Johann von Staupitz
Engraving of Johann von Staupitz, 1889
Johann von Staupitz, O.S.A. (c. 1460 - 28 December 1524) was a Catholic theologian, university preacher, and Vicar General of the Augustinian friars in Germany, who supervised Martin Luther during a critical period in his spiritual life. Martin Luther himself remarked, "If it had not been for Dr. Staupitz, I should have sunk in hell." Although he remained Catholic, died as a Benedictine monk and had repudiated the Reformation, he is commemorated on 8 November as a priest in the Calendar of Saints of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
Staupitz was born in Motterwitz around 1460. Descended from an old Saxon family of Czech origin (ze Stupic), he matriculated in the year 1485 and was accepted into the Augustinian order of friars in Munich before being posted to Tübingen, where he was eventually promoted to the rank of prior. In 1500, Staupitz was made a Doctor of Theology and in 1503 he was elected to the post of Vicar general of the German Congregation of Augustinians. He was also made dean of the theology faculty at the new University of Wittenberg when it was founded in 1502. In 1512, while in his fifties, 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.
As Augustinian Superior, Staupitz first met Martin Luther at Erfurt in April 1506. A young friar plagued by persistent thoughts of spiritual inadequacy, Luther felt compelled to confess to Staupitz everything sinful he had ever done. At least once, Luther spent six hours confessing to Staupitz, who responded to the young man's doubts by counselling him on the Means of Grace and on salvation through the blood of Christ. He also commanded Luther to pursue a more academic career, hoping it would provide a distraction from his recurrent theological brooding.
In 1518 after Luther was declared a heretic, Staupitz was appointed promagister of the Augustinian order to plead in protest with Luther, discussing the issue of indulgences in great detail. Staupitz is sometimes categorized as a forerunner of Luther, although his actual words indicate a man driven by anxious suspicions and an encouraging desire to understand Luther's objections. Staupitz perceived Luther's complaints as questions against clerical abuses, rather than as fundamental disputes of dogma. Ultimately, 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 Pope Leo X demanded an abjuration and revocation of heresy from Staupitz. He refused to revoke, on the grounds that he had never asserted Luther's heresies himself, but he did abjure and recognize the Pontiff as his judge. Staupitz was no Lutheran, but was thoroughly Catholic in matters of faith, especially as regards the freedom of the will, the meritoriousness of good works, and justification, which has been established by Paulus from the writings of Staupitz. However, Luther perceived his abjuration as a betrayal. In his last letter to Luther in 1524 Staupitz made it clear he was bitter about the direction of the Reformation and its seemingly willful destruction of the unity of the Christian Church.
Staupitz also wrote theological works on the topics of predestination, faith, and love. In 1559, Pope Paul IV added these texts to the Index of Prohibited Books, seeing them as perhaps compromised by the friendly relations between Staupitz and Luther during Luther's earlier years.