Martin Luther: His Road to Reformation, 1483-1521

By Martin Brecht; James L. Schaaf | Go to book overview

III

First Period in the Monastery

1. THE ORDER OF AUGUST1N1AN HERMITS

Luther never said why among the numerous monasteries in Erfurt he chose to enter the monastery of the Augustinian Hermits. Various explanations have been advanced for this. St. Georges Bursa was located near the Augustinian monastery. But ecclesiastically it belonged to St. George's Church. Moreover, it is not certain that Luther actually lived in St. Georges Bursa. Others point to the Augustinians' academic orientation. Luther could continue to maintain his nominalism only in it, for the other monasteries were oriented in different directions by the teachers of their orders. But we do not know whether in the weeks following the Stotternheim experience Luther was thinking about continuing his academic pursuits by studying theology, although that is not improbable. As a novice he scarcely thought of becoming a priest, not to mention a doctor.1 Yet he later made the characteristic elements of Augustinian theology his own. Again and again it is also stated that Luther sought out a monastery that was reformed, where the monastic rules were especially strictly followed. As we have seen, the motivation of the Stotternheim vow was to serve God and to offer a special sacrifice. Luther did at once begin to follow the rules of the monastic life extremely scrupulously. But he did not go to the Carthusians with their extremely severe asceticism, although their Erfurt monastery apparently conducted theological studies on a noteworthy level.2 All that can be determined is that Luther entered one of the large, flourishing Erfurt monasteries, one that in many respects enjoyed a good reputation. This entrance into the monastic life and into the German branch of the Augustinian Hermits was fateful for both parties. It led to a radical questioning of one of the most pious, most ancient, and most powerful institutions of the Christian church. In this sense Luther later thought of himself as quicksilver which the Lord God had thrown among the monks.3 For himself, he considered his monastic experiences, which shook his very existence, as something essential for his later attack on the papacy, thus on the church's governing structure.

The mendicant movement in monasticism originated in the thirteenth century. Part of an internal reaction against a very worldly church, it also served to give that church new religious impulses. At the same time, this was the form of monasticism best suited to the newly emerging city life. The first

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