The historical Luther (trying to get the facts right)


Luther – Augustinian Monastery , Wittenberg - 1508 to 1512 – Continued from Post # 336

“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. [Ref: Augnet-Staupitz Link]

Luther appears to have suffered from scrupulosity (OCD) by reportedly and repeatedly seeking a spiritual perfection … that would always elude him, based on his own self-imposed and unrelenting mindset.

“ Although he sought spiritual comfort in the monastery, he confesses: “. . . I was often terrified at the name of Jesus. The sight of a crucifix was like lightning to me and when his name was spoken I would rather have heard that of the devil…. I had lost my faith and could not suppose that God was other than angry.” His constant attempts at absolute perfection and daily confessions (even more frequently on occasions) all give evidence of a very unbalanced spirituality which led him to doubt and even despair of his faith and ultimate salvation. [Ref: Link to Luther Psych Eval]

During this time Luther assigned himself harsh penances of extreme fasting, self-mortification (flagellation) followed by laying out in the winter snow until his fellow friars came out and carried him back inside. “He later described this time period as one of depression and even despair, saying… ‘I lost touch with Christ the Savior and Comforter, and made of him the jailor and hangman of my poor soul.” [Ref: Augnet-Luther]

Staupitz, a patient and pious man, endured endless prolonged confessions with Luther adjoining him 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. {Ref: Ibid]

“….Luther’s scruples exhausted Johann von Staupitz, as Luther strove to remember every possible sin that his mind might be attempting to cover up. On at least one occasion, Luther confessed for six hours straight. He was filled with doubt. [Ref: Ibid]

1508 Luther begins teach Theology at the University of Wittenberg
Mar 9, 1508 Received a bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies
1509 Bachelor’s Degree in the Sentences by Peter Lombard
Oct 19, 1512 Doctor of Theology; Assumes Chair that Staupitz resigns and recommends to Luther
Oct 21, 1512 Doctor in Bible, received into the Senate of the Theological Faculty at Wittenberg


Luther As MonkThe historical Luther (trying to get the facts right)


Luther –And- Scrupulosity / OCD

I have read articles that have purported to assign various diagnoses to Martin Luther, everything from schizophrenia to being bi-polar (and all things everywhere and in between). His bouts of scrupulosity, however, and his behavior is well documented by both himself and his contemporaries.

The attached link, “Scrupulosity: When OCD Targets Your Religious and Moral Values” is an interesting read, as it doesn’t pertain to Luther, but rather looks at the effect of OCD. “Scrupulosity sufferers feel stuck. They need constant reassurance from others and themselves. They feel as if they are going ‘crazy’. Their thoughts don’t match their values. They feel ‘impure’ and sinful.”

The article says positive change can occur by the patient recognizing their negative thinking patterns……

All-or-nothing/black-and-white thinking. This type of thinking may lead you to look at things in absolute and extreme categories. For example, people may believe they need to follow their religion perfectly. Otherwise, they believe themselves to be sinners and unworthy of God’s blessings.

Intolerance of uncertainty. When individuals suffer from OCD, they are unable to tolerate the uncertainty related to their target obsessions. They are constantly seeking reassurance. They believe that “one day” they’ll have it 100 percent figured out. This goal seems perpetually to elude them.

Emotional reasoning. People view their emotions as if they were facts. They may use their feelings to prove to themselves that their fears are true or may come true. For instance, a person may feel anxious and guilty every time he attends his church or synagogue. He uses those feelings as evidence that he is a sinner, otherwise why would he feel that way?

Thought-action fusion. Some individuals believe that having a “bad” thought is the same as acting on the thought, or that their “bad” thought will come true. When their religion teaches individuals that impure thoughts are sinful, their anxiety escalates and they struggle to decrease this thinking pattern.

Belief that you can control your thoughts. Sometimes sufferers also experience sexual or harm OCD. Once a young woman who agonized over her “impure” thoughts felt triggered during a psychotherapy session. She began to hold her temples while shutting her eyes tightly. The therapist asked what was wrong. She responded, “I can’t let them out. If I do, I’ll have a panic attack!” She wrongly believed she could control her thoughts. Eventually she learned that suppressing her thoughts was actually triggering her panic attacks.

