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Engraving of Johann Von Staupitz, 1889.

Johann von Staupitz (ca. 1460 – 28 December 1524) was a theologian, university preacher,[1] Vicar-General of the Augustinian Order in Germany [2] who supervised Martin Luther during a critical period in that man's spiritual life. Martin Luther himself remarked, "If it had not been for Dr. Staupitz, I should have sunk in hell." Although he died a Catholic monk and repudiated the Protestant Reformation, he is commemorated on 8 November as a priest in the Calendar of Saints of the Lutheran Church.

Von Staupitz was born in Motterwitz ca. 1460. Descended from an old Saxony family, he matriculated in the year 1485 and officially joined the order in Munich before relocated to Tübingen where he received promotion to the rank of prior. In 1500 Von Staupitz was made Doctor of Theology and achieved election to the post of Vicar general of the German Congregation of Augustinians in 1503.[3] He was also made dean of the theology faculty at the University of Wittenberg when it was founded in 1502. In 1512, while in his 50s, Von Staupitz resigned his professorship and relocated to the southern part of Germany, resigning his vicar-generalship officially in 1520. In 1522 he accepted an offer from the Benedictines inviting him to join their order, becoming Abbot of St Peter's in Salzburg.

It was in Erfurt, as Augustinian Superior, that Von Staupitz first met Martin Luther, a young monk plagued by persistent thoughts of spiritual inadequacy. Luther felt compelled to confess to Von Staupitz everything sinful the young man may have ever done. At least once, Luther spent six hours confessing to Von Staupitz and later wrote, "I was myself more than once driven to the very depths of despair so that I wished I had never been created. Love God? I hated him!"

Von Staupitz responded to the young man's doubt by counseling Luther on the Means of Grace and salvation through the blood of Christ. He also commanded the young monk to pursue a more academic career, hoping it would provide a distraction from Luther's recurrent theological brooding.

After Luther was branded a heretic in 1518, Von Staupitz was appointed promagister of the order to plead in protest with Luther, discussing the issue of indulgences in great detail. Von Staupitz is sometimes categorized as a forerunner of Luther, though his actual words indicate a man driven by anxious suspicion and an encouraging desire to understand Luther's objections. Von Staupitz perceived Luther's complaints as questions against clerical abuses rather than fundamental dispute of dogma. Ultimately Von Staupitz released Martin Luther from the Augustinian Order, preserving the good name of the order while simultaneously giving Luther freedom to act. His connection with Luther's views was now sealed, and in 1520 the Pope demanded abjuration and revocation of heresy from Von Staupitz. He refused to revoke, on the grounds he had never asserted Luther's heresies himself, but did abjure and recognize the Catholic Pontiff as his judge. Staupitz was no Lutheran but thoroughly Catholic in matters of faith (especially as regards the freedom of the will, the meritoriousness of good works, and justification). This has been established by Paulus from the writings of Staupitz. Luther perceived this as a betrayal. In his last letter to Luther (1524) Staupitz made clear he was bitter about the direction the Protestant Reformation and its seemingly willful destruction of the unity of the Christian Church.

Von Staupitz wrote theological books on the topics of predestination, faith, and love. In 1559, Pope Paul IV put these texts on the Index of Prohibited Books as perhaps compromised by Staupitz friendly relations with the early Luther.

References

  1. ^ Franz Posset, The Front-Runner of the Catholic Reformation: The Life and Works of Johann von Staupitz (Surrey, Great Britain: Ashgate, 2003), 4.
  2. ^ Posset, 127.
  3. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg "Johann Von Staupitz". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Catholic_Encyclopedia_(1913)/Johann_Von_Staupitz.  
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