1538-1546

1538 (age 54) - Luther's health deteriorated. He suffered from "the stone" (probably kidney stones), moderately severe arthritis, a ruptured ear drum, heart problems, blindness in one eye and ever present digestive disorders. His poor health made him short-tempered and harsher in his writings. His writing volume also declined dramatically. That, plus his years of struggle with church officials, Emperor Charles, his fellow reformers and the pope took their toll. His wife Katharina was overheard saying:

Dear husband, you are too rude.

to which he responded:

They are teaching me to be rude.

1539 (age 55) - Luther wrote On the Councils and the Church.

Since the pope, with his following, simply refuses to convoke a council and reform the church, or offer any advice or assistance toward that end, but boastfully defends his tyranny with crimes, preferring to let the church go to ruin, we ... must seek counsel and help elsewhere and first of all seek and ask our Lord Jesus Christ for a reformation.

November 1, 1539 - Katharina Luther suffered a miscarriage. Luther spent as much time as possible beside her bed. People all over the Lutheran world prayed for her.

1541 (age 57) - Luther wrote the hymn Lord Keep us Steadfast in Thy Word.

September 20, 1542 (age 58) - Magdelena Luther (age 13) died in her father's arms. A grieving Luther wrote a loving epitaph:

I, Magdalena, Luther’s dear child
Sleep softly with all the saints,
And lie in my quiet and rest.
Now I am our God’s guest,
I was a child of death,
Borne by my mother of mortal seed,
Now I live and am rich in God,
Thanks to Christ’s blood and death.

September 27, 1540 - Ignatius Loyola founded the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) with the purpose of preaching and winning over new converts to the Catholic Church. Jesuits dedicated themselves to teaching and stressed the importance of preaching and obedience to the Pope; they believed it was essential for Christians to unite and that Protestant theology was flawed.

Winter 1542 - Luther suffered severe depression. He mourned his daughter's death, saw the plague sweeping through Wittenberg, believed the faithlessness of his fellow Germans was a sign of the End Tines. He wrote his will and thought of his own death.

January 4, 1543 (age 59) - Luther wrote Against the Jews, also known as Of the Jews and their Lies. He repeatedly quoted the words of Jesus in Matthew 12:34, where Jesus called the Jewish religious leaders "a brood of vipers and children of the devil." 20 years earlier, Luther advised kindness toward the Jews in That Jesus Christ was Born a Jew, but with the aim of converting them to Christianity. When his efforts at conversion failed, he grew increasingly bitter. His attitudes reflected a tradition which saw Jews as a rejected people guilty of murdering Christ. He considered Jews blasphemers and liars because they rejected Jesus as the Messiah.

Excerpt from the official statement by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) on Luther's

In the spirit of truth-telling, we who bear his name and heritage must with pain acknowledge also Luther's anti-Judaic diatribes and the violent recommendations of his later writings against the Jews. As did many of Luther's own companions in the sixteenth century, we reject this violent invective, and yet more do we express our deep and abiding sorrow over its tragic effects on subsequent generations ... We particularly deplore the appropriation of Luther's words by modern anti-Semites for the teaching of hatred toward Judaism or toward the Jewish people in our day.

In answer to the question, "Did Martin Luther's anti-Jewish writings inspire Adolph Hitler to carry out the Holocaust?" Dr. Paul Maier said,

There is a difference between Luther the young man who wrote Jesus Christ Was Born Jewish, and Luther the irritable old man who suffered from kidney stones and wrote, Against the Jews and Their Lies. In his younger days, he complained about the treatment the Jews received at the hands of the church. He was sure that when the Gospel was preached to them, they would come flocking to it. That didn't happen. In later life, Luther lashed out at the" hardhearted, incorrigible" Jews. Unlike Hitler, though, Luther had no problem with their racial makeup, only with their religious beliefs ... He never advocated their extermination. Hitler would have to look elsewhere for that.

1544 (age 60) - In Torgau, 31 miles southeast of Wittenberg, the chapel housed in one of the wings of Hartenfels Palace was consecrated by Luther, who also supervised its construction. It is regarded as the first Protestant church.

March 25, 1545 (age 61) - Luther wrote Against the Papacy at Rome Founded by the Devil. The language was the most vehement and vulgar Luther ever wrote. To accompany it Luther commissioned a series of political cartoons by Lucas Cranach defaming the pope and Rome.