Inflated sense of responsibility. When individuals experience moral or religious scrupulosity, they express a pure desire to behave in a manner that will be pleasing unto God and beneficial to those around them. They are hypervigilant when it comes to behaving righteously. They believe they are the ones responsible for preventing any harm to those around them. “



While the above speaks of the behaviors associated with scrupulosity, the 2-Part series below examines the behaviors exhibited by the historical Luther and the possible crippling impact this may have had on his life and doctrinal formulations.

” Luther was so foolish that his own pride appeared to him as wisdom. Luther seemed to go all the way from torturous doubt (as a monk) to unmitigated arrogance (as founder of his own religion) in order to deal with the doubt. The proper way of dealing with his doubt would have been to practice humble obedience to his lawful superiors. This is in fact what the saints did in order to overcome their nagging doubts and gain peace of mind."

“The truth is that Lutheroristy or Lutheranism, was Martin Luther’s way of dealing with scrupulosity. It was the removal from the Deposit of the Faith of whatever Luther did not understand or like. Many books of the Bible were removed, along with the Mass and later on Confession, the two outward activities that are the occasion of the most trouble for the scrupulous. Instead of adapting himself to reality, Luther demanded that reality be adapted to him.”

NOTE: See Post Above for Description of Scrupulosity Behaviors


Jon, you mean to say, modern theologians. Because Jaaye is producing the works of theologians. Just not the ones with which you agree.

As it is, have you ever responded as to why you prefer “balance” to “accuracy”?

Let’s say, for the sake of discussion, that there was a fireman who saved many lives. Then it was discovered that he was also the arsonist who set the houses on fire where he would save many lives.

If we insist that he saved many lives. Does that mean that he never set the house on fire?

If we discuss the fact that he was responsible for the fires to the houses that endangered those lives, but also remember that he did save many lives, does that excuse the fact that he set the houses on fire?

You may not like it, but all we’re doing is showing that Martin Luther was responsible for the fire that caused the Protestant revolution. This is why the Catholic Church issued a stamp called the “penitent Luther”, in hopes that the Protestants who descended from this milieu of heresies that he invented, would repent of those errors and come home to the Catholic Church.


Hi Jon:

You are correct to advise caution in regard to Henry O’Connor’s, Luther’s Own Statements Concerning His Teaching and Its Results. O’Connor belongs to the period of destructive Catholic criticism about Luther. Previous to the 1900’s, a Catholic literary tradition of criticism based more on attacking Luther the person rather than Luther the theologian was a common method of analysis. O’Connor says Luther was in league with Satan: “A man who Pretends to be a Reformer is sent either by God or by Satan” (p. 61). O’Connor presents an entire section linking Luther, and Luther’s teachings to the Devil: “Luther received the full and unqualified approval of the Devil for these new doctrines. It was the Devil who spoke in favour of the new doctrine of justification by faith alone, and against Mass, Mary, and the Saints” (p.18). He argues Luther was a liar, a hypocrite, one who wrote a “Satanical book”, it is Satan that speaks through Luther, Luther has a “Satanical hatred of the Pope,” he was responsible for the deaths of 100,000 peasants; where Luther’s teaching is accepted the sick, poor, and children are neglected, and drunkenness spreads like a deluge. And, these are only a few of the the charges and attacks against Luther presented by O’Connor.

The works of the older destructive Catholic scholars, most of which had been long out of print, now find a new voice, and sometimes a loud voice. I’ve observed that their charges against Luther the person have flourished on-line, while Catholic works positive towards Luther are often completely ignored. Some folks are prone to resurrect the earlier destructive Luther scholarship. It’s not uncommon to find people on discussion forums referring to Ganss, Patrick O’Hare, O’Connor, Grisar, etc. rather than more recent Catholic scholarship, or even statements from contemporary Popes.

I suspect CA member Don Ruggero can confirm that those in higher positions in the Catholic church (particularly those at the Vatican and contemporary Catholic Reformation scholarship) deny the sort of interpretation of Luther that O’Connor held to.



There are plenty of Luther’s works which demonstrate vile language and an unbalanced mind.

Example -

“Reason is the devil’s whore. Throw dung at her and make her ugly.”


Thanks, James. Don Ruggerro has done exactly that earlier in the thread.

JonNC: Are the writings of people such as O’Connor, O’Hare, and Denifle used to any extent by Catholic theologians, particularly in dialogue?

