PART 5: LUTHER GOES TO ROME
Martin Luther couldn’t stay away from school for long. Shortly after he became a priest, he began attending classes at the University of Erfurt. This time he studied religion instead of law. He wanted to be able to teach the Bible to others, but he was also seeking peace for himself. Unfortunately, his study of the religious thought of the mystics who taught that salvation could be gained through meditation, or the humanists who taught that a person could improve by reading good literature about people, brought him no peace. They all taught that people had to work hard and persevere to be saved.
After about a year, John Staupitz visited him. He was head of all the Augustinian monks in Germany. And wanted Luther to teach philosophy at the new University of Wittenberg and to pursue his doctoral degree. In the spring of 1509 Luther received permission to teach classes on the Bible. As Luther taught from the Bible, he was more and more drawn into the book. In this way God was preparing his servant for the great work that lay ahead. But still Luther only knew Christ as a stern and terrible Judge. That is why he turned to Mary and the saints and his own good works. So instead of praying to Christ, Luther prayed to Mary and the saints. He prayed to 21 saints, three of them each day of the week. He tried all sorts of things to please God by controlling his body, including whipping and starving himself, praying all night without sleeping, and locking himself in his room for several days. In spite of these efforts, he still didn’t feel he was doing enough to earn God’s love.
In the fall of 1510 some welcome new came to Luther. He was to go to Rome! A fight had started among the Augustinians about a new set of rules for monks to live by. Luther and another monk were to ask the leaders in Rome to settle the dispute. Imagine Luther’s excitement as he thought about the trip. Rome was then, as it still is, the center of interest and authority for the Roman Catholic Church. The pope himself lived there. Except for Palestine, Rome contained more holy places and relics than any other place on earth. The two monks walked the 850 miles south to Rome in about seven weeks. They ate and slept in monasteries along the way. After crossing the Alps, they traveled through northern Italy. Finally, in January, 1511 they arrived.
Once the leading city of the world, Rome had only about 40,000 people at this time. Ruins of the ancient Roman buildings were everywhere, but Luther didn’t care about seeing hese signs of Rome’s former glory. He wanted to visit as many different churches and sacred places and see as many relics as possible. Luther thought that touching and kissing the relics or praying before them were good works. Such works, he had been taught, could educe a person’s stay in purgatory by many years.
Sadly, much of what he saw and heard in Rome shocked Luther. Many of the Italian priests were poorly educated, and they had no respect for sacred things. Some of the highest church leaders lived wicked lives. Some priests had mistresses and children born out of wedlock. Luther still believed the only way to heaven was through the church, but he wondered whether the church was being true to God and his Word. He knew that personal peace could not be obtained by doing acts of obedience. With these mixed feelings Luther returned to Germany.