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History of the Christian Church, Volume VII. Modern Christianity. The German Reformation.
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§ 22. Luther and Staupitz.


The mystic writings of Staupitz have been republished in part by Knaake in Johannis Staupitii Opera. Potsdam, 1867, vol. I. His "Nachfolge Christi" was first published in 1515; his book "Von der Liebe Gottes" (especially esteemed by Luther) in 1518, and passed through several editions; republ. by Liesching, Stuttgart, 1862. His last work "Von, dem heiligen rechten christlichen Glauben," appeared after his death, 1525, and is directed against Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith without works. His twenty-four letters have been published by Kolde: Die Deutsche Augustiner Congregation und Johann von Staupitz. Gotha, 1879, p. 435 sqq.


II. On Luther and Staupitz: Grimm: De Joh. Staupitio ejusque in sacr. instaur. meritis, in Illgen’s "Zeitschrift für Hist. Theol.," 1837 (VII, 74–79). Ullmann: Die Reformatoren vor der Reformation, vol. II., 256–284 (very good, see there the older literature). Döllinger: Die Reformation, I., 153–155. Kahnis: Deutsche Reformat., I., 150 sqq. Albr. Ritschl: Die Lehre v. der Rechtfertigung und Versöhnung, 2d ed., I., 124–129 (on Staupitz’s theology). Mallet: in Herzog,2 XIV., 648–653. Paul Zeller: Staupitz. Seine relig. dogmat. Anschauungen und dogmengesch. Stellung, in the "Theol. Studien und Kritiken," 1879. Ludwig Keller: Johann von Staupitz, und das Waldenserthum, in the "Historische Taschenbuch," ed. by W. Maurenbrecher, Leipzig, 1885, p. 117–167; also his Johann von Staupitz und die Anfänge der Reformation, Leipzig, 1888. Dr. Keller connects Staupitz with the Waldenses and Anabaptists, but without proof. Kolde: Joh. von Staup. ein Waldenser und Wiedertäufer, in Brieger’s "Zeitschrift für Kirchengesch." Gotha, 1885, p. 426–447. Dieckhoff: Die Theol. des Joh. v. Staup., Leipz., 1887.


In this state of mental and moral agony, Luther was comforted by an old monk of the convent (the teacher of the novices) who reminded him of the article on the forgiveness of sins in the Apostles’ Creed, of Paul’s word that the sinner is justified by grace through faith, and of an incidental remark of St. Bernard (in a Sermon on the Canticles) to the same effect.

His best friend and wisest counsellor was Johann von Staupitz, Doctor of Divinity and Vicar-General of the Augustinian convents in Germany. Staupitz was a Saxon nobleman, of fine mind, generous heart, considerable biblical and scholastic learning, and deep piety, highly esteemed wherever known, and used in important missions by the Elector Frederick of Saxony. He belonged to the school of practical mysticism or Catholic pietism, which is best represented by Tauler and Thomas a Kempis. He cared more for the inner spiritual life than outward forms and observances, and trusted in the merits of Christ rather than in good works of his own, as the solid ground of comfort and peace. The love of God and the imitation of Christ were the ruling ideas of his theology and piety. In his most popular book, On the Love of God,128128    It passed through three editions between 1518 and 1520. See Knaake, I., 86 sq. Keller says that it was often republished by the Anabaptists, whom he regards as the successors of the mediaeval Waldenses, or "Brethren." he describes that love as the inmost being of God, which makes everything lovely, and should make us love Him above all things; but this love man cannot learn from man, nor from the law which only brings us to a knowledge of sin, nor from the letter of the Scripture which kills, but from the Holy Spirit who reveals God’s love in Christ to our hearts and fills it with the holy flame of gratitude and consecration. "The law," he says in substance, "makes known the disease, but cannot heal. But the spirit is hid beneath the letter; the old law is pregnant with Christ who gives us grace to love God above all things. To those who find the spirit and are led to Christ by the law, the Scriptures become a source of edification and comfort. The Jews saw and heard and handled Christ, but they had him not in their heart, and therefore they were doubly guilty. And so are those who carry Christ only on their lips. The chief thing is to have him in our heart. The knowledge of the Christian faith and the love to God are gifts of pure grace beyond our art and ability, and beyond our works and merits."

Staupitz was Luther’s spiritual father, and "first caused the light of the gospel to shine in the darkness of his heart."129129    "Per quem primum coepit Evangelii lux de tenebris splendescere in cordibus nostris." So Luther says in his letter to Staupitz, Sept. 17, 1518 (DeWette II., 408 sq.), where he addresses him as "reverendus in Christo pater," and signs himself "filius tuus Martinus Lutherus." He directed him from his sins to the merits of Christ, from the law to the cross, from works to faith, from scholasticism to the study of the Scriptures, of St. Augustin, and Tauler. He taught him that true repentance consists not in self-imposed penances and punishments, but in a change of heart and must proceed from the contemplation of Christ’s sacrifice, in which the secret of God’s eternal will was revealed. He also prophetically assured him that God would overrule these trials and temptations for his future usefulness in the church.130130    In a letter of comfort to Hieronymus Weller, Nov. 6, 1530 (DeWette, IV., 187), Luther says, that in his sadness and distress in the convent he consulted Staupitz and opened to him his "horrendas et terrificas cogitationes," and that he was told by him: "Nescis Martine, quam tibi illa tenatio sit utilis et necessaria. Non enim temere te sic exercet Deus, videbis, quod ad res magnas gerendas te ministro utetur."

