. The latter, when a Pharisee,
had laboured to justify himself before God by the law and the
prophets. 'O wretched man that I am,' Luther there must have
exclaimed of himself, and afterwards looking back on his
experiences, have counted all as 'dung and loss' in order to be
justified rather by faith through the grace of God and the Saviour,
and to become free and holy.

Just as, meanwhile, inside the Catholic Church, the laws, dogmas,
and School theories relating to the means of salvation, were never
able to supplant entirely the thought of the simple testimony of the
Bible, and of the Church's own confession of God's forgiving love
and His redeeming and absolving grace, or to prevent simple, pious
Christians from seeking here a refuge in the inmost depths of their
hearts, so now, at this very convent of Erfurt, where Luther's
inward development in those theories and dogmas had reached so high
a pitch, he received also the first serious impressions in the other
direction. They found with him a difficult and gradual entrance,
from the energy and consistency with which he had taken up his
original standpoint. But with all the more energy, and with perfect
consistency, did he abandon that standpoint, when new light dawned
upon him from his new conception of the truth.

Luther's teacher at the convent, by whom we shall have to understand
the superintendent of the novices, had already made a deep
impression upon him, by reminding him of the words of the Apostles'
Creed about the forgiveness of sins, and representing to him, what
Luther had never ventured to apply to himself, that the Lord himself
had commanded us to hope. For this he referred him to a passage in
the writings of St. Bernard, where that fervent preacher, imbued
though he was in his theology with the Church notions of the middle
ages, insists on the importance of this very faith in God's
forgiveness, and appeals to the words of St. Paul that man is
justified by grace through faith. Remarks of this kind sank into
Luther's mind, and took root there, though their fruit only ripened
by degrees. Of his teacher Arnoldi, also, he spoke with admiration
and gratitude, for the comfort he had known how to impart to him.

But the one who at this time acquired by far the most potent,
wholesome, and lasting influence upon Luther, was the Vicar-General,
John von Staupitz. He was a remarkable man, of a noble and pious
disposition, and a refined and far-seeing mind. A master of the
forms of Scholastic theology, he was also deeply read in Scripture;
he made its teachings the special standard of his life, and was
careful to enjoin others to do the same. He strove after an inward,
practical life in God, not confined to mere forms and observances.
Sharp conflicts and controversies were not to his taste; but mildly
and discreetly he sought to plant, in his own field of work, and to
leave what he had planted in God's name to grow up.

[Illustration: FIG. 5.--STAUPITZ. (From the Portrait in St. Peter's
Convent at Salzburg.)]

It was during his visits to Erfurt that Staupitz came in contact
with the gifted, thoughtful, and melancholy young monk. He treated
Luther, both in conversation and letter, with fatherly confidence,
and Luther unlocked to him, as to a father, his heart and its cares.
Upon his wishing to confess to him all his many small sins, Staupitz
insisted first on distinguishing between what were really sins, and
what were not; as for self-imagined sins, or such a patchwork of
offences as Luther laid before him, he would not listen to them;
that was not the kind of seriousness, he would say, that God wished
to have. Luther tormented himself with a system of penance,
consisting of actual pain, punishments, and expiations. Staupitz
taught him that repentance, in the Scriptural meaning, was an inward
change and conversion, which must proceed from the love of holiness
and of God; and that, for peace with God, he must not look to his
own good resolutions to lead a better life, which he had not the
strength to carry out, or to his own acts, which could never satisfy
the law of God, but must trust with patience to God's forgiving
mercy, and learn to see in Christ, whom God permitted to suffer for
the sins of man, not the threatening Judge, but rather the loving
Saviour. To Christ above all he referred him, when Luther pondered
on the secret eternal will of God, and was near despair. God's
eternal purpose, he would say, shines clearly in the wounds of
Christ. Did his temptations not cease, he bade him see in them means
to draw him to the love of God. The thoughts of Staupitz turned in
this on the temptations to pride, which might themselves be the
means of curing that pride, and on the great things for which God
wished to prepare him. In a simple, practical manner, and from the
experiences of his own life, he would thus counsel and converse with
Luther. During the long course of a confidential intercourse with
his friend, his own theology in later years became visibly
developed, and his pupil of earlier days became afterwards his
teacher. But Luther, both then and throughout his life, spoke of him
with grateful affection as his spiritual father, and thanked God
that he had been helped out of his temptations by Dr. Staupitz,
without whom he would have been swallowed up in them and perished.

The first firm ground, however, for his convictions and his inner
life, and the foundation for all his later teachings and works, was
found by Luther in his own persevering study of Holy Writ. In this
also he was encouraged by Staupitz, who must, however, have been
amazed at his indefatigable industry and zeal. For the
interpretation of the Bible the means at his command were meagre in
the extreme. He himself explored in all cases to their very centre
the truths of Christian salvation and the highest questions of moral
and religious life. A single passage of importance would occupy his
thoughts for days. Significant words, which he was not able yet to
comprehend, remained fixed in his mind, and he carried them silently
about with him. Thus it was, for example, as he tells us, with the
text in Ezekiel, 'I will not the death of a sinner,' a passage which
engrossed his earnest thoughts.

It was the third and last year of his monastic life at Erfurt that
brought with it, as far as we see, the decisive turn for his inward
struggles and labours.

In his second year, on May 2, 1507, he received, by command of his
superiors, his solemn ordination as a priest. It was then for the
first time since his entry into the convent against his father's
will, that the latter saw him again. A convenient day was expressly
arranged for him, to enable him to take part personally at the
solemnity. He rode into Erfurt with a stately train of friends and
relations. But in his opinion of the step taken by his son he
remained unalterably firm. At the entertainment which was given in
the convent to the young priest, the latter tried to extort from him
a friendly remark upon the subject, by asking him why he seemed so
angry, when monastic life was such a high and holy thing. His father
replied in the presence of all the company, 'Learned brothers, have
you not read in Holy Writ, that a man must honour father and
mother?' And on being reminded how his son had been called, nay,
compelled to this new life by heaven, 'Would to God,' he answered,
'it were no spirit of the devil!' He let them understand that he was

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