LIFE OF LUTHER
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS from AUTHENTIC SOURCES
TRANSLATED FROM THE GERMAN
MY DEAR WIFE PAULINE
WITH THE WORDS OF LUTHER
'God's highest gift on earth is to have a pious, cheerful, God-fearing, home-keeping wife.'
No German has ever influenced so powerfully as Luther the religious life, and, through it, the whole history, of his people; none has ever reflected so faithfully, in his whole personal character and conduct, the peculiar features of that life and history, and been enabled by that very means to render us a service so effectual and so popular. If we recall to fresh life and remembrance the great men of past ages, we Germans shall always put Luther in the van: for us Protestants, the object of our love and veneration, who will not prevent, however, or prejudice the most candid historical inquiry; for others, a rock of offence, whom even slander and falsehood will never overcome.
I have already in my larger work, 'Martin Luther: his Life and Writings,' 2 vols., 1875, put together all the materials available for that subject, together with the necessary references, historical and critical, and have endeavoured to explain and illustrate at length the subject matter of his various writings. I now offer this sketch of his life to the wide circle of what are called educated German readers. For further explanations and proofs of statements herein contained I would refer them to my larger work. Further investigation has prompted me to make some alterations, but only a few, in matters of detail.
For the illustrations and illustrative documents I beg to express my warm thanks, and those of the publisher, to the friends who have kindly assisted us in the work.
J. KOSTLIN, Professor at the University of Halle-Wittenberg.
Oct. 31, 1881, the anniversary of Luther's 95 Theses.
LUTHER'S CHILDHOOD AND YOUTH, UP TO HIS ENTERING THE CONVENT.—1483-1505.
I. Birth and Parentage
II. Childhood and School-days
III. Student-days at Erfurt and Entry into the Convent.—1501-1505
LUTHER AS MONK AND PROFESSOR, UNTIL HIS ENTRY ON THE WAR OF REFORMATION.—1505-1517.
I. At the Convent at Erfurt, till 1508
II. Call to Wittenberg. Journey to Rome
III. Luther as Theological Teacher, to 1517
THE BREACH WITH ROME, UP TO THE DIET OF WORMS.—1517-1521.
I. The Ninety-five Theses
II. The Controversy concerning Indulgences
III. Luther at Angsburg before Caietan. Appeal to a Council
IV. Miltitz and the Disputation at Leipzig, with its Results
V. Luther's further Work, Writings, and Inward Progress until 1520
VI. Alliance with the Humanists and Nobility
VII. Crisis of Secession: Luther's Works—to the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, and on the Babylonian Captivity.
VIII. The Bull of Excommunication, and Luther's Reply
IX. The Diet of Worms
FROM THE DIET OF WORMS TO THE PEASANTS' WAR AND LUTHER'S MARRIAGE.
I. Luther at the Wartburg, to his Visit to Wittenberg in 1521.
II. Luther's further Sojourn at the Wartburg, and his Return to Wittenberg, 1522
III. Luther's Reappearance and fresh Labours at Wittenberg, 1522
IV. Luther and his anti-Catholic work of Reformation, up to 1525
V. The Reformer against the Fanatics and Peasants, up to 1525
VI. Luther's Marriage
LUTHER AND THE RECONSTRUCTION OF THE CHURCH, TO THE FIRST RELIGIOUS PEACE.—1525-1532.
II. Continued Labours and Personal Life
III. Erasmus and Henry VIII. Controversy with Zwingli and his Followers, up to 1528
IV. Church Divisions in Germany. War with the Turks. The Conference at Marburg, 1529
V. The Diet of Augsburg, and Luther at Coburg, 1530
VI. From the Diet of Augsburg to the Religious Peace of Nuremberg, 1632. Death of the Elector John
FROM THE RELIGIOUS PEACE OF NUREMBERG TO THE DEATH OF LUTHER.
I. Luther under John Frederick
II. Negotiations respecting a Council and Union among the Protestants. The Legate Vergerius, 1535. The Wittenberg Concord, 1536
III. Negotiations respecting a Council and Union among the Protestants (continued). The Meeting at Schmalkald, 1537. Peace with the Swiss.
IV. Other Labours and Proceedings, 1533-39. The Archbishop Albert and Schonitz. Agricola
V. Luther and the Progress and Internal Troubles of Protestantism, 1538-41
VI. Luther and the Progress and Internal Troubles of Protestantism (continued), 1541-44
VII. Luther's Later Life; Domestic and Personal
VIII. Luther's Last Year and Death
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
LUTHER. (From a Portrait by Cranach in the Town Church at Weimar)
1. COAT OF ARMS
2. HANS LUTHER
3. MARGARET LUTHER
4. LUTHER'S CELL AT ERFURT
5. STAUPITZ. (From the Portrait in St. Peter's Convent at Salzburg) FACSIMILE FROM LUTHER'S PSALTER, AT WOLFENBUTTEL
6. TITLE AND PREFACE OF PENITENTIAL PSALMS
7. SPALATIN. (From L. Cranach's Portrait)
8. ERASMUS. (From the Portrait by A. Durer)
9. LEO X. (From his Portrait by Raphael) FACSIMILE OF PLACARD OF INDULGENCES, 1517
10. THE ABCHBISHOP ALBERT. (From Durer's engraving)
11. TITLE-PAGE OF A PAMPHLET WRITTEN AT THE BEGINNING OF THE REFORMATION, with an Illustration showing the Sale of Indulgences
12. THE CASTLE CHURCH. (From the Wittenberg Book of Relics, 1509)
13. THE EMPEROR MAXIMILIAN. (From his Portrait by Albert Durer)
14. DUKE GEORGE OF SAXONY. (From an old woodcut)
15. LUTHER. (From an engraving of Cranach, in 1520)
16. DR. JOHN ECK. (From an old woodcut)
17. MELANCTHON. (From a Portrait by Durer)
18. LUCAS CRANACH. (From a Portrait by himself)
19. W. PIRKHEIMER. (From a Portrait by Albert Durer)
20. ULRICH VON HUTTEN. (From an old woodcut)
21. FRANCIS VON SICKINGEN. (From an old engraving)
22. TITLE-PAGE OF THE SECOND EDITION OF LUTHER'S TREATISE TO THE CHRISTIAN NOBILITY OF THE GERMAN NATION
23. TITLE-PAGE, slightly reduced, of the original Tract 'On the Liberty of a Christian Man'
24. CHARLES V. (From an engraving by B. Beham, in 1531)
25. LUTHER. (From an engraving by Cranach, in 1521)
26. LUTHER as "SQUIRE GEORGE." (From a woodcut by Cranach)
27. BUGENHAGEN. (From a picture by Cranach in his album, at Berlin, 1543)
28. MUNZER. (From an old woodcut)
29. LUTHER. (From a Portrait by Cranach in 1525.) At Wittenberg.
30. CATHARINE VON BORA, LUTHER'S WIPE. (From a Portrait by Cranach about 1525.) At Berlin
31. LUTHER'S RING FBOM CATHARINE
32. LUTHER'S DOUBLE RING
33. THE SAXON ELECTORS, FREDERICK THE WISE, JOHN, AND JOHN FREDERICK. (From a Picture by Cranach.) At Nuremberg
34. FACSIMILE OF FREDERICK'S SIGNATURE
35. PHILIP OF HESSE. (From a woodcut of Brosamer)
36. LUTHER. (From a Portrait by Cranach in 1528.) At Berlin
37. LUTHER'S WIFE. (From a Portrait by Cranach in 1528.) At Berlin
38. ZWINGLI. (From an old engraving)
39. FACSIMILE OF THE SUPERSCRIPTION AND SIGNATURE TO THE MARBURG ARTICLES
40. VEIT DIETRICH, as Pastor of Nuremberg. (From an old woodcut)
41. LUTHER'S SEAL. (Taken from letters written in 1517)
42. LUTHER'S COAT OF ARMS. (From old prints)
43. BUTZER. (From the old original woodcut of Beusner)
44. AGRICOLA. (From a miniature Portrait by Cranach, in the University Album at Wittenberg, 1531)
45. JONAS. (From a Portrait by Cranach, in his Album at Berlin, 1543)
46. AMSDORF. (From an old woodcut)
47. LUTHER. (From a Portrait by Cranach, in his Album, at Berlin)
48. WITTENBERG. (From an old engraving)
49. THE "LUTHER-HOUSE" (previously the Convent), before its recent restoration
50. LUTHER'S ROOM
51. LUTHER'S DAUGHTER 'LENE.' (From Cranach's Portrait)
52. DOOR OF LUTHER'S HOUSE AT WITTENBERG
53. MATHESIUS. (From an old woodcut)
54. LUTHER IN 1546. (From a woodcut of Cranach)
55. JONAS' GLASS
56. ADDRESS OF LUTHER'S LETTER OF FEBRUARY 7
57. LUTHER AFTER DEATH. (From a Picture ascribed to Cranach)
58. CAST OF LUTHER AFTER DEATH. (At Halle)
FACSIMILE OF PART OF THE EDICT OF WORMS, 8 MAY (1521), being the title and conclusion, with the signature of the Emperor Charles
TITLE AND COMMENCEMENT OF THE GOSPEL OF ST. MATTHEW, IN THE FIRST EDITION OF THE NEW TESTAMENT, 1522. (From the original in the Royal Public Library at Stuttgart)
FACSIMILE OF CONCLUDING PORTION OF LUTHER'S WILL, with the attestations of Melancthon, Crueiger, and Bugenhagen. (At Pesth)
FACSIMILE OF LETTER OF LUTHER TO HIS WIFE, OF FEBRUARY 7, 1546. (At Breslau)
LUTHER'S CHILDHOOD AND YOUTH UP TO HIS ENTERING THE CONVENT.—1483-1505.