...when a desperate, wicked, cunning knave puts on the mask and name of Christ or St. Peter and gains such an advantage that the Christians fear him and flee ... he has won and does what he likes, commits one rascality after another, particularly when God's wrath allows the devil to lift and push him along.

July 9, 1545 - After news reached Luther that a church council was expected to open in Trent, Italy, Luther wrote:

The Pope shouts that we are heretics and that we must not have a place in the council ... indeed Satan reigns, all of them are so totally mad that they condemn us and at the same time ask for our consent.

July 28, 1545 - Luther became angry and disillusioned with Wittenberg and wanted to move. He told Katharina to sell their goods. The university, Philipp Melanchthon and the burgomaster persuaded him to stay.

1545 - Bible in Low German was published, Luther's final revision of his High German Bible, first published in 1534.

December 13, 1545 (age 62) - After years of negotiations, diplomacy, numerous false starts and delays Pope Paul III opened a church council at Trent, in northern Italy. Luther looked at the council with skepticism and held that it was impossible to reform the unreformable.

January 1546 – Luther wrote to a friend complaining about the infirmities of old age:

I, old, weary, lazy, worn-out, cold, chilly and over and above, one-eyed man. Half dead as I am, I might be left in peace."

January 17, 1546 (age 62) - Luther was called to mediate an embarrassing inheritance dispute between the young bronthers, Count Albrecht and Count Gebhard of Mansfeld, who were attempting to bring the copper mining industry under their control. The controversy involved all four of the Mansfeld counts: Albrecht, Philip, John George and Gerhard. Twice earlier, in 1545, journyed to Mansfeld to be involved in the negotiations. But a third trip was needed to reach a final settlement.

January 23, 1546 - Luther left Wittenberg for Eisleben, accompanied by his three sons, their tutor and a few servants. His health was especially poor but he felt the conflict threatened both his siblings' families continuing in their father Hans' copper mining trade and the work of the Reformation. Ice and storms made river-crossings a challenge. Luther alternated between naming chunks of ice after Anabaptist opponents, Roman Catholic bishops and popes. His sense of humor was still intact.

January 25, 1546 - The entourage arrived in Halle where Luther’s longtime associate, Dr. Justus Jonas, joined them. Luther preached a sermon and wrote to his wife:

We reached Halle today at eight o'clock, but could not go on to Eisleben; for we encountered a great Anabaptist, with huge water-billows, and great blocks of ice, covering the land and threatening us with re-baptism.

January 28, 1564 - The traveling party left Halle and made a triumphal entry into Eisleben. The hometown hero was welcomed with cheering crowds. He preached another sermon on Sunday, January 31. In yet another letter to Katie, he wrote:

Your sons are still at Mansfeld. We have enough to eat and drink, and would otherwise have a good time if this troublesome business were at an end. It seems as if the devil were mocking us...

Luther wrote two more letters to Katie, teasing over her useless worrying about him. In one of them, dated February 10, he told her about some near disasters:

We were nearly consumed by a fire in our inn, just outside my room door; and yesterday, doubtless on account of your anxiety, a stone fell upon our heads and almost crushed us as as in a mousetrap. And over and above, in our own private room, lime and mortar came down for two days, and when the masons came—after touching the stone with two fingers—it fell, and was as large as a pillow...Happily the dear angels guarded us.

February 15, 1546 – Luther preached four sermans in Eisleben's St. Andrew's Church and, as it turned out, they were his last:

...Now, if in worldly affairs one is quite rightly opposed to these people who want to be wise and are not, how much more irksome are those people, whom both God and men rightly dislike, who want to be wise in the holy Christian church and are not. For these people hinder the ministry, so that the people cannot come to God. Such in our time were Münzer,* and the antisacramentarians, who prevent and obstruct the course of the gospel and mislead the people, imagining that they alone are wise and understanding because they are in the office and government of the church.

So the pope, too, wants to be a very wise man, indeed, the wisest of the wise, simply because he has a high position and claims to be the head of the church; whereupon the devil so puffs him up that he imagines that whatever he says and does is pure divine wisdom and everybody must accept and obey it, and nobody should ask whether it is God's Word or not. In his big fool's book,** he presumes quite shamelessly to say that it is not likely that such an eminence, meaning himself, could err. So, too, the emperor, kings, and cardinals; because they sit in such high places, they too think they cannot err or be wrong...

