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Luther: A Life by John M. Todd


John M. Todd is the author of a number of books, including Reformation, and John Wesley and the Catholic Church. Luther: A Life was published in 1982 by The Crossroad Publishing Company. This book was prepared for Religion Online by Harry W. and Grace C. Adams.


Chapter 3: The New Priest


In the early evenings the friars chanted Vespers in the great church, leaning back on the misericords in the choir stalls; as each psalm came to an end they stood up and bowed in praise of the trinitarian God, Glory be to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit — through all ages of ages; per omnia saecula saeculorum.’ There was a sense timelessness further enhanced on Sundays when the Psalms were sung in one or other of the eight plain chant modes. Towards the end came the Magnficat (the song Luke put into the mouth of Mary the mother of Jesus in his version of the Gospel), with its inspiring poetry, Magnficat anima mea Dominum, ‘My soul doth magnify the Lord. . . He that is mighty hath done great things for me: and holy is his name. . .He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. . .He hath put down the mighty from their seat and hath exalted the humble and meek. . . He hath filled the hungry with good things and the rich he hath sent empty away.’ Brother Martin’s spirit soared and remained high as the friars processed out of the church to the refectory along the other side of the cloister garth, for supper.

Later, before bed, came the final choir office, Compline completion with its brief and beautiful little ‘anthem’ to Mary at the end; it changed with the seasons, but for much of the year from late May till December it was the Salve Regina ‘Hail, Holy Queen’. And so to the communal dormitory under the roof, hot in the middle of summer, cold in winter, but at all times providing the security of the common life.

Early in the morning, before first light during most of the year, the friars went with lanterns or candles into the church for the first office of the day, Matins, a lengthy text, followed by Lauds, an office of praise and rejoicing. Then the friars who were priests would disperse to individual altars to say their own daily Mass, those who were not away preaching in another town or village, or who were not required for some public Mass in Erfurt. The day went on with shaking up the mattresses, other duties and more offices, eventually a meal. In Brother Martin’s mind the poetry of the Psalms jostled with Vergil’s Georgics and other classical Latin texts. Already he was becoming sharply aware of the crucial semitic dimension of the Psalms, wanting to study the Old Testament text in its original Hebrew. Again when the text of the New Testament itself was intoned, in readings from the New Testament, from John, from Paul and other writers, he began to sense the bite of the original and more intellectual Greek, standing behind the fourth-century Latin text of Jerome’s translation (the Vulgate), Latin which was now part of Luther’s natural and normal way of expressing himself.

The seasons changed: the short but hot summer, with its sultry days, the vines ripening on the lower hillsides along with nuts and other fruits, the haymaking and cattle fattening in the valleys, fields of corn for bread and beer, and all around the great rolling forests. In Erfurt itself there was a sense of civilisation over-ripe, with the tenseness which goes with too many people knowing too much about the unresolved problems, an increasing number of intellectuals opting out into the burgeoning renaissance of human studies, the arts; others moving as ever into the law, or into banking and commerce. And everywhere were the priests to forgive the sinfulness of it all, and make amends with their frequent sacrifices in church. Finally, back behind it all was a sense of ‘the other,’ for many not much more than a fear of what they deserved, for others a deep yearning for the spiritual life. And soon Brother Martin would himself have the burden of all this on his own priestly shoulders.

Monastic communities were divided into the educated and the uneducated. The latter, lay brothers, did most of the menial tasks, assisted by the novices; in a big community like that of the Augustinian house, these tasks might include such things as brewing beer — the Erfurt cloister was substantial, and sometimes they would be putting on a meal for as many as two hundred. The educated members of the community were priests, or aspiring priests; normally they were ordained within two or three years of joining. When the major reforms of the Catholic Church eventually came, late in the century, they included new regulations for a six-year preparation of men for the priesthood; in Luther’s time preparation was brief. Brother Martin studied an exposition of the Mass by Gabriel Biel – a well-written book, intellectual and inspiring; the author died only twelve years previously. Apart from that, major emphasis was laid on learning the precise detail of the actions of the priest when celebrating Mass, as well as on memorising the text. Then there was some training for preaching, and later for hearing confessions. But the Mass was the heart of a priest’s life. In a few months’ time Martin would be saying Mass at twenty-three years old, still so close to his contemporaries, and yet now so definitely different.