BIRTH AND PARENTAGE.
On the 10th of November, 1483, their first child was born to a young couple, Hans and Margaret Luder, at Eisleben, in Saxony, where the former earned his living as a miner. That child was Martin Luther.
His parents had shortly before removed thither from Mohra, the old home of his family. This place, called in old records More and More, lies among the low hills where the Thuringian chain of wooded heights runs out westwards towards the valley of the Werra, about eight miles south of Eisenach, and four miles north of Salzungen, close to the railway which now connects these two towns. Luther thus comes from the very centre of Germany. The ruler there was the Elector of Saxony.
Mohra was an insignificant village, without even a priest of its own, and with only a chapel affiliated to the church of the neighbouring parish. The population consisted for the most part of independent peasants, with house and farmstead, cattle and horses. Mining, moreover, was being carried on there in the fifteenth century, and copper was being discovered in the copper schist, of which the names of Schieferhalden and Schlackenhaufen still survive to remind us. The soil was not very favourable for agriculture, and consisted partly of moorland, which gave the place its name. Those peasants who possessed land were obliged to work extremely hard. They were a strong and sturdy race.
From this peasantry sprang Luther. 'I am a peasant's son,' he said once to Melancthon in conversation. 'My father, grandfather—all my ancestors were thorough peasants.'
His father's relations were to be found in several families and houses in Mohra, and even scattered in the country around. The name was then written Luder, and also Ludher, Luder, and Leuder. We find the name of Luther for the first time as that of Martin Luther, the Professor at Wittenberg, shortly before he entered on his war of Reformation, and from him it was adopted by the other branches of the family. Originally it was not a surname, but a Christian name, identical with Lothar, which signifies one renowned in battle. A very singular coat of arms, consisting of a cross-bow, with a rose on each side, had been handed down through, no doubt, many generations in the family, and is to be seen on the seal of Luther's brother James. The origin of these arms is unknown; the device leads one to conclude that the family must have blended with another by intermarriage, or by succeeding to its property. Contemporaneous records exist to show how conspicuously the relatives of Luther, at Mohra and in the district, shared the sturdy character of the local peasantry, always ready for self-help, and equally ready for fisticuffs. Firmly and resolutely, for many generations, and amidst grievous persecutions and disorders, such as visited Mohra in particular during the Thirty Years' War, this race maintained its ground. Three families of Luther exist there at this day, who are all engaged in agriculture; and a striking likeness to the features of Martin Luther may still be traced in many of his descendants, and even in other inhabitants of Mohra. Not less remarkable, as noted by one who is familiar with the present people of the place, are the depth of feeling and strong common sense which distinguish them, in general, to this day. The house in which Luther's grandfather lived, or rather that which was afterwards built on the site, can still, it is believed, but not with certainty, be identified. Near this house stands now a statue of Luther in bronze.
At Mohra, then, Luther's father, Hans, had grown up to manhood. His grandfather's name was Henry, but of him we hear nothing during Luther's time. His grandmother died in 1521. His mother's maiden name was Ziegler; we afterwards find relations of hers at Eisenach; the other old account, which made her maiden name Lindemann, probably originated from confusing her with Luther's grandmother.
What brought Hans to Eisleben was the copper mining, which here, and especially in the county of Mansfeld, to which Eisleben belonged, had prospered to an extent never known around Mohra, and was even then in full swing of activity. At Eisleben, the miners' settlements soon formed two new quarters of the town. Hans had, as we know, two brothers, and very possibly there were more of the family, so that the paternal inheritance had to be divided. He was evidently the eldest of the brothers, of whom one, Heinz, or Henry, who owned a farm of his own, was still living in 1540, ten years after the death of Hans. But at Mohra the law of primogeniture, which vests the possession of the land in the eldest son, was not recognised; either the property was equally divided, or, as was customary in other parts of the country, the estate fell to the share of the youngest. This custom was referred to in after years by Luther in his remark that in this world, according to civil law, the youngest son is the heir of his father's house.
We must not omit to notice the other reasons which have been assigned for his leaving his old home. It has been repeatedly asserted, in recent times, and even by Protestant writers, that the father of our great Reformer had sought to escape the consequences of a crime committed by him at Mohra. The matter stands thus: In Luther's lifetime his Catholic opponent Witzel happened to call out to Jonas, a friend of Luther's, in the heat of a quarrel, 'I might call the father of your Luther a murderer.' Twenty years later the anonymous author of a polemical work which appeared at Paris actually calls the Reformer 'the son of the Mohra assassin.' With these exceptions, not a trace of any story of this kind, in the writings of either friend or foe, can be found in that or in the following century. It was at the beginning of the eighteenth century, in an official report on mining at Mohra, that the story, evidently based on oral tradition, assumed all at once a more definite shape; the statement being that Luther's father had accidentally killed a peasant, who was minding some horses grazing. This story has been told to travellers in our own time by people of Mohra, who have gone so far as to point out the fatal meadow. We are forced to notice it, not, indeed, as being in the least authenticated, but simply on account of the authority recently claimed for the tradition. For it is plain that what is now a matter of hearsay at Mohra was a story wholly unknown there not many years ago, was first introduced by strangers, and has since met with several variations at their hands. The idea of a criminal flying from Mohra to Mansfeld, which was only a few miles off, and was equally subject to the Elector of Saxony, is absurd, and in this case is strangely inconsistent with the honourable position soon attained, as we shall see, by Hans Luther himself at Mansfeld. Moreover, the very fact that Witzel's spiteful remark was long known to Luther's enemies, coupled with the fact that they never turned it to account, shows plainly how little they ventured to make it a matter of serious reproach. Luther during his lifetime had to hear from them that his father was a Bohemian heretic, his mother a loose woman, employed at the baths, and he himself a changeling, born of his mother and the Devil. How triumphantly would they have talked about the murder or manslaughter committed by his father, had the charge admitted of proof! Whatever occurrence may have given rise to such a story, we have no right to ascribe it either to any fault or any crime of the father. More on this subject it is needless to add; the two strange statements we have mentioned do not attempt to establish any definite connection between the supposed crime and the removal to Eisleben.
The day, and even the very hour, when her first-born came into the world, Luther's mother carefully treasured in her mind. It was between eleven and twelve o'clock at night. Agreeably to the custom of the time, he was baptised in the Church of St. Peter the next day. It was the feast of St. Martin, and he was called after that saint. Tradition still identifies the house where he was born; it stands in the lower part of the town, close to St. Peter's Church. Several conflagrations, which devastated Eisleben, have left it undestroyed. But of the original building only the walls of the ground-floor remain: within these there is a room facing the street, which is pointed out as the one where Luther first saw the light. The church was rebuilt soon after his birth, and was then called after St. Peter and St. Paul; the present font still retains, it is said, some portions of the old one.
When the child was six months old, his parents removed to the town of Mansfeld, about six miles off. So great was the number of the miners who were then crowding to Eisleben, the most important place in the county, that we can well understand how Luther's father failed there to realise his expectations, and went in search of better prospects to the other capital of the rich mining district. Here, at Mansfeld, or, more strictly, at Lower Mansfeld, as it is called, from its position, and to distinguish it from Cloister-Mansfeld, he came among a people whose whole life and labour were devoted to mining. The town itself lay on the banks of a stream, inclosed by hills, on the edge of the Harz country. Above it towered the stately castle of the Counts, to whom the place belonged. The character of the scenery is more severe, and the air harsher than in the neighbourhood of Mohra. Luther himself called his Mansfeld countrymen sons of the Harz. In the main, these Harz people are much rougher than the Thuringians.