*Münzer, a leader of the Peasants Revolt in 1524-1525.

** The Papal Decretals, letters of a pope that formulate decisions in the laws of the Catholic Church.

February 17, 1546 – In what proved to be his last letter Luther informed his wife that the dispute between the counts had been resolved. Luther did not take part in the final negotiations because he was not feeling well. From his chambers one could hear prayers and the shout: "Doctor Jonas and Herr Michael (Coelius, the court preacher in Mansfeld), I was born and baptized here in Eisleben, what if I should stay here.” Luther ate dinner with family and friends, spent time in prayer as usual, and went to bed.
 
Thursday, February 18, 1546 – Waking up in pain around 1 am, Luther said, "I am ready to depart." Then he said three times, "Pater, in manus tuas commendo' tibi spiritum meum" (Father, into your hands I submit my spirit).

After this he was silent. When they shook him and called him, he did not answer. They then applied Aqua Vitae (a strong alcoholic liquor) to his nose and called him loudly by name. His friend Justus Jonas asked: "Doctor Martine, Reverende pater, are you now ready to die in the faith of Christ and the doctrine which you preached in His name? He said, so that it could be clearly heard , 'Yes.'" He turned on his right side and slept for some minutes. Then came the death-rattle, a deep drawn breath, and he was gone. He took his last breath at 2:45 am.

Bed where Martin Luther died.

An unknown artist from the workshop of Lucas Cranach the Elder captured this image at Luther in his burial shroud. (Based on this drawing it was determined that Luther was obese, weighing in at 330 pounds.) Two other death portraits were made by Lukas Furtenagel, one in the late afternoon of the 18th and again on the 19th. Only one, a pen drawing, has survived.

Luther's last written words on a scrap of paper found on his table (translated from Latin):

Virgil's shepherd poems cannot be understood, except by one who has been a shepherd for five years. Virgil's poetry about agriculture cannot be understood, except by one who has been a farmhand for five years. Cicero's letters cannot be understood, except by one who has participated and lived within a large community for 25 years. The Holy Scriptures do not have a satisfactory taste for me or anyone else, unless he has spent 100 years ruling a community as the prophets Elijah and Elisha, John the Baptist, Christ and the Apostles.

Luther ended is final statement with the words (in German):

We are beggars. This is true.

On Feburary 19th Luther's remains were taken to St. Andrew's Church. Justas Jonas preached a funeral sermon, and that night ten citizens stood vigil. The next day the corpse, clad in a white robe, was placed in a hearse and escorted to Halle. All the bells in the city began to ring and an immense crowd gathered around it. Sculptures prepared a traditional death mask of Luther's face, and also made a cast of his hands. The thumb and index finger on his right hand are curled almost as if holding a pen to write one more book.

luther death mask with plaster casts of his hands

In Halle, Justas Jonas repeated the funeral sermon he preached in Eisleben. Two days later the entire party neared Wittenberg. They were met outside the city gates by Katharina and her children, the city council and a crowd of citizens, who escorted Luther's body to the Castle Church, where Johannes Bugenhagen, pastor of Wittenberg's city church and Luther's confessor, preached another funeral sermon before a crowd numbering in the thousands. Philipp Melanchthon gave a eulogy in Latin and Luther's body was buried inside the church by the pulpit.

Tomb marker over Luther's burial place in Wittenberg's Castle Church.

Two months after Luther's death, a heartbroken Katharina wrote her sister that everyone with any sort of heart must be mourning her dead husband. She could not eat or sleep, and she was so disoriented that she was unable to write or dictate her letter in an orderly manner. To her Martin Luther was "this dear and precious man."

Emperor Charles Strikes a Non-Fatal Blow

November 1546 - The Schmalkaldic War broke out between the forces of Emperor Charles V and the Lutheran Schmalkaldic League. With the troops of Emperor Charles advancing, Wittenberg University was temporarily dissolved. Melanchthon fled to Anhalt and Katharina and her children followed him. Katharina returned to Wittenberg a few weeks later. She again turned her home into a hostel, taking in both professors and students to provide an income. With the help of Philipp Melanchthon, who was appointed as her guardian, she attempted to win back her confiscated property and rights. She petitioned Christian II, the King of Denmark, to continue sending the annual payments of fifty Gulden received by her husband, to which he agreed.

