By Rev. Donavon Riley
Martin Luther's time in the monastery, all his study and work, all his searching for a merciful God, kept leading him back to the same point: If he wanted to enter into eternal life he needed to make sure he was always leaning toward heaven.
It didn't matter if he was praying, or scrubbing floors, or just out for a walk, Luther was taught by every authority in the church, that if he just did his best, God would show him grace. But, only if the young monk did his best.
As Luther later said, when he thought back about this time in the monastery, "I Iost hold of Christ the Savior and comforter and made him a stick-master and hangman over my poor soul."
There was not anything during those early years that shows us Luther was going to bust loose from what the church of his day believed and confessed as the truth about God, salvation, and so on. In fact, young Martin pretty much went along with what he was taught, even after he began to teach at university. He lived the way he was expected to live. He taught what he was expected to teach. He was, by most everybody's opinion, a good and faithful monk.
Even his trip to Rome in 1510 did not change his attitude toward the faith of the Church. Near his 27th birthday, Luther was sent by his order to Rome in the hope that someone higher up, with more authority in the Church, could settle some political infighting that was happening amongst the monastic orders.
Luther and one other monk walked to Rome in the winter of that year—yes, they walked to Rome, over the Alps, in the winter!—as representatives of their order. Even though Luther expected to find a Rome (and a pope) that represented an example of faith, hope, and charity for the whole Church, what he found was something different.
First, the pope was not even in the city when Luther was there. Second, Rome was not a clean city. Garbage and sewage were dumped into the gutters. Wealthy people, especially women, avoided walking on the streets, mostly because they were under constant threat of being mugged. Third, Luther wanted to say a Mass at one of the little chapels that were everywhere in Rome at the time, but they were so jammed with priests wanting to do the same, that when he got his turn at an altar another priest behind him kept saying, "Hurry up! Hurry up!" the whole time. All in all, his experience in Rome was so bad that Luther, when he returned to Wittenberg, said that Romans were no better than dogs.
Still, he was able to overlook the poor conditions of the city and the overall miserable piety of the clergy he saw there, that as he later said, Luther "was so drunk... submerged in the Pope's dogmas that I would have been ready to murder all... who take but a syllable from the obedience to the pope." Life in Rome may not have been what Luther expected, but his hope in the Church and God's grace were there for him, even if they were hidden and had to be hunted up.
When the young monk got back to Erfurt, and it was determined that what Rome had decided about their infighting was unacceptable, monks took sides. That is why, in the end, Luther and his friend Johannes Lang, were more or less pushed out of the monastery and sent into exile, to live at the monastery in Wittenberg, the "Black Cloister," with their superior and friend in the Augustinian order, Johann von Staupitz.
Next time, we will look at what kind of city Wittenberg was in 1511, and what happened to Luther when he arrived.
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 12th, 2016