Here also, at first, Luther's parents found it a hard struggle to get on. 'My father,' said the Reformer, 'was a poor miner; my mother carried in all the wood upon her back; they worked the flesh off their bones to bring us up: no one nowadays would ever have such endurance.' It must not, however, be forgotten that carrying wood in those days was less a sign of poverty than now. Gradually their affairs improved. The whole working of the mines belonged to the Counts, and they leased out single portions, called smelting furnaces, sometimes for lives, sometimes for a term of years. Harts Luther succeeded in obtaining two furnaces, though only on a lease of years. He must have risen in the esteem of his town-fellows even more rapidly than in outward prosperity.
The magistracy of the town consisted of a bailiff, the chief landowners, and four of the community. Among these four Hans Luther appears in a public document as early as 1491. His children were numerous enough to cause him constant anxiety for their maintenance and education: there were at least seven of them, for we know of three brothers and three sisters of the Reformer. The Luther family never rose to be one of the rich families of Mansfeld, who possessed furnaces by inheritance, and in time became landowners; but they associated with them, and in some cases numbered them among their intimate friends. The old Hans was also personally known to his Counts, and was much esteemed by them. In 1520 the Reformer publicly appealed to their personal acquaintance with his father and himself, against the slanders circulated about his origin. Hans, in course of time, bought himself a substantial dwelling-house in the principal street of the town. A small portion of it remains standing to this day. There is still to be seen a gateway, with a well-built arch of sandstone, which bears the Luther arms of cross-bow and roses, and the inscription J.L. 1530. This was, no doubt, the work of James Luther, in the year when his father Hans died, and he took possession of the property. It is only quite recently that the stone has so far decayed as to cause the arms and part of the inscription to peel off.
The earliest personal accounts that we have of Luther's parents, date from the time when they already shared in the honour and renown acquired by their son. They frequently visited him at Wittenberg, and moved with simple dignity among his friends. The father, in particular, Melancthon describes as a man, who, by purity of character and conduct, won for himself universal affection and esteem. Of the mother he says that the worthy woman, amongst other virtues, was distinguished above all for her modesty, her fear of God, and her constant communion with God in prayer. Luther's friend, the Court-preacher Spalatin, spoke of her as a rare and exemplary woman. As regards their personal appearance, the Swiss Kessler describes them in 1522 as small and short persons, far surpassed by their son Martin in height and build; he adds, also, that they were dark-complexioned. Five years later their portraits were painted by Lucas Cranach: these are now to be seen in the Wartburg, and are the only ones of this couple which we possess. [Footnote: Strange to say, subsequently and even in our own days, a portrait of Martin Luther's wife in her old age has been mistaken for one of his mother.] In these portraits, the features of both the parents have a certain hardness; they indicate severe toil during a long life. At the same time, the mouth and eyes of the father wear an intelligent, lively, energetic, and clever expression. He has also, as his son Martin observed, retained to old age a 'strong and hardy frame.' The mother looks more wearied by life, but resigned, quiet, and meditative. Her thin face, with its large bones, presents a mixture of mildness and gravity. Spalatin was amazed, on seeing her for the first time in 1522, how much Luther resembled her in bearing and features. Indeed, a certain likeness is observable between him and her portrait, in the eyes and the lower part of the face. At the same time, from what is known of the appearance of the Luthers who lived afterwards at Mohra, he must also have resembled his father's family.
CHILDHOOD AND SCHOOLDAYS.
As to the childhood of Martin Luther, and his further growth and mental development, at Mansfeld and elsewhere, we have absolutely no information from others to enlighten us. For this portion of his life we can only avail ourselves of occasional and isolated remarks of his own, partly met with in his writings, partly culled from his lips by Melancthon, or his physician Ratzeberger, or his pupil Mathesius, or other friends, and by them recorded for the benefit of posterity. These remarks are very imperfect, but are significant enough to enable us to understand the direction which his inner life had taken, and which prepared him for his future calling. Nor less significant is the fact that those opponents who, from the commencement of his war with the Church, tracked out his origin, and sought therein for evidence to his detriment, have failed, for their part, to contribute anything new whatever to the history of his childhood and youth, although, as the Reformer, he had plenty of enemies at his own and his parents' home, and several of the Counts of Mansfeld, in particular, continued in the Romish Church. There was nothing, therefore, dark or discreditable, at any rate, to be found attaching either to his home or to his own youth.
It is said that childhood is a Paradise. Luther in after years found it joyful and edifying to contemplate the happiness of those little ones who know neither the cares of daily life nor the troubles of the soul, and enjoy with light hearts the good thing which God has given them. But in his own reminiscences of life, so far as he has given them, no such sunny childhood is reflected. The hard time, which his parents at first had to struggle through at Mansfeld, had to be shared in by the children, and the lot fell most hardly on the eldest. As the former spent their days in hard toil, and persevered in it with unflinching severity, the tone of the house was unusually earnest and severe. The upright, honourable, industrious father was honestly resolved to make a useful man of his son, and enable him to rise higher than himself. He strictly maintained at all times his paternal authority. After his death, Martin recorded, in touching language, instances of his father's love, and the sweet intercourse he was permitted to have with him. But it is not surprising, if, at the period of childhood, so peculiarly in need of tender affection, the severity of the father was felt rather too much. He was once, as he tells us, so severely flogged by his father that he fled from him, and bore him a temporary grudge. Luther, in speaking of the discipline of children, has even quoted his mother as an example of the way in which parents, with the best intentions, are apt to go too far in punishing, and forget to pay due attention to the peculiarities of each child. His mother, he said, once whipped him till the blood came, for having taken a paltry little nut. He adds, that, in punishing children, the apple should be placed beside the rod, and they should not be chastised for an offence about nuts or cherries as if they had broken open a money-box. His parents, he acknowledged, had meant it for the very best, but they had kept him, nevertheless, so strictly that he had become shy and timid. Theirs, however, was not that unloving severity which blunts the spirit of a child, and leads to artfulness and deceit. Their strictness, well intended, and proceeding from a genuine moral earnestness of purpose, furthered in him a strictness and tenderness of conscience, which then and in after years made him deeply and keenly sensitive of every fault committed in the eyes of God; a sensitiveness, indeed, which, so far from relieving him of fear, made him apprehensive on account of sins that existed only in his imagination. It was a later consequence of this discipline, as Luther himself informs us, that he took refuge in a convent. He adds, at the same time, that it is better not to spare the rod with children even from the very cradle, than to let them grow up without any punishment at all; and that it is pure mercy to young folk to bend their wills, even though it costs labour and trouble, and leads to threats and blows.
We have a reference by Luther to the lessons he learned in childhood from his experience of poverty at home, in his remarks in later life, on the sons of poor men, who by sheer hard work raise themselves from obscurity, and have much to endure, and no time to strut and swagger, but must be humble and learn to be silent and to trust in God, and to whom God also has given good sound heads.
As to Luther's relations with his brothers and sisters we have the testimony of one who knew the household at Mansfeld, and particularly his brother James, that from childhood they were those of brotherly companionship, and that from his mother's own account he had exercised a governing influence both by word and deed on the good conduct of the younger members of the family.
His father must have taken him to school at a very early age. Long after, in fact only two years before his death, he noted down in the Bible of a 'good old friend,' Emler, a townsman of Mansfeld, his recollection how, more than once, Emler, as the elder, had carried him, still a weakly child, to and from school; a proof, not indeed, as a Catholic opponent of the next century imagined, that it was necessary to compel the boy to go to school, but that he was still of an age to benefit by being carried. The school-house, of which the lower portion still remains, stood at the upper end of the little town, part of which runs with steep streets up the hill. The children there were taught not only reading and writing, but also the rudiments of Latin, though doubtless in a very clumsy and mechanical fashion. From his experience of the teaching here, Luther speaks in later years of the vexations and torments with declining and conjugating and other tasks which school children in his youth had to undergo. The severity he there met with from his teacher was a very different thing from the strictness of his parents. Schoolmasters, he says, in those days were tyrants and executioners, the schools were prisons and hells, and in spite of blows, trembling, fear, and misery, nothing was ever taught. He had been whipped, he tells us, fifteen times one morning, without any fault of his own, having been called on to repeat what he had never been taught.
