Today I led our class across the Castel Sant’Angelo Bridge where Martin Luther walked on his way to visit Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome in 1510. It was on this trip that God’s Word was engrafted into his heart and Luther was born again (while on the Santa Scala Steps as we cover in another class). That is what we are teaching here in Rome in our Life & Letters of Paul course. Over two months we will have taught all 13 of Paul’s Epistles, and here we are doing Romans & Galatians. What a blessing!
As the huge American holiday of Halloween come upon us, I am challenging all my classes to pause and study “the just shall live by faith”, and how that Scripture repeated 4x in God’s Word (Habakkuk 2, Romans 1; Galatians 3; and Hebrews 10), gives us the heart of the Gospel.
In the autumn of the year 1510, after his removal to Wittenberg, but before his graduation as a doctor of divinity, Luther was sent to Rome in the interest of his order and at the suggestion of Staupitz, who wished to bring about a disciplinary reform and closer union of the Augustinian convents in Germany, but met with factious opposition.
He ascended on bended knees the twenty-eight steps of the famous Scala Santa (said to have been transported from the Judgment Hall of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem), that he might secure the indulgence attached to this ascetic performance since the days of Pope Leo IV. in 850, but at every step, the word of the Scripture sounded like a significant protest in his ear: “The just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17).1
Thus we have the marvelous conversion of Martin Luther. After many years Martin Luther explained this moment to his son Paul. In the library of Rudolstadt, Germany, a glass case holds a letter written by Luther’s youngest son, Dr. Paul Luther. It reads: In the year 1544, my dearest father, in the presence of us all, narrated the whole story of his journey to Rome. He acknowledged with great joy that in that city, through the Spirit of Jesus Christ, he had come to the knowledge of the truth of the everlasting gospel. It happened this way. As he repeated his prayers on the Lateran staircase, the words of the Prophet Habakkuk came suddenly to his mind: “The just shall live by faith.” Thereupon he ceased his prayers, returned to Wittenberg, and took this as his chief foundation of all his doctrine.2