Don Rugerro: Decidedly not…


Trouble was Already Brewing in the Holy Roman Empire

In order to understand Luther’s revolution, it’s prudent to understand the geopolitical climate of the Holy Roman Empire in this time period. Originated by Charlemagne around 800, he united various disparate princedoms in Europe located principally in the areas we know today as mostly Germany, Austria and parts of countries on their borders, but in his time also included France and Italy into what came to be later known as the Holy Roman Empire (the borders expanded and contracted due to wars and acquisitions so this “territory” will vary depending on the time period of history. )

Otto I revived the title of Emperor in 962 and began various institutions and principles that would characterize this “empire” almost right up to the time of Napoleon. By defeating the enemies of Adelaide, the widowed queen of Italy and subsequently marrying her, Otto began intertwining the affairs of the “German” principalities with those of Italy and the Papacy … setting up a push-pull dynamic over territories, jurisdiction and allegiance that would wax and wane over centuries…and frequently sought to control appointments to bishops and cardinals, as well as the papacy itself.

The “power” of the emperor was limited (compared to the absolute power of the emperors of Rome) and often took the form of a fidelity oath from the princes, who owed the emperor their allegiance, but they also had a wide latitude of privileges and power within their own individual territories.

By the 13th century the rise of a middle class prompted a change in how land was administered as the feudal system was in decline and urban communities grew. Peasants were increasingly required to pay “rents” to their Lords; whoever owned the land, owned the peasants, their rents and claimed jurisdiction over them. At the time of Luther, the population was about 5 million people with a little over 200 Princely territories, Duchies, etc. in the area of Germany/Austria-ish.


In the Holy Roman Empire, the emperor was elected. At the time of Luther there were 7 electors — 4 from dynastic families and 3 were ecclesiastical electors: the Archbishop of Cologne, the Archbishop of Trier and the Archbishop of Mainz.

The prince-elector title of the 4 dynastic families was hereditary and each was given the right to mint coins and exercise jurisdiction within their territories – their sons were to be groomed for office and trained to be administrators and know the four imperial languages: German, Latin, Italian and Czech. The dukes/princes frequently feuded with each other, often escalating into local wars.

The medieval idea of a united Christendom as a single political entity with the Church and the Empire providing the dual institutional infrastructures was declining.

Before the Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian I died, he allegedly initiated an unprecedented “election campaign” with massive bribes (in the 1 million gulden range) to bribe the prince-electors to elect his grandson Charles, then King of Spain and prevent Francis I of France from gaining power.

Charles was heir to three of the largest Dynastic holdings in Europe: House of Valois-Burgundy (Artois, Flanders and Hainult in France + Luxembourg); House of Hapsburg (Austria ) and the House of Trastamara (Castile and Aragon in Spain)

“Because of widespread fears that his vast inheritance would lead to the realization of a universal monarchy and that he was trying to create a European hegemony, Charles was the object of hostility from many enemies. “ [Ref: wiki Charles V]

So this is the stage that Luther stepped upon ….

“in 1517, Martin Luther launched what would later be known as the Reformation. At this time, many local dukes saw it as a chance to oppose the hegemony of Emperor Charles V.” [Ibid]


Have a Merry Christmas everyone … after the holidays we’ll start looking at Luther’s sermons and publications leading up the St. Peter’s indulgence.

Return to Previous Post in Luther Series; Luther & Scrupulosity The historical Luther (trying to get the facts right)


Dr. David Anders states that behavioral problems in the Church played a very minor role in Martin Luther’s rebellion. Rather, his deeply troubled psychological state lead him to reinvent a faith which was personally comforting, as he had severe bouts of anxiety and depression, distress and doubts. He sweated bullets over justification, caring little for anything else.

No, the reformation is ML’s baby and resembles Christ’s Church very little at all.


That’ll be the royal “we”, no doubt.


Rather, his deeply troubled psychological state lead him to reinvent a faith which was personally comforting, as he had severe bouts of anxiety and depression, distress and doubts.

I like listening to Dr. Anders and can usually catch him on my radio station when I’m in the car. In previous posts (referenced below) I was able to lay down some background information on his state of mind and reported bouts of depression and scrupulosity for people to investigate further (past the intial sources presented here if they care to). I personally think his state of mind contributed significantly to developing his doctrine, I also think the geopolitical circumstances contributed significantly to launching it.

