Luther had hoped to gain spiritual strength through his visit to the Holy City, but he left Rome with mixed feelings. His journey to Rome was a business trip, concerning the affairs of the order. His personal involvement concerned a different aspect of Rome: incredible opportunities of furthering the cause of salvation for others and himself as well.

The indulgences offered for sale in Germany were only poor imitations of what could be purchased in Rome. There was first of all the opportunity of a general confession, which he wanted to seize to unburden his soul, making it as clean as it had been after baptism.

But his own salvation was not his sole concern. He celebrated mass in Rome daily; at the altar of St. Sebastian, he once even said several in a single hour. He caught himself regretting that his parents were still alive: “For I would have loved to deliver them from purgatory with my masses and other special works and prayers.”

But priests from many European countries rushed to the altar with similar wishes in mind, so that it was difficult to put his pious intentions into action: “There is a saying in Rome: ‘Blessed is the mother whose son celebrates a mass in St. Giovanni in Laterano on a Saturday.’ How I would have loved to make my mother blessed there! But the waiting line was too long, and I did not get a turn.”

Because Luther wanted to free his grandfather—Lindemann or Heine Luder—from purgatory, he scaled the Santa Scala on his knees, with an Our Father on each step, for by praying this way it was said one could save a soul. When he had arrived at the top, however, skepticism overtook him: “Who knows if it is really true?”

His flash of doubt arose from the conviction that God would not allow himself to be pinned ...

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