Friday, October 21, 2011

A Brief History of Martin Luther, Part 5

Luther Becomes a Professor at Wittenberg:

Luther was called by Staupitz to Wittenberg and arrived there in October, 1508. He was called back to Erfurt in autumn of 1509. He was sent to Rome in 1510. He returned to Wittenberg in 1511 and stayed there till a few days before his death in1546. He first lectured on scholastic philosophy. But he soon devoted himself exclusively to theology, which was much more congenial to his taste. By contemporary standards, he was well equipped for his position. By modern standards he was quite ill-equipped. Although he was a Doctor of Divinity, for several years he relied almost exclusively on the Latin version of the Scriptures. Very few professors knew Greek, and still less knew Hebrew. Luther had acquired a superficial idea of Hebrew at Erfurt. The Greek he learned at Wittenberg, we do not know exactly when. His labor in translating the Bible forced him into a closer familiarity with the original languages, though he never attained to mastery.

Luther began his theological teaching with David and Paul. These became the pillars of his theology. His first original work in German was an exposition of the seven Penitential Psalms. This was in 1517. It was a suiting introduction to his Theses, for in these he set forth true evangelical repentance. In this exposition he set forth the doctrines of sin and grace and the comfort of the gospel for the understanding of the common people.

Luther did not have any idea yet of reforming the Catholic Church – and still less did he plan to separate from it. He considered himself a good Catholic even in 1517. He still prayed devoutly to the Virgin Mary from the pulpit, and he believed in the intercession of the saints. He celebrated mass fully believing in the repetition of the sacrifice of the cross and the miracle of transubstantiation.

Christ began his public ministry with an ejection of the traffickers of the temple court. Likewise, the Reformation began with a protest against the traffic in indulgences that profaned and degraded the Christianity.

According to the Roman legal code indulgence was a term of amnesty from punishment. In ecclesiastical Latin it meant the temporal (not eternal) remission from the punishment of sin on the condition that money was given to the Church or to some charity. The practice of indulgences grew out of a custom of the Northern and Western barbarians to substitute pecuniary compensation for punishment or an offense. The church favored this custom in order to avoid bloodshed, but did wrong in applying it to religious offenses. After the Crusades, the granting of indulgences degenerated into a regular traffic, and became a source of ecclesiastical and monastic wealth. Most of the profits went into the papal treasury. The idea of buying and selling the remission of punishment and release from purgatory had roused protest from earnest minds long before Luther, but without much effect. 

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