Illustrations of the life of Martin Luther - HUMILIATION

(Scene : Gate of the Augustine Monastery at Erfurt.) AUTUMN, 1505.
Autor: Labouchere, P. H. (?-?), Erscheinungsjahr: 1862
Enthaltene Themen: Reformation, Reformationszeit, Reformatoren, Martin Luther, Melanchthon, Wittenberg, Wartburg, Eisenach,
IN the autumn of 1505, at break of day, a monk was sweeping out the church of the Augustine monastery at Erfurt, and removing carefully into the street the rubbish he had collected. This monk, a master of arts in the university, who had taught the Physics and Ethics of Aristotle and other branches of philosophy, and who was now employed in the most menial tasks, was Luther. From time to time poor Martin stopped to take breath, for this unusual labour exhausted his strength, now debilitated by poor food and constant vigils. Meanwhile he gave way to gloomy reflections: "What toil!" thought he; "what humiliation! And yet, what are these in comparison with the grief I feel at my father's anger!" The elder Luther, vexed that his son had abandoned an honourable career to become a monk, had written to say that he withdrew all his favour, and banished him from his paternal affection.

Martin, pale, motionless, and bowed down with sorrow, let fall a tear on his father's letter which he held in his hand, when, suddenly, the harsh voice of a monk, exclaiming, "Idler, to your work!" aroused him with a start. He concealed the letter hastily, caught up his broom, and crushing a feeling of pride, completed his sorrowful task. "That is good for me", he said to himself; "my pride must be brought down . . . destroyed. . . . Was not it what I sought in entering the cloister? . . . I would become a holy man, and where can I succeed, if not here?" Having finished, he wound up the clock, and opened the church-door to the worshippers who desired to offer their prayers to God. He then withdrew into his low and narrow cell to give himself up to prayer or study. This did not suit the monks.

The Augustine friars had joyfully welcomed Luther; their vanity had been flattered by seeing a learned doctor forsake the university for their cloister; but inflated with that' pride and obstinacy which are the offspring of ignorance, and fearing lest the young professor should imagine that his learning raised him above them, they had taken pleasure in treating him harshly and setting him about the meanest occupations. - Luther had scarcely entered his cell, when, hearing hasty footsteps, he threw away the book on which he was meditating. A monk opened the door rudely, and guessing at the poor brother's occupation, said to him: "This is how you waste your time? Come, come; all is not cleaned up yet: there is the refectory, and the corridor, and the court, and other places besides . . . loca immunda purgare. Then you will draw the water . . . and chop the wood. . . Do you think we tolerate idlers in the cloister?" . . . Luther, ever submissive, returned humbly to his work, took his hatchet to cut the wood, and looked for the pails to carry the water to the kitchen. "Yes", said he, checking himself, "I desire to learn humility. In the world, if any one is a burgomaster, he desires to become a count; the count, to be a prince; the prince, a king; and the king, emperor; but I would desire to be the servant of all, to be insulted and despised!"

Having ended his work, he stealthily approached a Latin Bible, fastened to a chain, which he had found in the convent. He read and tried to understand it; but the friars soon discovered him. "If we allow him to do this", thought they, "he will become so learned, that he will want to be our master. Ergo saccum per nackum: *) Let him take up his wallet!" and tearing him from his meditations: "Come, come", they said, "not so much study! All a monk needs know is to read the prayers. It is not necessary to understand them: the devil understands them, and flies away when he hears them. Learning and the fine arts are of no use. A man is useful to the cloister, not by studying, but by begging bread, corn, eggs, fish, meat, and money." Then one of the monks placed the sack on his shoulder, and the prior, taking him to the gate, said, with a consequential air and commanding voice: "Gutti sacco per civitatem! With your wallet through the town!"

Luther moved slowly away, and prepared to go through the streets of Erfurt. He had to beg from house to house, to knock at the doors of those who had been his friends, and even his inferiors. This public humiliation seemed harder to him than what he endured in the cloister; but he took courage. "Jesus", said he, "Thou who wast God, didst humble Thyself to become a man, a servant, even to the cross: it should be an easy thing for me . . . for me, a doctor . . . to become a verger, domestic, scavenger, and even a mendicant!" He walked forward, stretching out his hand: one poor woman gave him a herring, another an egg; a beggar gave him a share of the bread he had received; a professor, one of his old colleagues, threw him a piece of money; some of his pupils passed him with a sneer or a whistle; and Luther returned with his burden to the convent to undergo fresh humiliations.

He who humbleth himself shall be exalted, is one of the rules of God's government. When the Son of God came upon earth. He was willing to be born in a stable. If the Reformation was hereafter to become great before God, it was requisite that it also should begin with the mean things of this life. Through dishonour to glory!

*) Luth. pp. xxii., p. 1457. Nackum (nacken), a German word, to which the monks gave a Latin termination.

Luther, Erniedrigung

Luther, Erniedrigung