Martin Luther was born to Hans Ludher (later Luther) and his wife Margarethe on 10 November 1483 in Eisleben, Germany, a part of the Holy Roman Empire. the next morning he was baptized and given the name of the Saint whose feast day it was; St. Martin of Tours. His family moved to Mansfeld in 1484, where his father became a leaseholder of copper mines and smelters. Hans served as one of four citizen representatives on the local council. Luther’s mother was a hard-working woman of trading-class stock and middling means. Years later Luther’s enemies would later wrongly describe her as a whore and bath attendant. Matrin had several brothers and sisters, and is known to have been close to one of them, Jacob. Hans Luther was ambitious for himself and his family, and he was determined to see Martin, his eldest son, become a lawyer. He sent Martin to Latin schools in Mansfeld, then Magdeburg in 1497, where he attended a school operated by a lay group called the Brethren of the Common Life, and Eisenach in 1498. The three schools focused on the “trivium”: grammar, rhetoric, and logic.
In 1501, at the age of seventeen, he entered the University of Erfurt — which he later described as a beerhouse and whorehouse. The schedule called for waking at four every morning for what has been described as “a day of rote learning and often wearying spiritual exercises.” He received his master’s degree in 1505.
In accordance with his father’s wishes, Luther enrolled in law school at the same university that year but dropped out almost immediately. On 2 July 1505, he was on horseback during a thunderstorm and a lightning bolt struck near him as he was returning to university after a trip home. Later telling his father he was terrified of death and divine judgment, he cried out, “Help! Saint Anna, I will become a monk!” He came to view his cry for help as a vow he could never break. He left law school, sold his books, and entered a closed Augustinian friary in Erfurt on 7 July 1505. His father was furious over what he saw as a waste of Luther’s education.
Luther dedicated himself to monastic life, devoting himself to fasting, long hours in prayer, pilgrimage, and frequent confession. He would later remark, “If anyone could have gained heaven as a monk, then I would indeed have been among them.” Luther described this period of his life as one of deep spiritual despair. He said, “I lost touch with Christ the Savior and Comforter, and made of him the jailor and hangman of my poor soul.”
Johann von Staupitz, his superior, concluded that Luther needed more work to distract him from excessive introspection and ordered him to pursue an academic career. In 1507, he was ordained to the priesthood, and in 1508 began teaching theology at the University of Wittenberg. He received a Bachelor’s degree in Biblical studies on 9 March 1508, and another Bachelor’s degree in the Sentences by Peter Lombard in 1509. Over the winter of 1510–11, he and another monk visited Rome. On 19 October 1512, he was awarded his Doctor of Theology and, on 21 October 1512, was received into the senate of the theological faculty of the University of Wittenberg, having been called to the position of Doctor in Bible. He spent the rest of his career in this position at the University of Wittenberg.
In 1516-17, Johann Tetzel, a Dominican friar and papal commissioner for indulgences, was sent to Germany by the Roman Catholic Church to sell indulgences to raise money to rebuild St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Roman Catholic theology stated that faith alone, whether fiduciary or dogmatic, cannot justify man; and that only such faith as is active in charity and good works (fides caritate formata) can justify man. The benefits of good works could be obtained by donating money to the church.
On 31 October, 1517, Luther wrote to Albrecht, Archbishop of Mainz and Magdeburg, protesting the sale of indulgences. He enclosed in his letter a copy of his “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences,” which came to be known as The 95 Theses. Hans Hillerbrand writes that Luther had no intention of confronting the church, but saw his disputation as a scholarly objection to church practices, and the tone of the writing is accordingly “searching, rather than doctrinaire.” Hillerbrand writes that there is nevertheless an undercurrent of challenge in several of the theses, particularly in Thesis 86, which asks: “Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St. Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money?”
Luther objected to a saying attributed to Johann Tetzel that “As soon as the coin in the coffer rings, the soul from purgatory [also attested as ‘into heaven’] springs.” He insisted that, since forgiveness was God’s alone to grant, those who claimed that indulgences absolved buyers from all punishments and granted them salvation were in error. Christians, he said, must not slacken in following Christ on account of such false assurances.
