Martin Luther: His Road to Reformation, 1483-1521

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

V

His Initial Stages and
Critical Definitions in
Theology and Piety, 1512–17

1. LUTHER'S DOCTORATE

From 1512/13 on, Luther had to grow into the office of a professor of theology. Almost simultaneously, his activity as a preacher began. Additionally, he was given leadership responsibilities within the Augustinian order. These are the years in which Luther developed his initial independent position as a theologian and, at the same time, became more and more aware of the contrasts between it and the predominant theology and piety. With the beginning of the great conflict in the fall of 1517, this portion of his life came to an end.

We must first describe how Luther became a doctor of theology and a professor in Wittenberg, thereby attaining the position which would serve as the platform for his future activity.l After transferring from Erfurt, he was together with Staupitz in Wittenberg for a longer time in 1511 and 1512. Staupitz, however, spent the winter in Salzburg and Nuremberg. At that time Luther may have found himself in a very open situation, not knowing what was going to happen to him next. He was occupied with mysticism. Possibly his health was not especially good. Then Staupitz, perhaps with the approval of the Wittenberg convent, determined the future course of his life. In a conversation under the pear tree in the monastery courtyard—there was no cloister—he informed Luther the master, appealing thereby to his academic qualifications, that he should take the degree of doctor of theology, in order that he might have something to do. Luther countered with many reasons against this demand. He referred principally to his ill health, which would hardly be equal to the rigors associated with teaching. This did not impress Staupitz. In case Luther died early, the Lord God in heaven could also use a good advisor.2 Luther resisted Staupitz's plan almost to the verge of breaking his vow of obedience. He himself had not aspired to the doctorate.3 In a letter on 22 September 1512 he expressed his inadequacy and his un worthiness for such a task, a task he had undertaken only out of obedience to the vicar general. Even the opening statement in his first lectures echoes

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