In April of 1547 Katharina again fled, this time to Braunschweig, intending to go to Copenhagen to seek asylum with the king of Denmark. But the wagon with her and the children had to turn back north of Lüneburg, about 184 miles northwest of Wittenberg.

April 24, 1547 - At the Battle of Mühlberg in Saxony, the Catholic princes of the Holy Roman Empire led by Emperor Charles V and the Duke of Alba decisively defeated the Schmalkaldic League of Protestant princes under the command of Elector John Frederick I of Saxony and Landgrave Philip I of Hesse. Over 7,000 men died or were wounded and 1,000 were taken prisoner.

May 19, 1547 – So as not to lose time by laying siege to Wittenberg, Emperor Charles chose to negotiate with Elector John Frederick. To save his wife and sons, and to prevent Wittenberg from being destroyed, John signed the Capitulation of Wittenberg, and resigned his title in favor of his cousin Maurice. Two days later Charles V entered Wittenberg. A rumor spread that while he stood in front of Luther's tomb in the Castle Church he was urged to have Luther's body dug up burned and his ashes scattered. Reportedly Charles replied, "I don't make war against dead men."

Late fall, 1547 - At the close of the war Katharina was able to return to Wittenberg, only to find the buildings and lands of the Black Cloister torn apart and laid waste. Her farm animals had been stolen or killed. The two flights exhausted the family's cash reserves, but with hard work Katharina got back on her feet. She obtained scholarships for her sons from the Dukes of Prussia and Württemberg.

October 1551 – Due to increased debts Katharina took out a mortgage on her farm in Zulsdorf, near Leipzig.

January 1552 - Elector Maurice of Saxony, known as the "Judas of the Reformation" for changing sides at Mülburg, switched sides again. Under his leadership, he and his fellow German princes formed an alliance with Henry II of France and chased Charles V out of Germany.

August 1552 - Weary from three decades of religious civil war, Charles V guaranteed Lutheran religious freedoms. The Protestant princes taken prisoner during the Schmalkaldic War were released. The Peace of Passau effectively ended Charles V's lifelong quest to reunify the Catholic Church.

Also in August 1552 – An outbreak of the Black Plague forced Wittenberg University to move to Torgau.

October 1552 - Katharina decided to move to Torgau with her children Paul and Margarete, and join Martin who was studying there. But the wagon she was riding in collided with another near the city gate. The horses reared, upsetting the wagon and throwing her into a canal. She lay ill for three months, cared for by her children, but on December 20, 1552 she died at the age of 53. Reportedly she said on her deathbed, "I will stick to Christ as a burr to cloth."

Katie was buried in Torgau's Saint Mary's Church, far from her husband's tomb in Wittenberg. The Black Cloister in Wittenberg was sold back to the university. At the time of her death her surviving children were adults. Hans studied law and became a court advisor. Martin studied theology, but never had a regular pastoral call. Paul became a physician and fathered six children. The male line of the Luther family continued through him to John Ernest Luther, ending in 1759. Margareta married Georg von Kunheim, a member of a wealthy, noble Prussian family. She died at age 36, but her line continued into the 20th century. It includes German President Paul von Hindenburg (1847–1934).

September 1555 - Peace of Augsburg, a treaty between Charles V and the forces of the Schmalkaldic League, basically said that the people of each German state would follow whichever religion their prince followed. Those who did not wish to conform to the prince's choice were given time to migrate to different regions in which their choice, Lutheran or Catholic, was accepted. The emperor was unhappy about compromising with the Protestants but, after decades of conflict the Lutheran church had legal recognition.

1555 - Charles V abdicated and retired (1556) to the monastery of Yusteto, Spain. But, he took an active interest in politics until his death in 1558.

At one point Luther expressed his thoughts on the unforeseen chain of events that transpired after he posted his 95 Theses in 1517:

No good work comes about by our own wisdom; it begins in dire necessity. I was forced into mine. But if I had known then what I know now, ten wild horses would not have drawn me into it.

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