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History of the Christian Church, Volume VII. Modern Christianity. The German Reformation.
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§ 19. Luther in the University of Erfurt.


At the age of eighteen, in the year 1501, he entered, as "Martinus Ludher ex Mansfeld," the University of Erfurt, which had been founded a hundred years before (1392) and was then one of the best in Germany.118118    See the description by Jürgens, I., 351 sqq.; and Kampschulte, Die Universität Erfurt in ihrem Verh. z. Humanismus u. Reformation, Trier, 1358. Two parts. The university was abolished in 1816. By that time his father was able to assist him so that he was free of care and could acquire a little library.

He studied chiefly scholastic philosophy, namely: logic, rhetoric, physics and metaphysics. His favorite teacher was Truttvetter, called "Doctor Erfordiensis."119119    See Kampschulte, l.c. I., 43 sqq., and G. Plitt, Jodocus Truttvetter, der Lehrer Luthers, 1876. The palmy days of scholasticism which reared those venerable cathedrals of thought in support of the traditional faith of the church in the thirteenth century, had passed away, and were succeeded by the times of barren disputes about Realism and Nominalism or the question whether the general ideas (the universalia) had an objective reality, or a merely nominal, subjective existence in the mind. Nominalism was then the prevailing system.

On the other hand the humanistic studies were reviving all over Europe and opened a new avenue of intellectual culture and free thought. The first Greek book in Greek letters (a grammar) which was published in Germany, appeared in Erfurt. John Crotus Rubeanus (Jäger) who studied there since 1498 and became rector of the University in 1520 and 1521, was one of the leaders of humanism and the principal author of the first part of the famous anti-monkish Epistolae obscurorum virorum (1515); he was at first an intimate friend of Hutten and Luther, and greeted the latter on his way to Worms (1521) as the man who "first after so many centuries dared to strangle the Roman license with the sword of the Scripture," but afterward he fell away from the Reformation (1531) and assailed it bitterly.120120    Jürgens, I., 449; Kampschulte, De Johanne Croto Rubiano, 1862.

Luther did not neglect the study of the ancient classics, especially Cicero, Vergil, Plautus, and Livy.121121    O. G. Schmidt, Luther’s Bekanntschaft mit den alten Classikern, 1883. He acquired sufficient mastery of Latin to write it with clearness and vigor, though not with elegance and refinement. The knowledge of Greek he acquired afterward as professor at Wittenberg. In classical culture he never attained the height of Erasmus and Melanchthon, of Calvin and Beza; but in original thought and in the mastery of his own mother tongue he was unrivalled. He always regarded the languages as the sheath for the sword of the Spirit.

Beside his literary studies he cultivated his early love for music. He sang, and played the lute right merrily. He was a poet and musician as well as a theologian. He prized music as a noble gift of God, as a remedy against sadness and evil thoughts, and an effective weapon against the assaults of the devil. His poetic gift shines in his classical hymns. He had a rich font of mother wit and quaint humor.

His moral conduct was unblemished; and the mouth of slander did not dare to blacken his reputation till after the theological passions were roused by the Reformation. He went regularly to mass and observed the daily devotions of a sincere Catholic. He chose for his motto: to pray well is half the study. He was a devout worshipper of the Virgin Mary.

In his twentieth year he first saw a complete (Latin) Bible in the University Library, and was surprised and rejoiced to find that it contained so much more than was ever read or explained in the churches.122122    Da ich zwanzig Jahre alt war, hatte ich noch keine Bibel gesehen; ich meinte, es wären keim Evangelien und Episteln mehr, denn die in den Postillen sind." Werke, Erl. ed., LX., 255. This was partly his own fault, for several editions of the Latin Vulgate and the German Bible were printed before 1500. His eye fell upon the story of Samuel and his mother, and he read it with delight. But he did not begin a systematic study of the Bible till he entered the convent; nor did he find in it the God of love and mercy, but rather the God of righteousness and wrath. He was much concerned about his personal salvation and given to gloomy reflections over his sinful condition. Once he fell dangerously ill, and was seized with a fit of despair, but an old priest comforted him, saying: "My dear Baccalaureus, be of good cheer; you will not die in this sickness: God will yet make a great man out of you for the comfort of many."

In 1502 he was graduated as Bachelor of Arts, in 1505 as Master of Arts. This degree, which corresponds to the modern Doctor of Philosophy in Germany, was bestowed with great solemnity. "What a moment of majesty and splendor," says Luther, "was that when one took the degree of Master, and torches were carried before him. I consider that no temporal or worldly joy can equal it." His talents and attainments were the wonder of the University.

According to his father’s ambitious wish, Luther began to prepare himself for the profession of law, and was presented by him with a copy of the Corpus juris. But he inclined to theology, when a remarkable providential occurrence opened a new path for his life.



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