There were many members of the Order of Saint Augustine who were scholars in the four German provinces before and during the years that Martin Luther was an active member of the Order.
Their theology was distinguished by a deep spiritual tradition and an interest in mysticism, as well as in the reform of the Church.
The Latin word, reformatio - Reformation - was in use in the Order in Germany for decades before Luther parted with Rome.
That Martin Luther was an Augustinian everyone seems to know. Assertions that this was in some way was a reflection on the Augustinian Order, that the Order was responsible for his break with the Catholic Church, or that his Augustinian brethren largely abetted him and accompanied him in his conflict are by and large unwarranted.
Martin Luther (1483-1546) became the most famous of the German Augustinians of the observant movement.
He joined the Augustinian community in the German town of Erfurt in 1505, and took his first vows there in 1506.
His minimal and rather inadequate formal training in theology involved various, and undoubtedly misleading, impressions about the theology of Thomas Aquinas.
The resulting discomfort of Luther with the scholastic theology of Aquinas, as well as his reliance on the Bible and Augustine (both very characteristic of the Augustinian school of theology) formed the intellectual foundation for the Protestant Reformation.
Despite his original intentions, the teaching of Luther at the University of Wittenberg led to difficulties with Rome.
His actions, and the clumsy response of the Church to them, eventually split the Western Church.
It is almost paradoxical that Augustine is the Father of the Church most cited in the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas, while other parts of the writing of Augustine are the foundation of the Reformation thought of Martin Luther and John Calvin.
Then in 1522 Luther translated the entire New Testament of the Bible from the original Greek into German in a mere three months while imprisoned in Wartburg.
In doing this, he is credited with reforming not only the church but the very German language too. "I endeavored," said Luther, "to make Moses so German that no one would suspect he was a Jew."
But there is a historical footnote. The translation of the Bible into English by ex-Augustinian Miles Coverdale a year after Luther's German edition was in some ways a more audacious step because Coverdale was the one who was breaking newer ground in his own native tongue.
Contrary to popular belief, there were numerous German-language bibles before Luther's translation. Indeed, there is ample evidence for the general use of the entire vernacular German Bible in the fifteenth century. For example, in 1466, before Martin Luther was even born, the Mentel Bible, a High German vernacular Bible was printed at Strassburg. This edition was based on a no-longer-existing fourteenth-century manuscript translation of the Vulgate from the area of Nuremberg. Before 1518 and the Protestant Reformation, it had been reprinted at least thirteen times.
But this is not to deny the popular version of the Bible by Luther had a stabilising effect on the further development of the German language.
(Continued on the next page.)
For the page in Augnet on the effects of Luther on the Augustinian Order, click here.
The Spiritual tradition of Luther: A Reappraisal of His Contribution. An article by Endel Kallas in the journal, Spirituality Today, Winter edition of 1982, Vol. 34, No. 4, pp. 292-302. Luther's contribution to the spiritual tradition of the West was to highlight the potential for a rich spiritual life among laity busy with "worldly" tasks.
The 95 Theses of Martin Luther. Listed one after another. Other pages of this web site have an illustrated history of the various facets of the life of Luther.