According to Philipp Melanchthon, writing in 1546, Luther “wrote theses on indulgences and posted them on the church of All Saints on 31 October 1517”, as was custom at Wittenberg university to advertise a disputation by posting theses on the door of All Saints’ Church, also known as “Castle Church”. The 95 Theses were quickly translated from Latin into German, printed, and widely copied, making the controversy one of the first in history to be aided by the printing press. Within two weeks, copies of the theses had spread throughout Germany; within two months throughout Europe.
Luther’s writings circulated widely, reaching France, England, and Italy as early as 1519. Students thronged to Wittenberg to hear Luther speak. He published a short commentary on Galatians and his Work on the Psalms. This early part of Luther’s career was one of his most creative and productive. Three of his best-known works were published in 1520: To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, On the Babylonian Captivity of the Church, and On the Freedom of a Christian.
Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz and Magdeburg did not reply to Luther’s letter containing the 95 Theses. He had the theses checked for heresy and in December 1517 forwarded them to Rome. He needed the indulgences revenue to pay off a papal dispensation for his tenure of more than one bishopric. As Luther later noted, “the pope had a finger in the pie as well, because one half was to go to the building of St Peter’s Church in Rome”.
Pope Leo X was used to reformers and heretics, and he responded slowly, “with great care as is proper.” Over the next three years, he was to deploy a series of papal theologians and envoys against Luther, which only served to harden the reformer’s anti-papal theology. First, the Dominican theologian Sylvester Mazzolini drafted a heresy case against Luther, whom Leo then summoned to Rome. The Elector Frederick persuaded the pope to have Luther examined at Augsburg, where the Imperial Diet was held. There, in October 1518, Luther informed the papal legate Cardinal Cajetan that he did not consider the papacy part of the biblical Church, and the hearings degenerated into a shouting match. More than his writing the 95 Theses, Luther’s confrontation of the church cast him as an enemy of the pope. Cajetan’s original instructions had been to arrest Luther if he failed to recant, but he lacked the means in Augsburg, where the Elector guaranteed Luther’s security. Luther slipped out of the city at night, without leave from Cajetan.
In January 1519, at Altenburg in Saxony, the papal nuncio Karl von Miltitz adopted a more conciliatory approach. Luther made certain concessions to the Saxon, who was a relative of the Elector, and promised to remain silent if his opponents did. The theologian Johann Maier von Eck, however, was determined to expose Luther’s doctrine in a public forum. In June and July 1519 he staged a disputation with Luther’s colleague Andreas Karlstadt at Leipzig and invited Luther to speak. Luther’s boldest assertion in the debate was that Matthew 16:18 does not confer on popes the exclusive right to interpret scripture, and that therefore neither popes nor church councils were infallible. For this, Eck branded Luther a new Jan Hus, referring to the Czech reformer and heretic burned at the stake in 1415. From that moment, he devoted himself to Luther’s defeat.
While this official church business continued through 1520, Luther continued to lecture in Wittenburg. From 1510 to 1520, Luther lectured on the Psalms, the books of Hebrews, Romans, and Galatians. As he studied these portions of the Bible, he came to view the use of terms such as penance and righteousness by the Roman Catholic Church in new ways. He became convinced that the church was corrupt in its ways and had lost sight of what he saw as several of the central truths of Christianity. The most important for Luther was the doctrine of justification – God’s act of declaring a sinner righteous – by faith alone through God’s grace. He began to teach that salvation or redemption is a gift of God’s grace, attainable only through faith in Jesus as the messiah. “This one and firm rock, which we call the doctrine of justification,” he wrote, “is the chief article of the whole Christian doctrine, which comprehends the understanding of all godliness.”