At this school he remained till he was fourteen, when his father resolved to send him to a better and higher-class place of education. He chose for that purpose Magdeburg; but what particular school he attended is not known. His friend Mathesius tells us that the town-school there was 'far renowned above many others.' Luther himself says that he went to school with the Null-brethren. These Null-brethren or Noll-brethren, as they were called, were a brotherhood of pious clergymen and laymen, who had combined together, but without taking any vows, to promote among themselves the salvation of their souls and the practice of a godly life, and to labour at the same time for the social and moral welfare of the people, by preaching the Word of God, by instruction, and by spiritual ministration. They undertook in particular the care of youth. They were, moreover, the chief originators of the great movement in Germany, at that time, for promoting intellectual culture, and reviving the treasures of ancient Roman and Greek literature. Since 1488 a colony of them had existed at Magdeburg, which had come from Hildesheim, one of their head-quarters. As there is no evidence of heir having had a school of their own at Magdeburg, they may have devoted their services to the town-school. Thither, then, Hans Luther sent his eldest son in 1497. The idea had probably been suggested by Peter Reinicke, the overseer of the mines, who had a son there. With this son John, who afterwards rose to an important office in the mines at Mansfeld, Martin Luther contracted a lifelong friendship. Hans, however, only let his son remain one year at Magdeburg, and then sent him to school at Eisenach. Whether he was induced to make this change by finding his expectations of the school not sufficiently realised, or whether other reasons, possibly those regarding a cheaper maintenance of his son, may have determined him in the matter, there is no evidence to show. What strikes one here only is his zeal for the better education of his son.
Ratzeberger is the only one who tells us of an incident he heard of Luther from his own lips, during his stay at Magdeburg, and this was one which, as a physician, he relates with interest. Luther, it happened, was lying sick of a burning fever, and tormented with thirst, and in the heat of the fever they refused him drink. So one Friday, when the people of the house had gone to church, and left him alone, he, no longer able to endure the thirst, crawled off on hands and feet to the kitchen, where he drank off with great avidity a jug of cold water. He could reach his room again, but having done so he fell into a deep sleep, and on waking the fever had left him.
The maintenance his father was able to afford him was not sufficient to cover the expenses of his board and lodging as well as of his schooling, either at Magdeburg or afterwards at Eisenach. He was obliged to help himself after the manner of poor scholars, who, as he tells us, went about from door to door collecting small gifts or doles by singing hymns. 'I myself,' he says,' was one of those young colts, particularly at Eisenach, my beloved town.' He would also ramble about the neighbourhood with his school-fellows; and often, from the pulpit or the lecturer's chair, would he tell little anecdotes about those days. The boys used to sing quartettes at Christmas-time in the villages, carols on the birth of the Holy Child at Bethlehem. Once, as they were singing before the door of a solitary farmhouse, the farmer came out and called to them roughly, 'Where are you, young rascals?' He had two large sausages in his hand for them, but they ran away terrified, till he shouted after them to come back and fetch the sausages. So intimidated, says Luther, had he become by the terrors of school discipline. His object, however, in relating this incident was to show his hearers how the heart of man too often construes manifestations of God's goodness and mercy into messages of fear, and how men should pray to God perseveringly, and without timidity or shamefacedness. In those days it was not rare to find even scholars of the better classes, such as the son of a magistrate at Mansfeld, and those who, for the sake of a better education, were sent to distant schools, seeking to add to their means in the manner we have mentioned.
After this, his father sent him to Eisenach, bearing in mind the numerous relatives who lived in the town and surrounding country, and who might be of service to him. But of these no mention has reached us, except of one, named Konrad, who was sacristan in the church of St. Nicholas. The others, no doubt, were not in a position to give him any material assistance.
About this time his singing brought him under the notice of one Frau Cotta, who with genuine affection took up the promising boy, and whose memory, in connection with the great Reformer, still lives in the hearts of the German people. Her husband, Konrad or Kunz, was one of the most influential citizens of the town, and sprang from a noble Italian family who had acquired wealth by commerce. Ursula Cotta, as her name was, belonged to the Eisenach family of Schalbe. She died in 1511. Mathesius tells us how the boy won her heart by his singing and his earnestness in prayer, and she welcomed him to her own table. Luther met with similar acts of kindness from a brother or other relative of hers, and also from an institution belonging to Franciscan friars at Eisenach, which was indebted to the Schalbe family for several rich endowments, and was named, in consequence, the Schalbe College. At Frau Cotta's, Luther was first introduced to the life in a patrician's house, and learned to move in that society.
At Eisenach he remained at school for four years. Many years afterwards we find him on terms of friendly and grateful intercourse with one Father Wiegand, who had been his schoolmaster there. Ratzeberger, speaking of the then schoolmaster at Eisenach, mentions a 'distinguished poet and man of learning, John Trebonius,' who, as he tells us, every morning, on entering the schoolroom, would take off his biretta, because God might have chosen many a one of the lads present to be a future mayor, or chancellor, or learned doctor; a thought which, as he adds, was amply realised afterwards in the person of Doctor Luther. The relations of these two at the school, which contained several classes, must be a matter of conjecture. But the system of teaching pursued there was praised afterwards by Luther himself to Melancthon. The former acquired there that thorough knowledge of Latin which was then the chief preparation for University study. He learned to write it, not only in prose, but also in verse, which leads us to suppose that the school at Eisenach took a part in the Humanistic movement already mentioned. Happily, his active mind and quick understanding had already begun to develop; not only did he make up for lost ground, but he even outstripped those of his own age.
As we see him growing up to manhood, the future hero of the faith, the teacher, and the warrior, the most important question for us is the course which his religious development took from childhood.
He who, in after years, waged such a tremendous warfare with the Church of his time, always gratefully acknowledged, and in his own teaching and conduct kept steadily in view, how, within herself, and underneath all the corruptions he denounced, she still preserved the groundwork of a Christian life, the charter of salvation, the fundamental truths of Christianity, and the means of redemption and blessing, vouchsafed by the grace of God. Especially did he acknowledge all that he had himself received from the Church since childhood. In that House, he says on one occasion, he was baptised, and catechised in the Christian truth, and for that reason he would always honour it as the House of his Father. The Church would at any rate take care that children, at home and at school, should learn by heart the Apostles' Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the Ten Commandments; that they should pray, and sing psalms and Christian hymns. Printed books, containing them, were already in existence. Among the old Christian hymns in the German language, of which a surprisingly rich collection has been formed, a certain number, at least, were in common use in the churches, especially for festivals. 'Fine songs' Luther called them, and he took care that they should live on in the Evangelical communities. Those old verses form in part the foundation of the hymns which we owe to his own poetical genius. Thus for Christmas we still have the carol of those times, Ein Kindelein so lobelich; and the first verse of Luther's Whitsun hymn, Nun bitten wir den Heiligen Geist, is taken, he tells us, from one of those old-fashioned melodies. Of the portions of Scripture read in church, the Gospels and Epistles were given in the mother-tongue. Sermons, also, had long been preached in German, and there were printed collections of them for the use of the clergy.
The places where Luther grew up were certainly better off in this respect than many others. For, in the main, very much was still wanting to realise what had been recommended and striven for by pious Churchmen, and writers and religious fraternities, or even enjoined by the Church herself. The Reformers had, indeed, a heavy and an irrefutable indictment to bring against the Catholic Church system of their time. The grossest ignorance and shortcomings were exposed by the Visitations which they undertook, and from these we may fairly judge of the actual state of things existing for many years before. It appeared, that even where these portions of the catechism were taught by parents and schoolmasters, they never formed the subject of clerical instruction to the young. It was precisely one of the charges brought against the enemies of the Reformation, that, notwithstanding the injunctions of their Church, they habitually neglected this instruction, and preferred teaching the children such things as carrying banners in processions and holy tapers. Priests were found, in the course of these visitations, who had scarcely any knowledge of the chief articles of the faith. His own personal experience of this neglect, when young, is not noticed by Luther in his later complaints on the subject.
But the main fault and failing which he recognised in after life, and which, as he tells us, was a source of inward suffering to him from childhood, was the distorted view, held up to him at school and from the pulpit, of the conditions of Christian salvation, and, consequently, of his own proper religious attitude and demeanour.
Luther himself, as we learn from him later life, would have Christian children brought up in the happy assurance that God is a loving Father, Christ a faithful Saviour, and that it is their privilege and duty to approach their Father with frank and childlike confidence, and, if aroused to a consciousness of sin or wrong, to entreat at once His forgiveness. Such however, he tells us, was not what he was taught. On the contrary, he was instructed, and trained up from childhood in that narrowing conception of Christianity, and that outward form of religiousness, against which, more than anything, he bore witness as a Reformer.