The rite of Mass arose sometime in the first years after the death of Jesus of Nazareth in Israel. It was intended as a reenactment of the supper which Jesus had with his disciple on the night before he was crucified, a supper in the context of the annual Jewish Passover. The New Testament has several descriptions of it, and records that Jesus told his disciples to do again what he then did. Almost certainly the earliest description of the ‘Last Supper’, as it came to be known, is that which reads as follows: The Lord Jesus, on the night of his arrest, took some bread, and, after giving thanks to God, broke it and said: ‘This is my body which is for you; do this in remembrance of me. In the same way he took the cup after supper and said "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Whenever you drink it, do this in remembrance of me.’" The followers of Jesus, soon to be called Christians (after ‘Christ’, meaning the Anointed, a name given early on, to Jesus), began to meet together in the earliest days, to celebrate this remembrance, which they called also thanksgiving, eucharist. And from early days they set men aside to conduct the rite. They spoke of it as a sacrament and believed Jesus, crucified, risen and ascended to his Father in heaven, to be especially present in the bread and wine, which they consumed. Gradually the assemblies became more formalised. At their best these ritual meetings seem to have become great liturgical occasions, a public expression of the generically religious experience, the sense both of ultimate dependence and of spiritual freedom. At their worst they became very like the pagan rituals which the Bible text holds not to be pleasing to God or appropriate to men, occasions for offering sacrifices in order to bribe God and buy off his anger. Even at their worst there was something authentic about them, some recognition of man’s dependence on ‘something else’, something genuinely exciting and inspiring. But there was a grave tension between the mechanical, indeed financial approach to the divine, and authentic religion – a tension already sensed by Martin.

The best theologians were aware of the danger that ordinary folk would treat the Mass as the equivalent of a pagan sacrifice, and all the more so on account of the use made of Indulgences. It all looked like a routine, and like magic. Their explanations of the Mass often tended to sound only like super-magic. Biel taught a mysticism which said that the soul of a worthy participant was changed into the body of Christ through a most intimate union, when he or she consumed the consecrated bread (only priests took the wine as well). Three centuries earlier the western love of definition had led scholars to say that the bread and wine used at Mass were changed during the rite in a way they defined as ‘transubstantiation’. The Mass itself was a sacrificial prayer which could be applied to those for whom it was specially celebrated, even if not present. It was, however, specially for those who were present — at this point, Biel added: ‘I mean those who really participate, not those loafing around (circumgirantium).’ Biel is not entirely happy, as a theologian, with transubstantiation as a description of what happens to the bread and wine though he entirely accepted it, and often waxed lyrical about the Mass: ‘What super-excellent glory of the priest to hold and dispense his God, distributing Him to others.’ Looking back on these months of study in later years, Luther commented, ‘My heart would bleed when I read Biel’s text.’

One thing Biel emphasised, like all expositors of the Mass, was the need for purity of heart in the priest, in him who dispensed this sacrament of the divine life. And this took him straight to the question that theologians had discussed for more than a thousand years, about the extent to which man could do something about purifying himself, and about whether he could do anything good without God’s help. ‘Grace’, gratia, was the word used for the help God gave, the divine life in each Christian. This grace, available through baptism and the other sacraments, was it not available in any way to those who had not been baptised through no fault of their own? How did grace work? Was it necessary even before man could take any steps towards the good, even for preparing the heart for full grace to take root there? Logically and psychologically they felt they must allow for an initiative in man’s self; for what they came to call facere quod in se est’, to do what one could. (Some have labelled this as semi-Pelagianism — Pelagius was the fifth century British heretic of free will.) So Biel reached the point where he could say that absolute love of God for God’s sake, or above everything, even though a tough assignment, is within reach of natural man; grace is not the root but the fruit of the preparatory good works which a Christian can do by himself.

This measuring up to God was already an anxiety to Martin. He wondered how he could be fit to perform the priestly acts. His depressive side began to express itself theologically; how could he ever succeed in living up to the Christian ideals? Sex seems not to have been a major problem, at first anyway, in these moral worries. ‘In the monastery I felt little sexual desire. I had nocturnal pollutions in answer to nature,’ he said in later years. It was not women, but really knotty problems that worried him. Even after the emptying of the friaries, Luther did not, like many others, marry within months. Conscious sexual drives were not dominant. In the first two years it was rather a growing concern about his relationship with God, a feeling that he was always doing something wrong, was never as good as he ought to be, a failure to love God. It was common among dedicated monks and friars. Canon Law provided for numerous Big Brothers. Law and love provided a special tension in the Mass itself.

