Luther’s Early Call for Reformation of the Universities

“Moreover, even if the universities were diligent in Holy Scripture, we need not send everybody there as we do now, where their only concern is numbers and where everybody wants a doctor’s degree.  We should send only the most highly qualified students who have been well trained in the lower schools.  A prince or city council ought to see to this, and permit only the well qualified to be sent. I would advise no one to send his child where the Holy Scriptures are not supreme.  Every institution that does not unceasingly pursure the study of God’s word becomes corrupt.  Because of this we can see what kind of people they become in the universities and what they are like now.  Nobody is to blame for this except the pope, the bishops, and the prelates, who are all charged with training young people….I greatly fear that the universities, unless they teach the Holy Scriptures diligently and impress them on the young students, are wide gates to hell.” Martin Luther, “To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation,” Luther’s Works, vol. 44, pp. 207.

In 1520 Martin Luther published this treatise that called for a theological and practical reformation of the church and its institutions in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation.  Luther and his colleagues in Wittenberg envisioned a simultaneous reform of theology and education.   In fact, the reform of the liberal arts curriculum and theology had already begun in Wittenberg in 1517.  In this quote we observe Luther’s concern that well-educated students attend the university to pursue the study of theology based upon the Bible in its original languages.  Luther intended to contrast this proper study of theology with the late medieval scholastic study of theology based upon numerous commentaries of medieval theologians, most significantly, Peter Lombard’s The Sentences.

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