Luther is sent to Wittenberg

wittenberg-1536After Luther’s unsuccessful trip to Rome, he returned to a tense monastery in Erfurt. The Black Cloister had sent Luther to petition the decision of the German vicar-general of the Augustinian order, Johannes von Staupitz, to unite observant and conventual Augustinians under his jurisdiction. Rome had ruled on the side of Staupitz and Luther submitted to the decision out of respect for Staupitz as his direct ecclesiastical authority. Tensions grew at Erfurt before the brothers finally suggested Luther relocate to the Augustinian monastery in Wittenberg, where Staupitz was. Luther had spent a brief period there in 1508, where he both lectured in theology and earned his bachelor of the Bible, which was the first course in the higher faculty of theology at the university. This time, however, he went to reside and would later assist the Augustinian hermitage as director of their theological studies and as house preacher.

Luther’s ascent to the rank of doctor came at Staupitz’s insistence. In 1502, Frederick the Wise had received permission from Emperor Maximilian to establish Wittenberg University and Pope Julius II confirmed the university in 1507. Staupitz was the first dean of the theology faculty and his Augustinian monastery was responsible for providing two professors of theology. Though Staupitz has served in that role, his responsibilities as vicar-general of the order limited his teaching duties and so in 1512 he ordered Luther in an infamous conversation under a peach tree to apply for his doctorate and take the position of professor at the university. Luther was reluctant at first, even though he had taught at Wittenberg several years earlier, but in the end relented.

The process of applying for the doctorate required significant fees, which Staupitz convinced Frederick the Wise to cover himself under the assumption that Luther would remain professor of bible at Wittenberg the remainder of his life. After the examination (headed by Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt), a public lecture, and all the attendant ceremonies, Luther was conferred the doctorate on October 19, 1512, then received into the faculty two days later. The doctor of sacred theology in the Middle Ages was more than an academic degree. Since the pope himself had to confirm the charter of a university and thereby authorize it to confer the doctorate of theology, the degree itself was seen on par with ordination—to the extent that those who purchased teaching positions were at times accused of simony. At the ceremony, Luther would pledge his submission to the authority of the church and his commitment to teach the truth of the Scriptures and reject false doctrine. This would leave a great impression on Luther. He maintained that disputing perceived errors in doctrine such as indulgences was his responsibility as a doctor of Holy Scripture.

After taking his degree, Luther was now commissioned to judge public disputations and confer degrees himself through examination. A rather lengthy delay occurred before he began his duties as lecturer. In the meantime, he served as vicar-general of the Augustinian monastery in Wittenberg and as director of its theological program, the Generalstudium. The Erfurt monastery openly opposed him for taking his doctorate at Wittenberg during this period, claiming that he was obliged to receive his doctorate back in Erfurt when he received his bachelor’s. However, the fact that Luther had also taken his bachelor’s from Wittenberg undercut their contention. Finally, in winter 1513 Luther began his teaching duties in earnest with his first lectures on the Psalms.

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