So we’ll see … as we step through a year at a time in the 16th century and start examining what he DID say and DO in this time period … and how he apparently changed his mind repeatedly as time elapses. The series starts with Post # 333 The historical Luther (trying to get the facts right)

Luther and Scrupulosity: Ref Post # 378 The historical Luther (trying to get the facts right)

Luther and OCD: Ref Post # 379 The historical Luther (trying to get the facts right)

Possible Impact of OCD on Luther? Post # 380 The historical Luther (trying to get the facts right)


That’ll be the royal “we”, no doubt.

Hahahaha… all are welcome to contribute as we explore this period of history … royals as well as non-royals.


Very accurate assessment. His “Lieutenant” Philipp Melanchthon, wrote of his psychological “spells” while adhering almost slavishly to him in near blind obeisance. However, Melanchthon was also motivated to write an apologia harmonizing the Epistle of James with those of Saint Paul. Since no one other than Fr. Martin had seriously questioned this, and since Fr. Martin would have the letter of James “in my fireplace” - something had to be done, else the nascent “Lutheran” movement would run straight into the theological abyss. Although deeply troubled, Fr. Luther was well educated and intelligent. A worldly spirit recognized that and exploited it to divide the Body of Christ.


Yes. I agree … Melanchthon did more than a little …uh…“smoothing” (for lack of a better term) re: Luther’s doctrinal beliefs as well as his behaviors

If you can direct me to a link of this, or the text, I’d appreciate it … I have not yet read this. Thks.

I agree …there were more “wordly” influences and impacts upon the choices Luther made than are generally acknowledged.


“Deny” would not be strong enough. From multiple pontificates to PCPCU to the academy & academics collaborating with the Holy See, we completely repudiate such polemical writings

The summary is well given in From Conflict to Communion:

  1. These efforts led directly to the ecumenical project, begun in 1980 by Lutheran and Catholic theologians in Germany on the occasion of the 450th anniversary of the presentation of the Augsburg Confession, of a Catholic recognition of the Augsburg Confession. The extensive achievements of a later ecumenical working group of Protestant and Catholic theologians, tracing its roots back to this project of Catholic research on Luther, resulted in the study The Condemnations of the Reformation Era: Do They Still Divide?


  1. The Council also affirmed elements of sanctification and truth even outside the structures of the Roman Catholic Church. It asserted, “some and even very many of the significant elements and endowments which together go to build up and give life to the Church itself, can exist outside the visible boundaries of the Catholic Church,” and it named these elements “the written word of God; the life of grace; faith, hope and charity, with the other interior gifts of the Holy Spirit, and visible elements too” (UR 1). The Council also spoke of the “many liturgical actions of the Christian religion” that are used by the divided “brethren” and said, “these most certainly can truly engender a life of grace in ways that vary according to the condition of each Church or Community. These liturgical actions must be regarded as capable of giving access to the community of salvation” (UR 3). The acknowledgement extended not only to the individual elements and actions in these communities, but also to the “divided churches and communities” themselves. “For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation” (UR 1.3).


  1. Implicit rapprochement with Luther’s concerns has led to a new evaluation of his catholicity, which took place in the context of recognizing that his intention was to reform, not to divide, the church. This is evident in the statements of Johannes Cardinal Willebrands and Pope John Paul II. The rediscovery of these two central characteristics of his person and theology led to a new ecumenical understanding of Luther as a “witness to the gospel.”

  2. Pope Benedict also recognized the ways in which the person and theology of Martin Luther pose a spiritual and theological challenge to Catholic theology today when, in 2011, he visited the Augustinian Friary in Erfurt where Luther had lived as a friar…

We are in completely different place today, thanks to the Council Fathers who embraced the ecumenical movement as a divine imperative for the Catholic Church.


It’s puzzling as to why someone on Catholic Answers (or any Catholic for that matter) would post this quote against Luther.

The two sentences of the quote are each from different pages with about five paragraphs separating them. In context, Luther didn’t reject reason. Rather, it was to be subject to and ruled by faith. For the first line of the quote, reason is that which wrongly informs a man that particular theological interpretations are not sin. Luther had the fanatics in mind and their interpretation of the Lord’s Supper and baptism. This same thought applies to the second sentence. Luther is preaching against the views of the sacramentarians in regard to their “reasonable” interpretations of the Lord’s Supper and baptism. In Luther’s theology, “this is my body” really means, “this is my body.” It’s reason, according to Luther, that won’t accept what the Bible plainly says about the sacraments because it tries to undermine what God has said.

