Who Was Martin Luther? Part 7

Rev. Donavon Riley

Martin Luther was now living with fifty other monks at the Augustinian monastery at Erfurt. Along with the regular monastic observances that occupied his time, "Brother Martinus," as he was now called, spent much of his day sweeping and cleaning. Little time was left to him to continue his studies or pursue his questions about where he might find a merciful God.

But, at the same time, the new vicar general of the Erfurt monastery, Johann von Staupitiz, learned from others of Luther's interest in biblical studies. After speaking to the young monk, Staupitz persuaded the monastery's prior to give Luther a new job that would set him to the work of memorizing the Bible. Luther was now expected to learn the Bible, and be able to recite every page, from heart. Luther did this and impressed Staupitz so much that his career path as a professor of theology was practically certain.

However, before that could happen, and not even a year after he had entered the monastery, Brother Martinus was ordained into the priesthood. On April 3, 1507 (possibly on Easter Saturday) Luther was ordained. One month later, on May 2, he celebrated his first Mass at the Augustinian church.

By Luther's own words, it was a difficult thing for him, that first Mass. As he later said while lecturing about Isaac's prayer in the book of Genesis:

"'And Isaac prayed to the Lord for his wife, because she was barren: and the Lord answered his prayer'" (Genesis 25:21). A prayer like this, which breaks through the clouds and reaches up to the majesty of God, is not easy. I, ashes, dust, and full of sin, speak with the living, eternally true God. This cannot but cause one to tremble, as did I when I celebrated the Mass... joyous faith, however, which rests on the mercy and the Word of God overcomes the fear of his majesty...and rises boldly above it."

By 1507, Luther was on his way to becoming a Master of Theology, under the watchful eye of his professor, Johannes Nathin. By April 1508, Martin was scheduled to lecture. At Wittenberg, Staupitz set Luther to lecturing on Aristotle's "Ethics" for the winter semester. Luther also prepared to receive his doctorate in theology at that time. In the autumn of 1509, he was called back to Erfurt to lecture, too. But that lasted only three-quarters of a year. Soon enough, Luther was called back to Wittenberg as a member of the theological faculty.

The next several years were critical for Luther as a monk and theologian. Church politics, the testing of personal allegiances, and a visit to Rome changed everything for him.

Next week we will look at just what happened to Martin that eventually resulted in his reformation breakthrough.

Note: If you've enjoyed these articles and want to know more about Martin Luther, I've been following the work of the remarkable Luther scholar, Heidi Obermann, in his book: Luther: Man Between God and The Devil. Also, in the weeks and months that follow I will introduce you, the reader, to other works by Luther scholars that I believe will help deepen your knowledge and appreciation for Luther's life and work. Enjoy!

Rev. Donavon Riley is the pastor of St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Webster, Minnesota. He is also the online content manager for Higher Things.

Created: October 2nd, 2016