On 5th April 1525 Luther wed Catherine von Bora, a former nun. She then moved into the former Augustinian convent at Wittenberg, which was a wedding gift to the Luthers from the Elector, John the Steadfast. Hence for Luther the premises changed from being his friary to his family home. There couple then raised six children of their own and adopted four others.
Luther died on 13th December 1845, which was nine weeks after the Council of Trent - the so-called Counter Reformation - had begun. As it happened, he died in Eisleben, the town of his birth. Martin Luther lived in Wittenberg, but had set off for Eisleben on 17th January 1546 in order to settle some disputes concerning his family's business interests. The negotiations were successful, but Luther had been weak with various ailments for some time and became too weak to travel back Wittenberg.
In Eisleben he spent his last weeks in a late Gothic house on the south side of Andreaskirchplatz, preaching at the church each Sunday until his death on 18th February 1546. After Luther's death, his coffin was displayed for two days in Eisleben, then his body was transported through Halle and Bitterfeld back to Wittenberg. On 22nd February 1546 Luther was laid to rest in the Castle Church in Wittenberg, where previously he had nailed his ninety-five thesis to the church doors. (Eisleben was renamed Lutherstadt in 1946.)
Luther developed into a prodigious writer. His complete works fill over one hundred volumes. He translated the Bible and set a style for the German language. More than 2,500 of his letters have survived. Together with the Table Talk transcribed by his students, they offer a vivid picture of his life. It is a common and popular misconception that the origin of Luther's departure from Catholicism was his disagreement with the Church's teaching on indulgences, but the question of indulgences came only after he had already begun to preach other doctrines deemed heretical by Rome. Nor did Luther initially direct his attention to the reformation of the whole Church, since even Luther himself declared that at this time he disagreed with only a few Church doctrines.
Much less was his rupture with Rome caused by the supposed rivalry between the Augustinians and the Dominicans on account of the latter's being preferred over the former by the Pope to preach the Indulgence. History shows that there were many noted Augustinians preaching the Indulgence, as, for example, the learned and holy Johann Paltz, one of Luther's former professors at Erfurt. Moreover Luther's divergence from Catholic doctrine started long before the time of his struggle with the Dominican friar, John Tetzel. When Luther had returned from Rome to Germany back in 1511, he had assumed the stance of Giles of Viterbo O.S.A.. Giles had succeeded in giving Martin Luther a different and more cautious perspective to the one with which the German had brought to Rome.
The eminent medieval historian, Francis Xavier Martin O.S.A. (1922 – 2000) stated that Catholic historians have either forgotten or overlooked that the agreement of Luther with Giles of Viterbo meant that Luther had made a decision in favour of unity and authority within the Order of Saint Augustine. In consequence, on his return to Germany he had to move from the Augustinian friary (convento) at Erfurt because he was looked at as a traitor to the very cause that he had been sent to Rome to promote.
The Augustinian observant movement in Germany sought autonomy for themselves, and not unity with the Order at large. As it happened, the outburst of the Protestant Reformation seven years after Luther's visit to Rome rendered the question redundant, because the German Augustinian provinces were generally decimated by the Reformation and by the civil unrest that followed it.
Luther had met with Giles early in the year 1511. In the following year the Fifth Lateran Council opened in Rome with the expressed intention to bring about reform measures within the Catholic Church. This council, moreover, has been rightly considered by the Catholic historian Herbert Jedin (1900 - 1980) as the "last attempt at papal reform" prior to the Protestant Reformation. Giles of Viterbo, whose address was formally to begin the Council, pleaded for renewed devotion among clergy and laity. His remarks to that assembly would remain a landmark in the search for the rejuvenation of spiritual life within the Catholic Church during the turmoil of the early sixteenth century. Jedin also noted that, while visiting the Convento Sant'Agostino in Rome, Luther may have met an Augustinian resident there who came to prominence decades later at the Council of Trent.
This was Girolamo Seripando O.S.A., who like both Giles and Luther was a member of the observant movement within the Order of Saint Augustine. Regardless of whether Luther and Seripando did or did not meet, it is nevertheless a fact that the three Augustinians most involved in the "Pre-Reformation", the Protestant Reformation and the Counter Reformation were all under the same roof in Rome for a brief period seven years before the Protestant Reformation began.
In a slightly different vein, there is possibly a need to address the misconception that Luther progressed from rebellion within the Augustinian Order to rebellion against the Church generally. He joined the Augustinians because he saw them as members of a reform movement whose primary aim was the service of God. Luther became prominent in the Order for agitating for even stricter religious observance, and was even sent to Rome to support this cause, and returned to as a supporter of the Prior General, Giles of Viterbo O.S.A. He later attested that while in the monastery he kept his vows diligently – even scrupulously. The word “reformation” was already being used in Germany.
In 1517 Luther made a public protest against indulgences, but it was not until 1524 that he made a final break with the Church and the Order. He never subsequently denounced the Order, but spoke gratefully of his treatment in the Order and of his fellow friars who had tried to help him during his spiritual crises in the monastery. The late Augustinian historian, Professor Rev Francis Xavier Martin O.S.A. (1922 – 2000) summarised Martin Luther and his legacy thus: “The paradoxical picture emerges of an Order with its members apparently divided between their traditional allegiance to Rome and on the other hand a strong attraction to Luther… What emerges… is a paradox, not a contradiction. The Catholic and Protestant reforms were both products of the same movement… Luther began something momentous but he is in turn the product, one might say the end product, of a much earlier religious process.”
Further light will be thrown on the theological and psychological mindset of Martin Luther once the medieval Augustinian Observant movement is more fully known and appreciated, for Luther was not only a member of an observant community but also became one of its leaders in Germany. (His visit to Rome as a young friar was undertaken so to promote further the interests of this movement.) This research, in turn, will probably tone down the somewhat too-convenient overemphasis upon any particular “Damascus moment” in Luther’s life as an exclusive moment of a “Reformation breakthrough.”
This will assist the understanding of how, for example, in 1521 Luther could still consider himself as an Augustinian (and he was, in fact, still so) while at the same time considering the institution of the papacy as the Antichrist; his vows were made to God, Mary, and the Augustinian Prior General, hence he could still be of a conviction that he was a loyal Augustinian who was faced with the Antichrist whom he believed was on the papal throne.
He was not all friar one day and all Reformer the next. As with Augustine’s conversion to baptism, the intellectual aspect of the process preceded and was more protracted than was the changing of intention, will and heart in the matter. Luther, furthermore, has often been called a reluctant rebel. At one point Luther expressed thus his thoughts on the unforeseen chain of events that transpired after he posted his ninety-five theses: “No good work comes about by our own wisdom; it begins in dire necessity. I was forced into mine. But if I had known then what I know now, ten wild horses would not have drawn me into it.”
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