Back in Germany in 1519 (i.e., two years after preparing his famed ninety-five theses), he still expressed the opinion that not all the shameful doings in papal Rome could justify "the decision to tear oneself away or withdraw from the Church itself."
Certainly, in Rome Martin Luther experienced an unease as at the Roman churchmen allowing low morals, greed, inadequate clerical training and its interest in money to hinder people in a strict following of Christ. Luther is said afterwards to have repeated the Italian proverb, "If there is a hell, Rome is built over it." Other comments attributed to him are, "Rome is a circus, a running sewer," and "You can buy anything in Rome, even eternal life!"
His dismay at life in Rome was similar to that of the then-unbaptised Augustine of Hippo when he first saw that city some 1,127 years earlier. Possibly Rome had not changed all that much in the meantime!
In Rome, Luther stayed in the Augustinian convento of Santa Maria del Popolo. He celebrated Mass in the adjacent church of the same name, which is still conducted by the Augustinians.
Followers of Luther have said that, during his few weeks in Rome, Luther learned a little Hebrew from a rabbi, and some Greek from a refugee from Constantinople. It would appear highly improbable for Luther to have accomplished very much in this regard while in Rome for only four weeks, during which he spent much time pilgrim-like, visiting numerous churches and sacred sites.
Luther remained in Rome longer than he had initially expected because he and his companion had to wait there for weeks. This was because the Prior General of the Order was visiting Bologna with Pope Julius II, who was using military force in the papal territories in central Italy.
The Prior General was Giles of Viterbo O.S.A. (1469-1532). He was a Renaissance scholar and writer who was an Augustinian of great stature during this period immediately before and during the Protestant Reformation. He had been directly appointed as Prior General by Pope Julius II in 1506.
In talking to him at the offices of the Augustinian headquarters in the Convento S. Agostino, Luther discovered a person who also had sympathy for reform of the Order of Saint Augustine and of the church generally. Luther recognised the deep and genuine desire within Giles for reform.
(Interestingly, The word Reformatio was in use within the Augustinian Order for decades before it came to connote what is now meant by the historical term, "the Reformation.")
(Continued on the next page.)