God was pictured to him as a Being unapproachably sublime, and of awful holiness; Christ, the Saviour, Mediator, and Advocate, whose revelation can only bring judgment to those who reject salvation, as the threatening Judge, against whose wrath, as against that of God, man sought for intercession and mediation from the Virgin and the other saints. This latter worship, towards the close of the middle ages, had increased in importance and extent. Peculiar honour was paid to particular saints, in particular places, and for the furtherance of particular interests. The warlike St. George was the special saint of the town and county of Mansfeld: his effigy still surmounts the entrance to the old school-house. Among the miners the worship of St. Anne, the mother of the Virgin, soon became popular towards the end of the century, and the mining town of Annaberg, built in 1496, was named after her. Luther records how the 'great stir' was first made about her, when he was a boy of fifteen, and how he was then anxious to place himself under her protection. There is no lack of religious writings of that time, which, with the view of preserving the Catholic faith, warn men earnestly against the danger of overvaluing the saints, and of placing their hopes more in them than in God; but we see from those very warnings how necessary they were, and later history shows us how little fruit they bore. As for Luther, certain beautiful features in the lives and legends of the saints exercised over him a power of attraction which he never afterwards renounced; and of the Virgin he always spoke with tender reverence, only regretting that men wished to make an idol of her. But of his early religious belief, he says that Christ appeared to him as seated on a rainbow, like a stern Judge; from Christ men turned to the saints, to be their patrons, and called on the Virgin to bare her breasts to her Son, and dispose him thereby to mercy. An example of what deceptions were sometimes practised in such worship came to the notice of the Elector John Frederick, the friend of Luther, and probably originated in a convent at Eisenach. It was a figure, carved in wood, of the Virgin with the infant Saviour in her arms, which was furnished with a secret contrivance by means of which the Child, when the people prayed to him, first turned away to His mother, and only when they had invoked her as intercessor, bowed towards them with His little arms outstretched.
On the other hand, the sinner who was troubled with cares about his soul and thoughts of Divine judgment, found himself directed to the performance of particular acts of penance and pious exercises, as the means to appease a righteous God. He received judgment and commands through the Church at the confessional. The Reformers themselves, and Luther especially, fully recognised the value of being able to pour out the inner temptations of the heart to some Christian father-confessor, or even to some other brother in the faith, and to obtain from his lips that comfort of forgiveness which God, in His love and mercy, bestows freely on the faithful. But nothing of this kind, they said, was to be found in the confessional. The conscience was tormented with the enumeration of single sins, and burdened with all sorts of penitential formalities; and it was just with a view that everyone should be drawn to this discipline of the Church, should use it regularly, and should seek for no other way to make his peace with God, that the educational activity of the Church, both with young and old, was especially directed.
Luther, in after life, as we have already remarked, always recognised and found comfort in the fact that, even under such conditions as the above, enough of the simple message of salvation in the Bible could penetrate the heart, and awaken a faith which, in spite of all artificial restraints and perplexing dogmas, should throw itself, with inward longing and childlike trust, into the arms of God's mercy, and so enjoy true forgiveness. He received, as we shall see, some salutary directions for so doing from later friends of his, who belonged to the Romish Church, nor was that character of ecclesiastical religiousness, so to speak, stamped everywhere, or to the same degree, on Christian life in Germany during his youth. Nevertheless, his whole inner being, from boyhood, was dominated by its influence; he, at all events, had never been taught to appreciate the Gospel as a child. Looking back in later years on his monastic days, and the whole of his previous life, he declared that he never could feel assured that his baptism in Christ was sufficient for his salvation, and that he was sorely troubled with doubt whether any piety of his own would be able to secure for him God's mercy. Thoughts of this kind he said induced him to become a monk.
Men have never been wanting, either before or since the time of Luther's youth, to denounce the abuses and corruptions of the Church, and particularly of the clergy. Language of this sort had long found its way to the popular ear, and had proceeded also from the people themselves. Complaints were made of the tyranny of the Papal hierarchy, and of their encroachments on social and civil life, as well as of the worldliness and gross immorality of the priests and monks. The Papacy had reached its lowest depth of moral degradation under Pope Alexander VI. We hear nothing, however, of the impressions produced on Luther, in this respect, in the circumstances of his early life. The news of such scandals as were then enacted at Rome, shamelessly and in open day, very likely took a long while to reach Luther and those about him. With regard to the carnal offences of the clergy, against which, to the honour of Germany be it said, the German conscience especially revolted, he made afterwards the noteworthy remark, that although during his boyhood the priests allowed themselves mistresses, they never incurred the suspicion of anything like unbridled sensuality or adulterous conduct. Examples of such kind date only from a later period.
The loyalty with which Mansfeld, his home, adhered to the ancient Church, is shown by several foundations of that time, all of which have reference to altars and the celebration of mass. The overseer of the mines, Reinicke, the friend of Luther's family, is among the founders: he left provision for keeping up services in honour of the Virgin and St. George.
A peculiarly reverential demeanour, in regard to religion and the Church, is observable in Luther's father, and one which was common no doubt among his honest, simple, pious fellow townsfolk. His conduct was consistently God-fearing. In his house it was afterwards told how he would often pray at the bedside of his little Martin,—how, as the friend of godliness and learning, he had enjoyed the friendship of priests and school-teachers. Words of pious reflection from his lips remained stamped on Luther's memory from his boyhood. Thus Luther tells us, in a sermon preached towards the close of his life, how he had often heard his dear father say, that, as his own parents had told him, the earth contains many more who require to be fed than there are sheaves, even if collected from all the fields in the world; and yet how wondrously does God know how to preserve mankind! In common with his fellow-townsmen, he followed the precepts and commands of his Church. When, in the year in which he sent his son to Magdeburg, two new altars in the church at Mansfeld were consecrated to a number of saints, and sixty days' indulgence was granted to anyone who heard mass at them, Hans Luther, with Reinicke and other fellow-magistrates, was among the first to make use of the invitation. The enemies of the Reformer, while fain to trace his origin to a heretic Bohemian, had not a shadow of a reason for suspecting his real father of any leanings to heresy. Nor do we hear a word in later years from the Reformer, after his father had separated with him from the Catholic Church, to show a trace of any hostile or critical remark against that Church, remembered from the lips of his father during childhood. Quietly but firmly the latter asserted his own judgment, and framed his will accordingly. He was firm, in particular, in the consciousness of his paternal rights and duties, even against the pretensions of the clergy. Thus, as his son Martin tells us, when he lay once on the point of death, and the priest admonished him to leave something to the clergy, he replied in the simplicity of his heart, 'I have many children: I will leave it them, for they want it more.' We shall see how unyieldingly, when his son entered a convent, he insisted, as against all the value and usefulness of monasticism, on the paramount obligation of God's command, that children should obey their parents. Luther also tells us how his father once praised in high terms the will left by a Count of Mansfeld, who without leaving any property to the Church, was content to depart from this world trusting solely to the bitter sufferings and death of Christ, and commending his soul to Him. Luther himself, when a young student, would have considered, as he tells us, a bequest to churches or convents a proper will to make. His father afterwards accepted his son's doctrine of salvation without hesitation, and with the full conviction that it was right. But remarks of his such as we have quoted, were consistent with a perfectly blameless demeanour in regard to the forms of conduct and belief as prescribed by the Church, with an avoidance of criticism and argument on ecclesiastical matters, which he knew were not his vocation, and above all with a complete abstention from such talk in the presence of his children. As to what concerns further the positive religious influence which he exercised over his children, any such impressions as he might have given by what he said of the Count of Mansfeld, were fully counterbalanced by the severity and firmness of his paternal discipline.
Concurrent with the doctrine of salvation through the intercession of the saints and the Church, and one's own good works, which Luther had been taught from his youth, were the dark popular ideas of the power of the devil—ideas, which, though not actually invented, were at least patronised by the Church, and which not only threaten the souls of men, but cast a baneful spell over all their natural life. Luther, as is well known, has frequently expressed his own opinions about the devil, in connection with the enchantments supposed to be practised by the Evil One on mankind, and, more especially, on the subject of witchcraft. Of one thing he was certain, that in God's hand we are safe from the Evil One, and can triumph over him. But even he believed the devil's work was manifested in sudden accidents and striking phenomena of Nature, in storms, conflagrations, and the like. As to the tales of sorcery and magic, which were told and believed in by the people, some he declared to be incredible, others he ascribed to the hallucinations effected by the devil. But that witches had power to do one bodily harm, that they plagued children in particular, and that their spells could affect the soul, he never seriously doubted.
