When Luther was 18 years old, he went to enrolled in the University of Erfurth. There he studied philosophy. He soon came to be admired for his intelligence.
It was at the University of Erfurth that Luther first came in contact with the Bible. Until that time, he had no idea that the Bible was a large collection of books, since he’d only ever heard very short portions read in church. There were so many pages in the Bible. He was quite astonished. Here he read the stories of the Old Testament and the New. He wished he could own a Bible for himself.
Every morning, Luther began his day with prayer and went to church. After his devotions, he spent the day studying. Luther devoted long hours to study and by the end of his first year at the university, he received his bachelor’s degree.
But the efforts he made in preparing for examinations cost him his health. His friends thought that he would die. Luther himself believed he would die. An old priest visited him and said, “Take courage. You will not die. Our God will yet make of you a man who, in turn, shall console many.”[i] Luther recovered.
The next year, however, Luther had another brush with death. He was on his way home at Easter time to see his family. He carried a sword, as young men did in those days. Somehow the blade struck his foot, cutting a major artery. It seemed he would bleed to death on the road while waiting for his friend to fetch a doctor. He prayed to the Virgin Mary for help. The surgeon arrived and closed the wound, but it opened again during the night. Luther must have lost quite a lot of blood because he fainted.
It was during this same period that a close friend was killed.
These brushes with death, must have had a sobering effect on the young Luther. He wondered what would become of him were he to die at his young age. Was he prepared to meet God in peace? He spent much time thinking about how to obtain salvation.
A Celebrated Doctor
In 1505, Luther was awarded two degrees: Master of Arts and doctor of philosophy (PhD). He began to teach the science and philosophy of Aristotle, a Greek philosopher of the 4th century BC, which Luther later despised. The ceremony was attended with a great deal of pomp and celebration and it would have seemed apparent to everyone present then, that the young Dr. Luther was destined for a celebrated and prestigious academic life. Luther himself, had resigned himself to study law, as his father desired him to do.
But Luther’s real interest was holiness. While he applied himself to studying the philosophers, what he yearned for was a knowledge of his acceptance with God. How could he be assured of eternal life, was the question that gripped him.
The Fateful Storm
He took some time away from his studies to visit his family in the summer of 1505. He was returning to the university town of Erfurth when he was caught in a frightful storm. A bolt of lightning struck so near to him that he was thrown to the ground. He called upon St. Anne to save him and vowed to devote his life to the pursuit of holiness. He pledged himself to become a monk.
[i] J. H. Merle d’Aubigne, History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century.