You can read the context for yourself in WA 51:123-134, or in LW 51: 371-380.


This is not surprising at all, James. In a thread where the main text is written by Father O’Connor, it would be surprising if Luther was actually quoted fully and in context.


We left off the Luther timeline with Luther having received rather rapid promotions, some by his own admission in excess of his ability or merit.

Recall he was ordained a priest in 1507, began a professorship in 1508 at Wittenberg University and by 1512 (a mere four years later) was both a Doctor of Theology and Doctor of the Bible awarded in the same year, just 2 days apart

1508 Luther begins teach Theology at the University of Wittenberg
Mar 9, 1508 Received a bachelor’s degree in Biblical Studies
1509 Bachelor’s Degree in the Sentences by Peter Lombard
Oct 19, 1512 Doctor of Theology; Assumes Chair that Staupitz resigns and recommends to Luther
Oct 21, 1512 Doctor in Bible, received into the Senate of the Theological Faculty at Wittenberg

“One day in 1511 Staupitz told Luther that he was arranging for Luther to take a Doctorate in theology. Martin was incredulous. What, at the mere age of twenty-eight years?! That was something for a man of forty years or more. At the Erfurt friary, the recipients of the doctorate were nearer fifty. And how could he possibly add the work entailed to all his other tasks, now that he was sub-prior?” [Ref: Augnet – Staupitz]

“Staupitz had also arranged for Friar Karlstadt at Wittenberg to attain a doctorate early in life, and also young Friar Wenceslaus Link at Erfurt in 1511. He said that accelerated receipt of the degree could be arranged if it were necessary for promotion to a higher academic position in a university.” [Ibid]

Apparently Staupitz’s motivation was possibly two-fold, one was to give the newly founded University (now only about 10 years old vs. for example the University of Heidelberg founded in 1386) more highly-credentialed professors to attract more revenue-paying students and also a personal motivation — as Staupitz wanted to retire. Staupitz resigned the Chair of Theology at the university and upon his advisement had it awarded to Luther, he then packed his bags and moved back to southern Germany.

Shortly thereafter Luther was also named District Vicar of the Augustinian order for Saxony and Thuringia. The promotions and expanded workload weighed on him, he needed 2 secretaries, continued to teach, preach and managed the finances for 41 monks. … Continued


…Continued from Above

Apparently to gain more administrative time, he began to abandon his spiritual exercises and rules of his order. He began to omit praying his daily breviary for weeks on end, and then would assign himself excessively strict mortifications and penances following his own methods (contrary to the rules of his order and spiritual director)

“When I was a monk,” Luther later wrote, “I used immediately to believe that it was all over with my salvation every time I experienced the concupiscence of the flesh…. I used to try various remedies; I used to go to confession every day, but that didn’t help me at all. For this concupiscence of the flesh was always returning, so that I could never find peace, but was everlastingly tormented with the thought, ‘You have committed such and such a sin; …and all your good works are just useless.” [Ref: History of the Reformation]

“I prescribed special tasks to myself and had my own ways. My superiors fought against this singularity and they did so rightly. I was an infamous persecutor and murderer of my own life, because I fasted, prayed, watched, and tried myself beyond my powers, which was nothing but suicide” [ Jurgens I, 577, 585]

A victim of religious scrupulosity … it became for him a vicious circle with no relief in sight as he had purposefully separated himself from obeying the counsel of his own spiritual directors and confessors. He apparently had also forgotten (or laid aside) Christ’s own words, “Without Me, you can do nothing”.

He would have benefited from taking to heart Staupitz’s advice:

“Enough, my son: you speak of sin, but know not what sin is; if you desire the assistance of God, do not act like a child any longer. God is not angry with you but you are angry with God.” [Staupitz]

Unable to have trust and confidence in the forgiveness, mercy and love imparted by God from the confessional, he continued to seek justification by his own self-imposed penances, perennially frustrated by his own sinful works he believed could not be forgiven and were in fact leading him to Hell.

His mind apparently obsessed over this perceived ”trap” he believed mankind’s salvation was caught up in, seeking an escape.

Philip Hughes, A Popular History of the Reformation,r evised ed. P. 95, Image Books, New York, 1960

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