He encouraged Luther to enter the priesthood (1507), and brought him to Wittenberg; he induced him to take the degree of Doctor of Divinity, and to preach. He stirred him up against popery,131131    Luther: "D. Staupitius me incitabat contra papam (al. papatum)." In Colloquia, ed. Bindseil, III., 188. and protected him in the transactions with Cardinal Cajetan. He was greeted by Scheurl in 1518 as the one who would lead the people of Israel out of captivity.

But when Luther broke with Rome, and Rome with Luther, the friendship cooled down. Staupitz held fast to the unity of the Catholic Church and was intimidated and repelled by the excesses of the Reformation. In a letter of April 1, 1524,132132    First published by K. Krafft, in "Briefe und Documente aus der Zeit der Reformation," Elberfeld (1876), p. 54 sq. he begs Luther’s pardon for his long silence and significantly says in conclusion: "May Christ help us to live according to his gospel which now resounds in our ears and which many carry on their lips; for I see that countless persons abuse the gospel for the freedom of the flesh.133133    "Ad liberatum carnis video innumeros abuti evangelio." Having been the precursor of the holy evangelical doctrine, I trust that my entreaties may have some effect upon thee." The sermons which he preached at Salzburg since 1522 breathe the same spirit and urge Catholic orthodoxy and obedience.134134    Extracts from these sermons were first published by Kolde. His last book, published after his death (1525) under the title, "Of the holy true Christian Faith," is a virtual protest against Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith alone and a plea for a practical Christianity which shows itself in good works. He contrasts the two doctrines in these words: "The fools say, he who believes in Christ., needs no works; the Truth says, whosoever will be my disciple, let him follow Me; and whosoever will follow Me, let him deny himself and carry my cross day by day; and whosoever loves Me, keeps my commandments .... The evil spirit suggests to carnal Christians the doctrine that man is justified without works, and appeals to Paul. But Paul only excluded works of the law which proceed from fear and selfishness, while in all his epistles he commends as necessary to salvation such works as are done in obedience to God’s commandments, in faith and love. Christ fulfilled the taw, the fools would abolish the law; Paul praises the law as holy and good, the fools scold and abuse it as evil because they walk according to the flesh and have not the mind of the Spirit."135135    Knaake, l.c., I., 130 sqq.; Keller, Reform., 346 sq. It must have been this book which Link sent to Luther in the year 1525, and which Luther returned with a very unfavorable judgment. Döllinger (l.c. I., 155) thinks that Luther looked upon the death of Staupitz as a sort of divine judgment, as he looked afterward upon the death of Zwingli.

Staupitz withdrew from the conflict, resigned his position, 1520, left his order by papal dispensation, became abbot of the Benedictine Convent of St. Peter in Salzburg and died Dec. 28, 1524) in the bosom of the Catholic church which he never intended to leave.136136    Neverthless his books were put in the Index by the Council of Trent, 1563, and were burnt as heretical with all his correspondence by order of his successor, Abbot Martin of St. Peter, in the court of the convent at Salzburg in 1584. See Fr. Hein. Reusch (Old Cath.),Der Index der verbotenen Bücher, Bd. I. (Bonn, 1883), p. 279: "Staupitius ist in den Index gekommen, weil Cochlaeus bei dem Jahre 1517ihn neben Luther als Gegner Tetzels erwähnt. Er ist in der 1. Classe geblieben bis auf diesen Tag, obschon man in Rom oder wenigstens in Trient, jedenfalls Benedict XIV. wohl hätte wissen können, dass er als guter Katholik, als Abt von St. Peter zu Salzburg gestorben." This is only one of several hundred errors in this papal catalogue of heretical books. He was evangelical, without being a Protestant.137137    Or, as Luther expressed it in his letter to Staupitz of Feb. 9, 1521, he wavered between Christ and the Pope: "Ich fürcte, ihr möchtet zwischen Christo und dem Papste in der Mitte schwaben, die ihr doch in heftigem Streit sehet." He told him in the same letter that he was no more that preacher of grace and of the cross (ein solcher Gnaden-und Kreuzdiger) as formerly. He cared little for Romanism, less for Lutheranism, all for practical Christianity. His relation to the Reformation resembles that of Erasmus with this difference, that he helped to prepare the way for it in the sphere of discipline and piety, Erasmus in the sphere of scholarship and illumination. Both were men of mediation and transition; they beheld from afar the land of promise, but did not enter it.



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