described Johann von Staupitz O.S.A. as his "father in God," and once said, "If it had not been for Dr. Staupitz, I should have sunk in hell.
Johann von Staupitz is of interest here as the Augustinian superior and mentor of Martin Luther.
He maintained contact with Martin Luther for the rest of his life, yet without leaving the Catholic Church himself.
Staupitz was pious and kindly; in his care of individuals and in the pulpit he succeeded in communicating some of his religious fervour to others.
As a religious superior, however, he was far too indulgent and indecisive, as his attitude and actions in the case of Martin Luther amply demonstrated.
Johann von Stauptiz was born near Leisnig, Germany in about the year 1460. He joined the Order of Saint Augustine, probably at Munich, already possessing a Master of Arts degree.
In the year 1497, he moved to the Augustinian friary at Tübingen, where in 1498 he became leader of the Augustinian community - a very precipitate step, regardless of his considerable personal qualities. There on 29th October 1498 he commenced the biblical course and, on 10th January 1499 (a Iittle more than two months later), he began to deliver theological lectures on the Sentences of Peter Lombard.
Half a year of this qualified him for the Licentiate and a day later, in a step that made a farce of what in previous centuries had been the highest of hard-earned academic accolades, he was designated as a Doctor of Divinity. A generation later, Luther's defective, unmethodical, shallow, self-acquired theological training is more understandable in view of the superficial theological preparation of Staupitz, who in many ways was Luther's mentor.
Staupitz was subsequently made leader of the Augustinian community at Munich, and in 1503 was elected Vicar-General of the observant congregation
of the Augustinians in Germany.
On a tour of visitation Staupitz became acquainted with Luther in the house (convento
) of the Order at Erfurt
Staupitz was grieved at the state of the church and the corruption within the arena of morals and of doctrine. He wrote with passion to correct these things, and also articles about the Christian faith and the love of Christ.
Like many before him, he was not a reformer and did not desire to go beyond the duties that had been given to him by the church. However, his affections for people made him a helpful overseer of the convents and he took an interest in helping Martin Luther, the youthful and fearful friar.
To judge Staupitz from Luther's subsequent remarks, he came nearer than anyone else to understanding the convoluted struggle that was taking place within Luther's soul. He consoled Martin, who was weak from the fasting and sacrifices that he undertook in a desire to compensate for his perceived personal evil.
Staupitz bade Luther to turn from an endless consideration of his own sins, and instead to ponder the grace of God and of the redemption of humanity in the Blood of Christ. He also taught him the wisdom of waiting patiently for God's grace in prayer, and not to strive endlessly for a peace of soul through human effort. For this encouragement of his spirit Luther remained always grateful. Staupitz later admitted, however, that there had been depths to Luther's soul that he could not plumb.
In his earlier years, Staupitz had gone to school with Prince Frederick the Wise, who was the Elector (ruler) of Saxony. In the last years of the fifteenth century he began talks with the Augustinians about founding a university there. Elector Frederick would himself provide the buildings if the Augustinians would provide the core of professors. They agreed to do this and to increase their community in Wittenberg, eventually arranging that Staupitz, a member of a noble Saxon family and thus suited to working with the Elector, should be invited to come over from the Augustinian friary in Munich and take on the chair of Biblical Study at the university.
Frederick set about building the university lecture halls and provided money both for new buildings for the friars and for his own property at the other end of the main street, the Castle (for his occasional visits from his permanent residence at Torgau) and the Castle Church, on whose doors not many years afterwards Martin Luther's ninety-five theses would immortalize.
In 1510 Luther, along with all other Augustinians in Erfurt, opposed the plan by Staupitz that later came to be called the "controversy of the German observantines."
As an effort at reform of the weaker communities, Staupitz wanted the eight German Augustine observant houses (i.e., those observing the Rule of Augustine more strictly) to be more strongly united with the other Augustinian houses under his charge.
Erfurt was an observantine house, and opposed the intention of Staupitz for fear that it would dilute the fervour or the progress of reform at Erfurt.
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