From his earliest childhood, and especially at home, ideas of that kind had been instilled into Luther, and accordingly they ministered strong food to his imagination. They had just then spread to a remarkable extent among the Germans, and had developed in remarkable ways. They had affected the administration of ecclesiastical and civil law, they had given rise to the Inquisition and the most barbarous cruelties in the punishment of those who were pretended to be in league with the devil, and they had gradually multiplied their baneful effects. The year after Luther's birth, appeared the remarkable Papal bull which sanctioned the trial of witches. When a boy, Luther heard a great deal about witches, though later in life he thought there was no longer so much talk about them, and he would not scruple to tell stories of how they harmed men and cattle, and brought down storms and hail. Nay, of his own mother he believed that she had suffered much from the witcheries of a female neighbour, who, as he said, 'plagued her children till they nearly screamed themselves to death.' Delusions such as these are certainly dark shadows in the picture of Luther's youth, and are important towards understanding his inner life as a man.
But while admitting the existence of these superstitious and pseudo-religious notions, we must not imagine that they composed the whole portraiture of Luther's early life. He was, as Mathesius describes him, a merry, jovial young fellow. In his later reflections on himself and his youthful days, the very war he was waging against the false teachings of the Church, from which he himself had suffered, made him dwell, as was natural, on this side of his early life. But amidst all those trials and depressing influences, the fresh and elastic vigour of his nature stood the strain—a vigour innate and inherited, and which afterwards shone forth in a new and brighter light, under a new aspect of religious life. His childlike joy in Nature around him, which afterwards distinguished so remarkably the theologian and champion of the faith, must be referred back to his original bent of mind and his life, when a boy, amid Nature's surroundings.
How much he lived, from childhood, with the peasantry, is shown by the natural ease with which he spoke in the popular dialect, even when he was learning Latin and enjoying a higher culture, and by the frequency with which the native roughnesses of that dialect broke out in his learned discourses or sermons. In no other theologian, nay, in no other known German writer of his century, do we meet with so many popular proverbs as in Luther, to whom they came naturally in his conversations and letters. German legends also, and popular tales, such as the history of Dietrich von Bern and other heroes, or of Eulenspiegel or Markolf, would hardly have been remembered so accurately by him in later years, if he had not familiarised himself with them in childhood. He would at times inveigh against the worthless, and even shameless tales and 'gossip,' as he called it, which such books contained, and especially against the priests who used to spice their sermons with such stories; but that he also recognised their value we know from his allusion to 'some people, who had written songs about Dietrich and other giants, and in so doing had expounded much greater subjects in a short and simple manner.' The pleasure with which he himself may have read or listened to them, can be gathered from his remark that 'when a story of Dietrich von Bern is told, one is bound to remember it afterwards, even though one has only heard it once.'
He maintained through life a faithful devotion to the places where he had grown up. Eisenach remained, as we have already seen, his beloved town. Mansfeld was particularly dear to him as his home, and the whole county as his 'fatherland;' he calls it with pride a 'noble and famous county.' The miners also, who were his fellow-countrymen and his dear father's work-mates, he loved all his life long. But a wider horizon was not opened to him among the people of the little town of Mansfeld, or where he afterwards went to school. To this fact, and to his quiet life as a monk, we must ascribe the peculiar feature of his later activity, namely, that while prosecuting with far-seeing eye and a warm heart the highest and most extensive tasks for his Church and for the German people in general, still, at the beginning of his work and campaign, he understood but little of the great world outside, and of politics, or even of the general state of Germany; nay, he shows at times a touchingly childlike simplicity in these matters.
The last few years of his school-life enabled him to make brave progress on the road to intellectual culture, which his father wished him to pursue. Thus equipped, he was prepared at the age of eighteen, to remove, in the summer of 1501 to the university at Erfurt.
STUDENT-DAYS AT ERFURT AND ENTRY INTO THE CONVENT. 1501-1505.
Among the German universities, that of Erfurt, which could count already a hundred years of prosperous existence, occupied at this time a brilliant position. So high, Luther tells us, was its standing and reputation, that all its sister institutions were regarded as mere pigmies by its side. His parents could now afford to give him the necessary means for studying at such a place. 'My dear father,' he says, 'maintained me there with loyal affection, and by his labour and the sweat of his brow enabled me to go there.' He had now begun to feel a burning thirst for learning, and here, at the 'fountain of all knowledge,' to use Melancthon's words, he hoped to be able to quench it.
He began with a complete course of philosophy, as that science was then understood. It dealt, in the first place, with the laws and forms of thought and knowledge, with language, in which Latin formed the basis, or with grammar and rhetoric, as also with the highest problems and most abstruse questions of physics, and comprised even a general knowledge of natural science and astronomy. A complete study of all these subjects was not merely requisite for learned theologians, but frequently served as an introduction to that of law, and even of medicine.
When Luther first came from Eisenach to Erfurt, there was nothing yet about him that attracted the attention of others so far as to call forth any contemporary account of him. Enough, however, is known of the most eminent teachers there, at whose feet he sat, and also of the general kind of intellectual food which they administered. He gained entrance into a circle of older and younger men than himself, teachers and fellow-students, who in later years, either as friends or opponents, were able to bear witness, favourably or the reverse, as to his life and work at Erfurt.
The leading professor of philosophy at Erfurt was then Jodocus Trutvetter, who, three years after Luther's arrival, became also doctor of theology and lecturer of the theological faculty. Next to him, in this department, ranked Bartholomew Arnoldi of Usingen. It was to these two men above others, and particularly to the former, that Luther looked for his instruction.
The philosophy which was then in vogue at Erfurt, and which found its most vigorous champion in Trutvetter, was that of the Scholasticism of later days. It is common to associate with the idea of Scholasticism, or the theological and philosophical School-science of the middle ages, a system of thought and instruction, embracing, indeed, the highest questions of knowledge and existence, but at the same time not venturing to strike into any independent paths, or to deviate an inch from tradition, but submitting rather, in everything connected, or supposed to be connected, with religious belief, to the dogmas and decrees of the Church and the authority of the early Fathers, and wasting the understanding and intellect in dry formalism or subtle but barren controversies. This conception fails to appreciate the vast labour of thought bestowed by leading minds on the attempt to unravel the mass of ecclesiastical teaching which had twined round the innermost lives of themselves and their fellow-Christians, and at the same time to follow those general questions under the guidance of the old philosophers, especially Aristotle, of whom they knew but little. But it is applicable, at any rate, to the Scholasticism of later days. The confidence with which its older exponents had thought to explain and establish orthodoxy by means of their favourite science, was gone; all the more, therefore, should that science keep silence in face of the commands of the Church. Men, moreover, had grown tired of the old questions of philosophy about the reality and real existence of Universals. It had been formerly a question of dispute whether our general ideas had a real existence, or whether they were nothing more than words or names, mere abstractions, comprehending the individual, which alone was supposed to possess Reality. At that time the latter doctrine, that of Nominalism, as it was called, prevailed. At length, these new or 'modern' philosophers abandoned the question of Realism, and the relation of thought to Reality, in favour of a system of pure logic or dialectics, dealing with the mere forms and expressions of thought, the formal analysis of ideas and words, the mutual relation of propositions and conclusions—in short, all that constitutes what we call formal logic, in its widest acceptation. At this point, the far-famed scholastic intellect, with its subtleties, its fine distinctions, its nice questions, its sophistical conclusions, reached its zenith.
To this logic Trutvetter also devoted himself, and in it he taught his pupils. He had just then published a series of treatises on the subject. To him this study was real earnest. Compared with others, he has shown in these excursions a cautious and discreet moderation, and no inclination for the quarrels and verbal combats often dear to logicians. The same can be said of his colleague Usingen. Trutvetter has shown also that he enjoyed and was widely read in earlier and modern, especially, of course, in Scholastic literature, including the works not only of the most important, but also of very obscure authors. We can imagine what delight he took in all this when in his professor's chair, and how much he expected from his pupils.
At Erfurt meanwhile, and by this same philosophical facility, a fresh and vigorous impulse was being given to that study of classical antiquity, which gave birth to a new learning, and ushered in a new era of intellectual culture in Germany. We have already had occasion to refer to the movement and influence of Humanism at the schools which Luther attended at Magdeburg and Eisenach. He now found himself at one of the chief nurseries of these 'arts and letters' in Germany, nay, at the very place where their richest blossoms were unfolded. Erfurt could boast of having issued the first Greek book printed in Germany in Greek type, namely, a grammar, printed in Luther's first year at the University. It was the Greek and Latin poets, in particular, whose writings stirred the enthusiasm and emulation of the students. For refined expression and learned intercourse, the fluent and elegant Latin language was studied, as given in the works of classical writers. But far more important still was the free movement of thought, and the new world of ideas thus opened up.
