Luther’s early ministry

A student

In early 1505, as soon as the required time period elapsed since he had received his Bachelor’s Degree, Luther received his Master’s Degree. This time he fared much better and ranked second in a class of seventeen. He had now earned both of his preliminary degrees in the shortest allowable time. It was a goal which only the most gifted and dedicated students were able to accomplish.

Martin’s father was, of course extremely proud of the oldest son. To be sure, he was making further plans for his son. Since he had long know what it meant to earn one’s way by the sweat of the brow, Hans urges his son to begin the study of law. For centuries law had been the royal road to advancement for sons of the Bourgeoisie, and he planned that Martin, too, should follow this pathway to success in the world of practical affairs. Law was the profession most highly regarded by nearly everyone in that day. Perhaps Martin could even find his way into politics and attain to some position of power and wealth on the European scene. Now that Hans himself had climbed the ladder far enough so that he could afford is, he lt his decision be known by buying his brilliant son a costly edition of the Corpus Iuris Civlis, a huge three-part text and training book in law which had been the authentic and official source for law study ever since the days of Emperor Justinian. They often were referred to as Rome’s greatest gift to posterity. More than that, Hans Luther’s heart, nearly bursting with pride and ambition, wanted one more thing for the young man. In fact he already had picked out a socially acceptable bride for his illustrious son.

Excerpt from Martin Luther: Reformer in the Making by Erwin R. Scharf, used with permission of Northwestern Publishing House.

A monk

The Augustinians were very cautious about accepting a new member into their fold.  When Luther first applied for membership on July 17 he was not admitted at once.  He was first assigned to the monastic hostelry for observation of the state of his soul.  The authorities wanted to assure themselves that ‘his spirit was of God.”  He had to be given the opportunity, as a guest of the monastery, to examine himself earnestly to see whether he could endure the “harshness” of the Order and abide in his  purpose.

So it was not until early September, a month and a half later, that his reception took place in the monastery church with the customary formalities.  There on the steps of the altar sat the prior, before whom Luther prostrated himself.  Then the prior asked, “What do you desire?”  Luther replied, “God’s grace and mercy.”  Thereupon the novice was raised from the floor and asked by the prior if he were married, had any attachments or any disease.  Then he was reminded of the severity of the Order and asked whether he could undergo all such hardships with the help of God. During the singing of the hymn “Great Father Augustine,” he removed his secular attire in favor of the Moenchsgewand, his monk’s attire.  In the meanwhile, the prior changed the words, “The Lord attire you in the new man.”

The new habit which Luther now wore was basically a white house-dress.  Over it he wore a black scapular, a sleeveless cloth vestment, falling to the floor in front and back.  The latter was held in place with a leather belt.  He was to wear this garb at all times, even while sleeping, Because of this garment the Augustinian cloister in Erfurt, like its counterpart in Wittenberg, was also called the Black Cloister.

On May 2, 1507…Luther was ordained and given the opportunity to celebrate his first mass.  It was a day he would remember all the rest of his days, but not with pleasure.  It did not bring him the peace and joy for which he longed.  Overwhelmed by the sacredness of the moment when he was to offer up the blood of Christ as a sacrifice, he faltered.  Had it not been for his assistant at the altar, he was sure that he would have run from the chancel.   To falter in any of the man forms of the mass was considered a sin!

One thing about that did give him some satisfaction, though it too, was not unmixed with regret.   For the first time since he had entered the monastery, he saw his father, who rote into the monastery courtyard with 23 horsemen and a caravan of carriages carrying relatives and friends.  His father came equipped to pay for the banquet, to which he had invited all of the participants and guests who were present at his son’s first mass.  Even his mother’s uncle, Vicar Braun, attended, having been specially invited by Luther.  At a proper point in the program Luther’s father arose to speak.  He scolded the personnel of the monastery, who were present in full number, for having admitted his son into their midst.  He reminded them of the fact that Scriptures include the Fourth Commandment.  They should have reminded Martin of his duty to his father two years earlier.  Luther was pleased to hear his father quote Scriptures in such a gathering, but the message etched itself painfully into his memory.

Luther was an inspiring teacher.  His lectures were so inspiring that we are told that some of his students failed to take notes lest they miss a word.  He was ready to admit that some of his earlier lectures were not as well done as he had wished. But that realization brought him back all the more promptly to his study in order to delve more deeply into the beloved Scriptures and to prepare all the better for his next lectures.  Especially after he had come to the correct understanding of the gospel and of the righteousness of Christ, his evangelical lectures attracted more and more students from all over Germany, even from other European countries.  Just as the famous Abelard once became the attraction at the University of Paris four centuries earlier, so that people said that Abelard “became” the University, so it was with Luther at Wittenberg.  At the end of its first year in 1503, the enrollment at Wittenberg was 416, and it declined during the year following.  But during the ten years after Luther came to Wittenberg in 1508, the enrollment increased steadily until it numbered over 1,000. Some 40 percent of these students came only to attend Luther’s lectures.  During that same time average enrollment was 100 at Leipzig University and only 50 at Erfurt.

Excerpt from Martin Luther: Reformer in the Making by Erwin R. Scharf, used with permission of Northwestern Publishing House.