The first Mass was an ordeal. Although his brethren would be entirely sympathetic, Luther knew they would all be watching out for slips; and any mistake at Mass was a serious sin. The enormous importance attached to the precise fulfilment of a very large number of rubrics about how the text should be read and what gestures should be made, threatened one. There were sharp contradictions here. The priesthood was concerned with people’s ‘souls’, and nothing could be of a higher or more wonderful stature than the priest. At the same time all the emphasis, in the day-to-day life, was put on the detail of how to earn merit, how to do right all the things which Canon Law said needed to be done, including the sacred ritual to be meticulously observed. As yet, however, for Martin the tension remained largely unformulated at any theological level. Worry about achievement was dominant.

First came the ordination itself. On 3 April Brother Martin ascended the steps out of Erfurt’s central Platz up to the recently built great late Gothic Cathedral of St Mary, next to its older sister church of St Severus. It was another occasion like that of the clothing and of the vows. Martin was prostrate again before the altar. The local Bishop, Johann Bonemilch von Lasphe, put the symbolic stole, a long thin scarf, and the chasuble, the vestment, on him and said, ‘Receive the power of consecrating and sacrificing for the living and the dead.’ Back in the Friary the brethren congratulated him, and there was a little celebration.

Now he had to start serious preparation for his first Mass in a few weeks’ time. Martin was half glad and half disconcerted to hear that his father was going to make a special occasion of this event and ride over to Erfurt with some friends. A date had to be found which would suit him, as well as the Friary. Sunday, 2 May, was decided on.

Martin wanted his friends and patrons to be there — one had remained strongly supporting him and specially close since the Eisenach days, Father Johann Braun, of the Franciscan house there. Martin wrote and invited him. The letter is the earliest surviving example of Luther’s words. Though not of outstanding importance, it introduces the ipsissima verba for the first time; one can see what sort of an impact the young man makes on paper. It was a rather florid sort of letter, in the obsequious style considered right to be adopted by a junior to a Senior with, however, a certain personal and affectionate character to it, typical of Luther. Written in Latin it was addressed: ‘To the pious and venerable Johann Braun, a priest of Christ and Mary, Superior at Eisenach, my dearest friend in Christ.’ The text then starts:

Greetings in Christ Jesus, our Lord. I would be afraid, kindest Sir, to disturb your loving self with my burdensome letters and wishes, if I did not know (on the basis of your gracious heart, so generously inclined towards me) of the sincere friendship I have experienced in so many ways and favours. So I do not hesitate to write this letter to you, trusting that in the closeness of our mutual friendship you will listen, and that it might find you easily approachable.

God, who is glorious and holy in all his works, has deigned to exalt me magnificently — a miserable and totally unworthy sinner — by calling me into his supreme ministry solely on the basis of his bounteous mercy. Therefore I have to fulfill completely the office entrusted to me so that I may be acceptable (as much as dust can be acceptable to God) to such great splendour of divine goodness.

Though not so far removed from the language, for instance, of the fifteenth-century Of the Imitation of Christ, there was a certain vehemence about the language which was a presage of things to come: ‘According to the decision of the fathers here, it is settled that I should start, with the help of God’s grace, on the fourth Sunday following Easter, which we call Cant ate. This is the day appointed for my first Mass before God, because it is convenient to my father. To this then, kind friend I invite you humbly, perhaps even boldly.’ But it was not really so bold, because Father Braun had evidently always seen in Luther someone he would like to help and had entertained Martin quite recently, when the latter was on a visit for the Friars to Eisenach:

I do this certainly not because I consider myself in a position. . . to request you to inconvenience yourself with the trouble of such a journey to visit me, a poor and humble man; but do so because I experienced your good will and your obvious kindness toward me when I visited you the other day, and in great abundance on many other occasions.

Therefore, dearest Father, Sir and Friar (the first title is due to your age and office, the second due to your merits, the third due to your Order), please honour me with your presence if time and your clerical or domestic duties permit and support me with your valuable presence and prayers, that my sacrifice may be acceptable to God . . . Perhaps you will bring along my relation Conrad, who was once sacristan at St Nicholas Church, and anyone you may wish as a travelling companion so long as he has freed himself from domestic obligations and will enjoy coming.

