Martin Luther: Life in the Monastery (A.D. 1505-1509)

2017 marks the 500-year anniversary of the launch of the Reformation. Martin Luther is credited for being the leader of the movement that effectively created the Protestant sect of Christianity. This week, I will be posting blurbs on the life of Martin Luther. It is one of many special series I plan to share during 2017 to commemorate this fantastic series of events that led to separation from the Roman Catholic Church.erfurt

Erfurt Monastery was led by Johan von Staupitz. He would later become a spiritual father to Martin Luther. He was known for their scholarship and the monastery housed fifty-two monks. The monastery itself was best known for it’s scholarship and teaching.

To enter a monastery, you basically renounced all you were and become a nobody. In some monasteries, you were expected to remain there until death. Luther entered the monastery on July 17, 1505 following his pledge on July 2 during the thunderstorm referenced in yesterday’s post. The vows you took as a monk would include poverty, chastity and obedience. So, by choice and conviction, Luther entered.

This decision was described and likened to other biblical characters this way, as Ronald Bainton concludes:

“Just as Abraham overcame human sacrifice only through his willingness to lift the sacrificial knife against Isaac, just as Paul was emancipated from Jewish legislation only because as a Hebrew of the Hebrews he had sought to fulfill all righteousness, so Luther rebelled out of a more than ordinary devotion. To the monastery he went like others, and even more than others, in order to make his peace with God.”[1]

Here is a sample of the typical daily life of a monk.

  • Chores – Every monk was assigned a task or series of tasks he would be responsible for (e.g., mopping floors, kitchen cleaning, cooking, gardening, laundry, etc.). The reason for this was to keep the monastery from any dependence upon the outside world. The monks would do all the work themselves. It is not known what Luther’s primary duties were but probably was a sampling of some of these. Monks were busy at all times; if they weren’t doing chores, they were to be studying or praying.
  • Atmosphere – During most events monks were to remain silent unless spoken to or unless conversation was necessary. In fact, Luther describes his 1st year in the monastery as a relatively peaceful and quiet experience, which would certainly have indicated to him his quest for peace with God was going just fine.
  • Prayers – Monks prayed about eight times per day – personally or corporately. Here is a typical timeline of a day of the average monk. Every worship service ended with the following sentence: “Save, O Queen, Thou Mother of mercy, our life, our delight, and our hope. To Thee we exiled sons of Eve lift up our cry. To Thee we sigh as we languish in this vale of tears. Be Thou advocate. Sweet Virgin Mary, pray for us. Thou holy Mother of God.”[2]
  • Annual Responsibility – At the end of the year, each monk would re-dedicate himself to poverty, chastity and obedience. Also during this time, your fellow monks would look at your life and verify whether you were continually fit for the monastic life. Luther was always accepted back into the monastery. The life of a monk was no picnic. It was a rugged, busy life. And Luther was a faithful monk. In fact, Luther said of himself, “I was a good monk, and I kept the rule of my order so strictly that I may say that if ever a monk got to heaven by his monkery it was I. All my brothers in the monastery who knew me will bear me out. If I had kept on any longer, I should have killed myself with vigils, prayers, readying, and other work.” Luther was a good “Catholic” man at this time, with strict allegiance to the Pope and his edicts. And one occasion, he said, “I was so drunk, nay submerged in the doctrines of the pope that I could have happily killed (or cooperated with anyone who killed) whoever took but a syllable of obedience away from him.

”R.C. Sproul concluded in his book The Holiness of God,

“As a monk Luther devoted to a rigorous kind of austerity. He set out to be the perfect monk. He fasted days and indulged in severe forms of self-flagellation. He went beyond the rules of the monastery in matters of self-denial. His prayer vigils were longer than anyone else’s. He refused the normal allotments of blankets and almost froze to death. He punished his body so severely that he later comments it was in the monk’s cell that he did permanent damage to his digestive system.”[3]

This leads us to the key experience Luther had at Erfurt Monastery. And we will consider that experience in tomorrow’s blog post.


[1] Here I Stand, pg. 27.

[2] Ibid., pg. 28.

[3] The Holiness of God, pgs. 127-128.

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