“Luther was teaching both in the academical hall and in the church when he was interrupted in his labours. In 1510, or according to others in 1511, or 1512, he was sent to Rome. Seven convents of his order were at variance on certain points with the vicar-general. The acuteness of Luther’s mind, his powerful language, and his talents for discussion were the cause of his selection as agent for these seven monasteries before the pope.”1
Luther was to be shocked by the low calibre of the poor priests and then by the profaneness of the rich priests the closer he got the city of Rome. His eyes were opened to the carnality of the priests, cardinals and the infamy of the popes.
He was later to state,
“The nearer we approach Rome, the greater number of bad Christians we meet with… the strongest symptoms,” said he, “or the approaching ruin of Christianity” - by which he means Roman Catholicism—”Is, that the nearer people approach the capital of Christendom, the less Christian spirit is found in them The scandalous examples and crimes of the court of Rome are the cause why Italy has lost every principle of piety and all religious feeling.”2
During his visit to Rome Luther took opportunity to study Hebrew, which would provide him knowledge to expound and proclaim the truths of the Bible. Also, while at Rome he marvellously learned the doctrine of Justification by faith alone. It happened while he was following the tradition of climbing the stairs of what was supposed to be Pilate’s staircase, which had been carried from Jerusalem to Rome, for the expiation of sin. While performing this “meritorious” act he thought he heard a voice of thunder crying from the bottom of his heart, “The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17).
“These words, that twice before had struck him like the voice of an angel from God, resounded unceasingly and powerfully within him. He rose in amazement from the steps up which he was dragging his body: he shuddered at himself; he was ashamed of seeing to what a depth superstition had plunged him. He flew far from the scene of his folly.”3
Speaking later of this experience, Luther stated,
“But when, by the Spirit of God, I understood these words, when I learned how the justification of the sinner proceeds from the free mercy of our Lord through faith, then I felt born again like a new man; I entered through the open doors in to the very paradise of God. Henceforward, also, I saw the beloved and Holy Scripture with other eyes. I perused the Bible; I brough together a great number of passages that taught me the nature of God’s word. And as previously I had detested with all my heart these words, ‘The righteousness of God,’ I began from that hour to value them and to love them as the sweetest and most consoling words in the Bible. In very truth, this language of St. Paul was to me the true gate of paradise.”4
1THE TRIUMPH OF TRUTH J. H. M. D’Aubigne Pg.37 2 Ibid Pg. 37 3 & 4 Ibid Pg 38