Luther was always keen about domestic duties, and the social order generally — these had to be satisfied before an outing was to be undertaken. Finally, there is a brief paragraph about Father Braun’s sleeping and boarding arrangements for the visit. It would be appropriate for him to stay not in the noisy guest house but in an unoccupied cell in the friary.

Finally I urge you to come right into the monastery to stay with us this little while (I am not afraid that you will settle down here!) and not look for quarters elsewhere. You will have to become a cellarius, that is an inhabitant of a monastic cell.

Farewell in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

Written at our cloister in Erfurt on 22 April, the year of our Lord, 1507.

Then Martin suddenly remembers the Schalbes. Until then, apparently, it had not occurred to him that these superior people might like to come; but of course they might hear about the event from Father Braun, so he added after the signature a further note which speaks volumes about the social stratification in little Eisenach:

I do not dare to importune or burden those excellent people of the Schalbe Foundation, who certainly have done so much for me. I am sure that it would not befit their social position and prestige to be invited to such an unimportant and humble affair, or to be bothered by the wishes of a monk who is now dead to the world. In addition I am uncertain and somewhat dubious whether an invitation would please or annoy them. Therefore I have decided to be silent; but if there should be an opportunity, I wish you would express my gratitude to them. Farewell.

The messages went off, and above all arrangements were made for Martin’s father’s party to come. Big Hans was bringing a cash gift of about £200, and coming with twenty friends on horseback. Martin toiled away at the rite, the gestures and the text; and kept up his prayers, and tried ever to be in that good disposition in which a monk or friar is supposed to be.

Martin’s nervousness did not abate as the day drew nearer. The day of the first Mass shared some of the tensions of a wedding. being the intensely public celebration of something which in some ways was a matter that made one wish to withdraw from the public eye. The new priest wanted to keep himself very collected in his mind, detached, ‘ recollected’ as the jargon goes in church circles. Yet it was impossibly difficult to keep out the ‘distractions’ of the world. Friends and relations and all Martin’s brethren would be present for the first public liturgy that he would conduct. There would be torches, again. Possibly his mother would be present for him to bless after the Mass, and she would kiss his newly appointed hands.

The day itself proved to be, if not exactly a disaster, a day which Luther could not remember without quaking, and he often returned to the topic in later years. The ‘Table Talk’ has a number of references to it. Taken down by different hands and differing in detail, they witness to two things which remained burnt into Martin’s mind.

First was the celebration of the Mass itself. He made no mistakes. But his state of spiritual and theological seriousness triggered off a moment of paralysis and horror. It occurred at the beginning of the ‘Canon’ of the Mass, the long central prayer which recalls the ‘Last Supper’ and includes the consecration of the bread and the wine. Martin was standing at the high altar, and began the prayer: ‘Te igitur, clementissime Pater. . .Therefore, oh most merciful Father.’ Suddenly, he was overtaken in a flash by an instant identity crisis. How dare he, how could he actually speak to God? The whole thing was unthinkable. He felt obliterated in the face of the assumption that he was to address God. For a moment he made as if to leave the altar, and said something to the Prior who was standing by him, to assist him at his first Mass, as was the custom, precisely in case the new celebrant experienced any difficulty. The Prior smiled and turned him back to his task. In a moment it was over. From the body of the church, nothing strange would have been noticed — the celebrant with his back to the congregation had to move about from time to time in any case. Martin returned to the text and continued the Mass, sweating and shaken, but safely couched again in the routine.

Writing in later years Luther said of this moment: ‘At these words I was utterly stupefied and terror-struck. I thought to myself, "With what tongue shall I address such Majesty. . .Who am I that I should lift up my eyes . . ? At his nod the earth trembles. . . And shall I, a miserable pygmy, say I want this, I ask for that? For I am dust and ashes and I am speaking to the living, eternal and true God"!’ The interesting thing is that the prayer, like almost every Christian liturgical prayer, does not in fact presume to address God directly. God is always addressed through his ‘Son’, Jesus. The prayer in question goes: ‘Therefore oh most merciful Father, through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord we come to thee. . .’, and Luther had known this for some time, probably many years. But, Jesus tended to be thought of as ‘God’ rather than ‘man’; and Luther’s mind was already tending towards a crisis; the paralysing four Latin words with which the prayer began had their effect regardless of what the rational mind knew would follow them; the moment of horror ensued. If linked to a psychosis about authority through his father, it would have been all the stronger and the more unbearable — the words addressed God precisely as ‘Father’.

