Luther and the Thunderstorm
Why did Martin Luther call out to Saint Anne during a terrifying thunderstorm? In this brief clip, Stephen Nichols takes us back to the incident that led Luther to become a monk.
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In 1505, Martin Luther was here in Erfurt. He had received his master’s degree in January, and he just spent a few months studying law. He thought he’d go home and pay a visit to his family, so he traveled about 90 kilometers to the north to the town of Mansfeld. On the way back, Luther was caught in a violent thunderstorm, in fact, he thought God had unleashed the very heavens to take his life. So Luther tried to get shelter, and he found this big granite rock, and he grasped it, and he cried out, “Help me, Saint Anne, and I will become a monk.”
As Luther’s biographer Roland Bainton puts it, ‘God kept his vows, and Luther kept his.’ Luther survived the thunderstorm. He made his way back here to Erfurt, and he threw a party for his friends. He gave away his law books, he gave away his law cap, and he entered the monastery here in Erfurt. Luther thought that somehow by becoming a monk, he would solve his spiritual struggles. The word we use to describe these struggles is the word anfechtungen—struggles in the plural, a deep-seated soul anxiety. You see it in Luther at the thunderstorm, and you see Luther crying out “Help me St. Anne. Why does he cry out to Saint Anne? Well for one, this is the only mediator that Luther knows.
Saint Anne was the patron saint of miners, not minors but miners as in the profession. And that was a profession of Luther’s father, Hans Luther. He owned a copper mine, in fact, he had worked hard enough to own one mine, and he managed a second mine. He was very entrepreneurial and took on a second job as it were so that he could provide an education for his son. And as a miner, the patron saint was Saint Anne. There would have been a shrine in Luther’s childhood home to Saint Anne. When he had visited there in Mansfeld, he would have seen Saint Anne’s shrine. He probably prayed to Saint Anne before he set out on his journey. And when he found himself in that intense moment he cried out to Saint Anne for help. That was the only mediator that Luther knew.