In proportion as these young disciples of antiquity learned to despise the barbarous Latin and insipidity of the monkish and scholastic education of the day, they began to revolt against Scholasticism, against the dogmas of faith propounded by the Church, and even against the religious opinions of Christendom in general. History shows us the different paths taken, in this respect, by the Humanists; and we shall come across them, in another way, during the career of the Reformer, as having an important influence on the course of the Reformation. With many, an honest striving after religion and morality allied itself with the impulse for independent intellectual culture, and tried to utilise it for improving the condition of the Church. When the struggle of the Reformation began, some followed Luther and the other religious teachers on his side, some, shrinking back from his trenchant conclusions, and, above all, concerned for their own stock-in-trade of learning, counselled others to practise prudence and moderation, and themselves retired to the service of their muses. Others again, broke away altogether from the Christian faith and the principles of Christian morality. They took delight in a new life of Heathenism, devoted sometimes to sensual pleasures and gross immoralities, sometimes to the indulgence of refined tastes and the enjoyment of art. These latter never raised a weapon against the Church, but for the most part accommodated themselves to her forms. In her teachings, her ordinances, and her discipline, they saw something indispensable to the multitude, as whose conscious superiors they behaved. Indeed, they themselves wielded this government in the Church, and comfortably enjoyed their authority and its fruits. In Italy, at Rome, and on the Papal chair these despotic pretensions were then asserted without shame or reserve. In Germany, on the other hand, the leading champions of the new learning, even when in open arms against the barbarism of the monks and clergy, sought, for themselves and their disciples, to remain faithful on the ground of their Mother Church. At Erfurt, in particular, the relations between them and the representatives of Scholasticism were peaceful, unconstrained, and friendly. The dry writings of a Trutvetter they prefaced with panegyrics in Latin verse, and the Trutvetter would try to imitate their purer style.
Some talented young students of the classics at Erfurt formed themselves into a small coterie of their own. They enjoyed the cheerful pleasures of youthful society, nor were poetry and wine wanting, but the rules of decorum and good manners were not overlooked. Several men, whom we shall come across afterwards in the history of Luther, belonged to this circle;—for instance, John Jager, known as Crotus Eubianus, the friend of Ulrich Hutten, and George Spalatin (properly Burkhard), the trusted fellow-labourer of the Reformer. Both had already been three years at the university when Luther entered it. Three years after his arrival, came Eoban Hess, the most brilliant, talented, and amiable of the young Humanists and poets of Germany.
Such was the learned company to which Luther was introduced in the philosophical faculty at Erfurt. So far, different avenues of intellectual culture were opened to him. He threw himself into the study of that philosophy in all its bearings, and, not content with exploring the tangled and thorny paths of logic, took counsel how to enjoy, as far as possible, the fruits of the newly-revived knowledge of antiquity.
As regards the latter, he carried the study of Ovid, Virgil, and Cicero, in particular, farther than was customary with the professed students of Humanism, and the same with the poetical works of more modern Latin writers. But his chief aim was not so much to master the mere language of the classical authors, or to mould himself according to their form, as to cull from their pages rich apophthegms of human wisdom, and pictures of human life and of the history of peoples. He learned to express pregnant and powerful thoughts clearly and vigorously in learned Latin, but he was himself well aware how much his language was wanting in the elegance, refinement, and charm of the new school; indeed, this elegance he never attempted to attain.
With the members of this circle of young Humanists, Luther was on terms of personal friendship. Crotus was able to remind him in after life how, in close intimacy, they had studied the fine arts together at the university. But there is no mention of him in the numerous letters and poems left to posterity by the aspiring Humanists at Erfurt. He had made himself, Crotus adds, a name among his companions as the 'learned philosopher' and the 'musician,' but he never belonged to the 'poets,' which was the favourite title of the young Humanists. Many, including even Melancthon, have lamented that he was not more deeply imbued with the spirit of those 'noble arts and letters,' which educate the mind, and would have tended to soften his rugged nature and manner. But they would have been of little value to him for the quick decision and energy required for the war he had afterwards to wage. Those intellectual treasures and enjoyments kept aloof not only from such contests, but also from sharp and searching investigations of the highest questions of religion and morality, and from the inward struggle, so often painful, which they bring. As regards the merits of Humanism, which Luther again, as a Reformer, eagerly acknowledged, we must not forget how selfishly it withdrew itself from contact and communion with German popular life, nor how it helped to create an exclusive aristocracy of intellect, and allowed the noblest talents to become as clumsy in their own natural mother-tongue, as they were clever in the handling of foreign, acquired forms of art. Luther, in not yielding further to those influences, remained a German.
Philosophy, then, engrossed him, and allowed him but little time for other things. And in studying this, he sought to grapple with the highest problems of the human understanding. These problems occupied also the labours of the later Scholastics, however faulty were the forms in which they clothed their ideas. At the same time, these very forms attracted him, from the scope they gave to the exercise of his natural acuteness and understanding. Disputation was his great delight; and argumentative contests were then in fashion at the universities. But in after years, as soon as the contents of the Bible were opened to his inner understanding, and he recognised in its pages the object of real theological knowledge, he regretted the time and labour which he had wasted on those studies, and even spoke of them with disgust.
Crotus has already told us of the sociable life that Luther led with his friends. The love for music, which he had shown in school-days, he continued to keep up, and indulged in it merrily with his fellow-students. He had a high-pitched voice, not strong, but audible at a distance. Besides singing, he learned also to play the lute, and this without a master, and he employed his time in this way when laid up once by an accident to his leg.
Such rapid progress did he make in his philosophical studies, that in his third term he was able to attain his baccalaureate, the first academical degree of the theological faculty. This degree, according to the general custom of the universities, preceded that of Master, corresponding to the present Doctor, of philosophy. The examination for it, which Luther passed on Michaelmas day 1502, professed to include the most important subjects in the province of philosophy. But it could not have been very severe. The chief work came when he took his next degree as Master, which was at the beginning of 1505. He then experienced what afterwards, speaking of Erfurt's former glory, he thus describes: 'What a moment of majesty and splendour was that, when one took the degree of Master, and torches were carried before, and honour was paid one. I consider that no temporal or worldly joy can equal it.' Melancthon tells us, on the authority of several of Luther's fellow-students, that his talent was then the wonder of the whole university.
In accordance with the wish of his father and the advice of his relations, he was now to fit himself for a lawyer. In this profession, they thought, he would be able to turn his talents to the best account, and make a name in the world. And in this department also, the university of Erfurt could boast of one of the most distinguished men of learning of that time, Henning Goede, who was now in the prime of his vigour. Luther, accordingly, began to attend the lectures on law, and his father allowed him to buy some valuable books for that purpose, particularly a 'Corpus Juris.'
Meanwhile, however, in his inner religious life a change was being prepared, which proved the turning-point of his career.
Luther himself, as we have seen, frequently pointed out in after life the influences which, even from childhood, under the discipline of home, the experiences of school, and the teaching of the Church, combined to bring about this result. He could never shake off for any length of time, even when in the midst of learned study or the enjoyment of student life, the consciousness that he must be pious and satisfy all the strict commands of God, that he must make good all the shortcomings of his life, and reconcile himself with Heaven, and that an angry Judge was throned above who threatened him with damnation. Inner voices of this kind, in a man of sensitive and tender conscience, were bound to assert themselves the more loudly and earnestly, as, in his progress from youth to manhood, he realised more fully his personal responsibility to God, and also his personal independence. To religious observances, in which he had been trained from childhood, Luther, as a student, remained faithful. Regularly he began his day with prayer, and as regularly attended mass. But of any new or comforting means of access to God and salvation, he heard nothing, even here. In the town of Erfurt there was an earnest and powerful preacher, named Sebastian Weinmann, who denounced in incisive language the prevalent vices of the day, and exposed the corruption of ecclesiastical life, and whom the students thronged to hear. But even he had nothing to offer to satisfy Luther's inward cravings of the soul. It was an episode in his life when he once found a Latin Bible in the library of the university. Though then nearly twenty years of age, he had never yet seen a Bible. Now for the first time he saw how much more it contained than was ever read out and explained in the churches. With delight he perused the story of Samuel and his mother, on the first pages that met his eye; though, as yet, he could make nothing more out of the Sacred Book. It was not on account of any particular offences, such as youthful excesses, that Luther feared the wrath of God. Staunch Catholics at Erfurt, including even later avowed enemies of the Reformer, who knew him there as a student, have never hinted at anything of that sort against him. 'The more we wash our hands, the fouler they become,' was a favourite saying of Luther's. He referred, no doubt, to the numerous faults in thought, word, and deed, which, in spite of human carefulness, every day brings, and which, however insignificant they might seem to others, his conscience told him were sins against God's holy law. Disquieting questions, moreover, now arose in his mind, so sorely troubled with temptation; and his subtle and penetrating intellect, so far from being able to solve them, only plunged him deeper in distress. Was it then really God's own will, he asked himself, that he should become actually purged from sin and thereby be saved? Was not the way to hell or the way to heaven already fixed for him immutably in God's will and decree, by which everything is determined and preordained? And did not the very futility of his own endeavours hitherto prove that it was the former fate that hung over him? He was in danger of going utterly astray in his conception of such a God. Expressions in the Bible such as those which speak of serving Him with fear became to him intolerable and hateful. He was seized at times with fits of despair such as might have tempted him to blaspheme God. It was this that he afterwards referred to as the greatest temptation he had experienced when young.