Luther’s existential psychosis about addressing God had a respectable pedigree. The Jews had always refused to address Him directly—they had a name for him Jehovah, Yahweh, or ‘the Lord’. God himself was the unnameable the unmentionable, the one before whom one must veil one’s face. Here was Luther putting it to the test, psychologically, and nearly succumbing. His anguished internal cry, only marginally visible externally, was the first note of a theme which he was to orchestrate vastly in later years. The revolution he started was precisely about the matter of how man is to manage his relationship with that which men call God.

The Mass over, there followed the relaxation of the Rule usual on such occasions, with a celebratory meal in the Guest House, Father Braun and Martin’s other friends in attendance. But dominating the scene were the burghers of Mansfeld. They felt they could enjoy themselves now that the purpose of the visit had been fulfilled and they had witnessed the first Mass of Hans Luder’s son — Hans Luder who had further justified his visit with a substantial gift to the monastery. But now the second crucial event of this crucial day occurred. The whole business of his son’s vocation still rankled in Hans Luther’s mind. Martin had acted against his wishes, and resentment still glowed. Excited by the Prior’s best wine and beer he ragged Martin when the conversation turned to his decision to become a friar and priest, the thunderstorm, the vow. ‘Ha, so long as it wasn’t all some illusion of the devil,’ he said, with typical German badinage of the rather crude kind. Martin tried to explain, but his father was more than half serious and in no mood to be answered back:

‘Haven’t you heard the commandment Thou shalt honour thy Father and Mother"?’ This produced silence in the room, for a moment, Luther’s glands were working and his whole person was deeply embarrassed and upset, to judge by the frequency with which he returned to the event later in life. His father was suggesting on the basis of those authoritative Ten Commandments of the Old Testament that he should never have become a monk at all.

The day came to an end and Martin, chastened, could fall back into his place in the community as the junior priest. He was told to resume his University studies. It was, in its way, a comforting feeling, to be back at the beginning again of a lengthy journey, this time through the post-graduate stages. Father Martin was already earmarked as a future teacher. Study, especially study of the Bible, was a pleasure to him: ‘At first, in the monastery, I devoured the Bible.’ His theology tutor in the Friary, Father Nathin (Father Paltz had moved to be Prior in a Rhineland friary after a disagreement with his brethren at Erfurt), had known Biel and been one of his pupils.

Luther’s path was well marked out. First he would study for the Baccalaureus Biblicus, a five-year course which was often shortened in the case of good students from Religious Orders. This degree qualified a man to lecture on the Bible – at the moment Father Luther could lecture only in philosophy, on the strength of his Master’s degree, though he had not been called on to do so. After the biblical degree came another, two-year course leading to the crown of the Theology programme; by this final degree a man was designated Sententiarius, qualified to lecture on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, the key theology text in all theology schools, a great compilation of texts made in the twelfth century, and very widely commentated since then. After that there remained only a Doctorate in Theology, something which a man might or might not hope to obtain later in life.

After ordination, the young priest soon found celebration of Mass to be a rewarding experience. The worry about getting the rubrics perfectly right gradually resolved itself into the pleasure of achieving a satisfactory celebration of the rite. Luther took great delight in making the rite as nearly as possible adequate to that which it signified. Sometimes this would be out in the town, or in one of the villages, and Martin felt he was playing his part in the divine economy. ‘I was a great archpapist and a really valiant knight of the Mass’ in those days, so he said later. Social status went hand in hand with spiritual and pastoral duty. From the day of this ordination, in spite of accusations of failure to honour him, Luther’s father addressed his son no longer in the familiar second person singular, but with respect in the second person plural. He was ‘Father Martin’ now.

