Further duties came Luther's way at the Chapter of the German Observantine Augustinians that took place in Gotha in May 1515, when Luther, at the age of thirty-one years, was appointed as the Augustinian Rural Vicar (i.e., regional vicar) for the Augustinian observant communities in Meissen and Thuringia.
This gave Luther supervisory responsibility over eleven Augustinian communities in his area, and made him a sub-agent (a so-called Rural Vicar) to the Vicar General, Johann Staupitz. The obligation to visit and oversee the religious observance of eleven other Augustinian houses was the last thing that the overworked and stressed Luther in any way needed.
His responsibilities as Regional Vicar could sometimes - but not always - be conducted by letter. In one instance on 25th September 1616 he wrote to the friary at Neustadt/Oral to depose a Prior, and to order the community to elect a new one. It was not an easy thing to do. The opening paragraph of the letter is one of admionition. Quoting the Rule of St Augustine, he stated that the community was not "of one mind and one heart."
Another letter from Luther as Rural Vicar earlier in 1516 was addressed to his friend Johann Lang O.S.A., just after the latter’s appointment as Prior at Erfurt. Luther had been there on an official visitation and on his return to Wittenberg wrote to Lang about the friary's guest house. Luther suggested it some were using it too much as a convenient hotel, and that Lang might want to keep a tally of exactly how much was eaten and drunk there each day.
Describing his workload at Wittenberg at this time, Luther wrote to his friend Johann Lang at the Augustinian priory in Erfurt: “I could use two secretaries. I do almost nothing during the day but write letters. I am a preacher, a reader at meals, director of studies… overseer of the fish pond at Litzkau, referee of the squabble at Torgau, lecturer on Paul, collector of material on the Psalms... I rarely have times for the canonical hours and for saying Mass, not to mention my own temptations with the world, the flesh and the devil. See how lazy I am!”
During 1515 Luther found his measure in preaching. In the previous year he had begun to preach to the populace at the parish church of St Mary in Wittenberg, three or four minutes’ walk from the Cloister. At first he had been asked to stand in when the regular preacher was ill; he was so much liked that the City Council invited him to be the regular assistant. It was a tasked Luther liked, but nevertheless was a further demand on his time.
Yet beneath his voluble busy exterior, enormous concerns were brewing within his spirit, and his fellow friars saw something of what his hectic life was costing him. On more than one occasion he took his duties so seriously that he fell very badly behind with the recitation of the obligatory psalms of the friar's Divine Office — and not just one day's psalms, but weeks of them.
He then shut himself up in his cell with neither food nor drink, and read the required texts until he reached the end of the complete tally. So strongly did he feel the obligation imposed by Canon Law that he could not hold himself excused for any reason. The consecrated man felt he could not face his superiors or his God if he had not fulfilled the rules, as if God were trapping him by asking him either for perfection or for the impossible.
Here was a friar overworked and overwrought, especially when this probably was also the same year (1515) to which some scholars attribute Luther with a life-changing "Tower experience" - his theological breakthrough moment - while studying St Paul's Epistle to the Romans in his office in the tower of the Augustinian Priory at Wittenberg (see below).
After Luther received his doctorate in theology in 1512, he had assumed the position as Theology Professor at Wittenberg University. He gave lectures on the Psalms (1514-15), Letter to the Romans (1515-16), Letter to the Galatians (1516-17), and Letter to the Hebrews (1517-18).
This time is characterised by Luther's grappling with theological understanding. His decisive religious enlightenment is said to have come during his intensive study of the Letter to the Romans, when he realized that people receive justice through the grace of God, and not through good works: "For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, "The one who is righteous will live by faith." (Romans 1:17)
Luther himself stated that he came to this decisive realization in the study room of the Wittenberg monastery. When precisely this happened is disputed; it is also known as the Tower experience (Turmerlebenis).
(Continued on the next page.)