His physical condition probably contributed to this gloomy frame of mind. Already during his baccalaureate we hear of an illness of his, which awakened in him thoughts of death. A friend, represented by later tradition as an aged priest, said to him on his sick bed, 'Take courage; God will yet make you the means of comfort to many others;' and these words impressed him strongly even then. An accident also, which threatened to be fatal, must have tended to alarm him. As he was travelling home at Easter, and was within an hour's distance of Erfurt, he accidentally injured the main artery of his leg with the rapier which, like other students, he carried at his side. Whilst a friend who was with him had gone for a doctor, and he was left alone, he pressed the wound tightly as he lay on his back, but the leg continued to swell. In the anguish of death he called upon the Virgin to help him. That night his terror was renewed when the wound broke open afresh, and again he invoked the Mother of God. It was during his convalescence after this accident that he resolved upon learning to play the lute.
He was terribly distressed also, a few months after he had taken his degree as Master, by the sudden death of one of his friends, not further known to us, who was either assassinated or snatched away by some other fatality.
Well might the thought even then have occurred to him, while so disturbed in his mind and overpowered by feelings of sadness, whether it would not be better to seek his cure in the monastic holiness recommended by the Church, and to renounce altogether the world and all the success he had hitherto aspired to. The young Master of Arts, as he tells us himself in later years, was indeed a sorrowful man.
Suddenly and offhand he was hurried into a most momentous decision. Towards the end of June 1505, when several Church festivals fall together, he paid a visit to his home at Mansfeld, in quest, very possibly, of rest and comfort to his mind. Returning on July 2, the feast of the Visitation of the Virgin Mary, he was already near Erfurt, when, at the village of Stotternheim a terrific storm broke over his head. A fearful flash of lightning darted from heaven before his eyes. Trembling with fear, he fell to the earth, and exclaimed, 'Help, Anna, beloved Saint! I will be a monk.' A few days after, when quietly settled again at Erfurt, he repented having used these words. But he felt that he had taken a vow, and that, on the strength of that vow, he had obtained a hearing. The time, he knew, was past for doubt or indecision. Nor did he think it necessary to get his father's consent; his own conviction and the teaching of the Church told him that no objection on the part of his father could release him from his vow. Thus he severed himself at once from his former life and companions. On July 16 he called his best friends together to bid them leave. Once more they tried to keep him back; he answered them, 'To-day you see me, and never again.' The next day, that of St. Alexius, they accompanied him with tears to the gates of the Augustinian convent in the town, which he thought was to receive him for ever.
It is chiefly from what Luther himself has told us that we are enabled to picture to ourselves this remarkable occurrence. Rumour, and rumour only, has given the name of Alexius to that unknown friend whose death so terrified him, and has represented this friend as having been struck dead by lightning at his side.
The Luther of later days declared that his monastic vow was a compulsory one, forced from him by terror and the fear of death. But, at the same time, he never doubted that it was God who urged him. Thus he said afterwards, 'I never thought to leave again the convent. I was entirely dead to the world, until God thought that the time had come.'
LUTHER AS MONK AND PROFESSOR, UNTIL HIS ENTRY ON THE WAR OF REFORMATION—1505-1517.
AT THE CONTENT AT ERFURT, TILL 1508.
Luther's resolve to follow a monastic life was arrived at suddenly, as we have seen. But he weighed that resolve well in his mind, and just as carefully considered the choice of the convent which he entered.
The Augustinian monks, whose society he announced his intention to join, belonged at that time to the most important monastic order in Germany. So much had already been said with justice, in the way of complaint and ridicule, of the depravation of monastic life, its idleness, hypocrisy, and gross immorality, that many of them fancied that the solemn renunciation of marriage and the world's goods, and the absolute submission of their wills to the commands of their superiors and the regulations of their Order, constituted true service to God, and raised them to a peculiar position of holiness and merit. Outward discipline, at all events, was universally insisted on. Among the German institutions of this Order, whilst neglect and depravity had crept in elsewhere, a large number had, for some time past, distinguished themselves by a strict adherence to their old statutes, originating, it was supposed, from their founder St. Augustine, but relating, at the best, to mere matters of form. These institutions formed themselves into an association, presided over by a Vicar of the Order, as he was called, a Vicar-General for Germany. To this association belonged the convent at Erfurt. Its inmates were treated with marked favour and respect by the higher and educated classes in the town. They were said to be active in preaching and in the care of souls, and to cultivate among themselves the study of theology. Arnoldi, Luther's teacher, belonged to this convent. As the Order possessed no property, but all its members lived on alms, the monks went about the town and country to collect gifts of money, bread, cheese, and other victuals.
According to the rules of the Order, applications for admission were not granted at once, but time was taken to see whether the applicant was in earnest. After that he was received as a novice for at least a year of probation. Until that year expired he was at liberty to reconsider his wish.
Luther, before taking this final step, thought of his parents, with a view to lay before them his resolve. The monastic brethren, however, endeavoured to dissuade him, by reminding him how one must leave father and mother for Christ and His Cross, and how no one who has put his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God. Upon his writing to his father on the subject, the latter, strong in the conviction of his paternal rights, flew into a passion with his son. 'My father,' says Luther later, 'was near going mad about it; he was ill satisfied, and would not allow it. He sent me an answer in writing, addressing me in terms that showed his displeasure, and renouncing all further affection. Soon after he lost two of his sons by the plague. This epidemic had likewise broken out so violently at Erfurt, that about harvesttime whole crowds of students fled with their teachers from the town, and Luther's father received news that his son Martin had also fallen a victim. His friends then urged him that, if the report proved false, he ought at least to devote his dearest to God, by letting this son who still remained to him, enter the blessed Order of God's servants. At last the father let himself be talked over; but he yielded, as Luther informs us, with a sad and reluctant heart.
The young novice was welcomed among his brethren with hymns of joy, and prayers, and other ceremonies. He was soon clothed in the garb of his Order. Over a white woollen shirt he was made to wear a frock and cowl of black cloth, with a black leathern girdle. Whenever he put these on or off a Latin prayer was repeated to him aloud, that the Lord might put off the old and put on the new man, fashioned according to God. Above the cowl he received a scapulary, as it was called—in other words, a narrow strip of cloth hanging over shoulders, breast, and back, and reaching down to his feet. This was meant to signify that he took upon him the yoke of Him who said, 'My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.' At the same time, he was handed over to a superior, appointed to take charge of the novices, to introduce them to the practices of monastic devotion, to superintend their conduct, and to watch over their souls.
Above all, it was held important that the monks should be taught to subdue their own wills. They had to learn to endure, without opposition, whatever was imposed upon them, and that, indeed, all the more cheerfully, the more distasteful it appeared. Any tendency to pride was overcome by enjoining immediately the most menial offices on the offender. Friends of Luther tell us how, during his first period of probation in particular, he had to perform the meanest daily labour with brush and broom, and how his jealous brethren took particular pleasure in seeing the proud young graduate of yesterday trudge through the streets, with his beggar's wallet on his back, by the side of another monk more accustomed to the work. At first, we are told, the university interceded on his behalf as a member of their own body, and obtained for him at least some relaxation from his menial duties. From Luther's own lips, in after life, we hear not a word of complaint about any special vexations and burdens. As far as was possible, he did not allow them to daunt him; nay, he longed for even severer exercises, to enable him to win the favour of God. Even as a Reformer he remembered with gratitude the 'Pedagogue,' or superintendent of his noviciate; he was a fine old man, he tells us, a true Christian under that execrable cowl.