The university programme supplemented by a theology programme in the cloister itself (often the same teacher), was heavy. When attendance in choir had to be missed on account of a lecture, the office missed had to be made up by a private recital later. The days were full, Martin’s deepening response to the round of psalm and prayer, to the study of how man was meant to live, set his emotions ever more stingingly alight, sometimes affirmatively, often negatively. His tendency to depression led him to despair of ever being able to measure up to the set standard, of ever being able to love God. Christ’s arms outstretched seemed to promise a threat rather than an embrace. In later days he said he often imagined Christ sitting in judgement on him at the Last Day. He took up the common practice of prayer to Mary to hold back the arm of her son, justly threatening. He had a round of twenty-one saints to whom he prayed, three at each Mass, for the seven days of the week. ‘The communion of saints’, which in one sense was understood as a sign of present glory, a realisation here and now of a share in the glory of God and his saints in ‘the last times’, became a kind of last hope, a rescue operation. As the despair mounted, Martin saw it as a terrible temptation of the devil. What from a clinical point of view was an attack of acute depression, to him was indeed an attack, but an attack of the devil, an almost physical attack on the inner citadel of his soul. ‘Anfechtung’ was the word Luther came to use for this which was at the same time an ‘attack’ and a ‘temptation’, and something which, at last, he declared to be the only way to find out what theology was really about. Only after an experience of this kind does one fully understand one’s need, fully grasp man’s essential destitution when acting on his own.

Martin took to going to confession frequently. From now on for the next six or eight years his disquiet grew and grew, until he found an answer which at the same time satisfied his intellect and gave him some sense of relief in a wider sense. At times the disquiet became extreme, bordering on some kind of breakdown. In 1518, he wrote of what he had felt not many years before. He was explaining what he took to be the pain of someone, after death., suffering in ‘purgatory’ before admission to heaven, and then went on, quite clearly referring to himself:

I myself ‘knew a man’ [he quotes from St Paul’s famous description of himself being taken up in ecstasy which begins ‘I knew a man’] who claimed that he had often suffered these punishments in fact, over a brief period of time. Yet they were so great and so much like hell that no tongue could adequately express them, no pen could describe them, and one who had not himself experienced them could not believe them. And so great were they that, if they had been sustained or had lasted for half an hour, even for one tenth of an hour, he would have ceased to exist completely and all of his bones would have been reduced to ashes. At such a time God seems terribly angry, and with him the whole creation.

The passage leads onto a description of a kind of mystical suffering with Christ: ‘. . . All that remains is the stark naked desire for help and a terrible groaning, but it does not know where to turn for help . . . In this instance the person is stretched out with Christ so that all his bones may be counted, and every corner of the soul is filled with the greatest bitterness, dread, trembling and sorrow of a kind that is everlasting.’ Allowing for all the natural forcefulness of Luther’s style and for the customary emphasis of contemporary language, this remains a witness to a psychological experience of a devastating kind.

A case could be made for saying that Luther became hysterical at times. One of his greatest detractors, later in the century, mounted a case of this kind. Cochlaeus records that he was told by one of Luther’s brethren that on one occasion he shouted out in choir, ‘It’s not I, it’s not I’ when the passage was being read from the gospel which describes the cure of the deaf mute, and that he fell over in a swoon. Not too much credence can be put on this; at the same time the supposed event is something that one can imagine happening to Luther in his early days as friar. But to make this a prime symbol of a portrait of an hysteric or someone mentally unreliable, is not possible. Martin was to make and keep friends of a notably able kind. Promotion was to come quickly, and frequently, both in responsibility within the Order and within the University. He was not ‘unbalanced’. Yet already it is clear that Martin had something unusual about him. His own writings witness to this. Later in life he would relish the memory of a remark to him from someone finally out of patience with his endless complaints about God’s anger. ‘You are a fool! God is not angry with you. You are angry with God.’ And in retelling this Pastor Luther commented, ‘That was very well said, although it was before the light of the gospel.’ Although this was said from within the Church of the old days, he recognised it as true and something which had helped him, a distraught young man on his way, with its down-to-earth humour and insight into his temperament, aggressive and depressive.

The Psalms with their frequent agonising calls of man to God became a favourite source of expression. Later in life, when Luther was composing words and music for Saxon hymns from the Latin Psalms, the first one he did was ‘Out of the depths I have cried to Thee oh Lord. . .’, a Psalm used in the old Roman liturgy for requiems, and used, in Luther’s Saxon version, at his own funeral. With its words of sombre suffering it always appealed to Luther: ‘If you take note of our sin, Lord; Lord who can survive? . . From the morning watch even to the night let Israel hope in the Lord.’

But Luther’s troubles were not such as to strike his superiors as markedly different from those of other dedicated young religious with their scruples, their enthusiasm for study, and their surfeit of energy. On the contrary his application to study and his observance of the Rule were noted; and he had developed a satisfactory speaking voice, in conformity with the specific requirements of clear enunciation. It was just these things which led to an unexpected change in his life.

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