Luther came to understand justification as entirely the work of God. This teaching by Luther was clearly expressed in his 1525 publication On the Bondage of the Will, which was written in response to On Free Will by Desiderius Erasmus in 1524. Luther based his position on Predestination on St. Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians 2:8-10. Against the teaching of his day that the righteous acts of believers are performed in cooperation with God, Luther wrote that Christians receive such righteousness entirely from outside themselves; that righteousness not only comes from Christ but actually is the righteousness of Christ, imputed to Christians (rather than infused into them) through faith. “That is why faith alone makes someone just and fulfills the law,” he wrote. “Faith is that which brings the Holy Spirit through the merits of Christ.” Faith, for Luther, was a gift from God. He explained his concept of “justification” in the Smalcald Articles:
The first and chief article is this: Jesus Christ, our God and Lord, died for our sins and was raised again for our justification (Romans 3:24–25). He alone is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), and God has laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isaiah 53:6). All have sinned and are justified freely, without their own works and merits, by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, in His blood (Romans 3:23–25). This is necessary to believe. This cannot be otherwise acquired or grasped by any work, law or merit. Therefore, it is clear and certain that this faith alone justifies us … Nothing of this article can be yielded or surrendered, even though heaven and earth and everything else falls (Mark 13:31).
On 15 June 1520, the Pope warned Luther with the papal bull (edict) Exsurge Domine that he risked excommunication unless he recanted 41 sentences drawn from his writings, including the 95 Theses, within 60 days. That autumn, Johann Eck proclaimed the bull in Meissen and other towns. Karl von Miltitz, a papal nuncio, attempted to broker a solution, but Luther, who had sent the Pope a copy of On the Freedom of a Christian in October, publicly set fire to the bull and decretals at Wittenberg on 10 December 1520, an act he defended in Why the Pope and his Recent Book are Burned and Assertions Concerning All Articles. As a consequence, Luther was excommunicated by Leo X on 3 January 1521, in the bull Decet Romanum Pontificem.
The enforcement of the ban on the 95 Theses fell to the secular authorities. On 18 April 1521, Luther appeared as ordered before the Diet of Worms. This was a general assembly of the estates of the Holy Roman Empire that took place in Worms, a town on the Rhine. It was conducted from 28 January to 25 May 1521, with Emperor Charles V presiding. Prince Frederick III, Elector of Saxony, obtained a safe conduct for Luther to and from the meeting.
Johann Eck, speaking on behalf of the Empire as assistant of the Archbishop of Trier, presented Luther with copies of his writings laid out on a table and asked him if the books were his, and whether he stood by their contents. Luther confirmed he was their author, but requested time to think about the answer to the second question. He prayed, consulted friends, and gave his response the next day:
Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I do not trust either in the pope or in councils alone, since it is well known that they have often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.
Over the next five days, private conferences were held to determine Luther’s fate. The Emperor presented the final draft of the Diet of Worms on 25 May 1521, declaring Luther an outlaw, banning his literature, and requiring his arrest: “We want him to be apprehended and punished as a notorious heretic.” It also made it a crime for anyone in Germany to give Luther food or shelter. It permitted anyone to kill Luther without legal consequence.
Luther’s disappearance during his return trip was planned. Frederick III, Elector of Saxony had him intercepted on his way home by masked horsemen and escorted to the security of the Wartburg Castle at Eisenach. During his stay at Wartburg, which he referred to as “my Patmos”, Luther translated the New Testament from Latin into German and poured out doctrinal and polemical writings. These included a renewed attack on Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz, whom he shamed into halting the sale of indulgences in his episcopates, and a “Refutation of the Argument of Latomus,” in which he expounded the principle of justification to Jacobus Latomus, an orthodox theologian from Louvain.
In this work, one of his most emphatic statements on faith, he argued that every good work designed to attract God’s favour is a sin. All humans are sinners by nature, he explained, and God’s grace, which cannot be earned, alone can make them just. On 1 August 1521, Luther wrote to Melanchthon on the same theme: “Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides.”
In the summer of 1521, Luther widened his target from individual pieties like indulgences and pilgrimages to doctrines at the heart of Church practices. In On the Abrogation of the Private Mass, he condemned as idolatry the idea that the mass is a sacrifice, asserting instead that it is a gift, to be received with thanksgiving by the whole congregation. His essay On Confession, Whether the Pope has the Power to Require It rejected compulsory confession and encouraged private confession and absolution, since “every Christian is a confessor.” In November, Luther wrote The Judgement of Martin Luther on Monastic Vows. He assured monks and nuns that they could break their vows without sin, because vows were an illegitimate and vain attempt to win salvation.
Luther made his pronouncements from Wartburg in the context of rapid developments at Wittenberg, of which he was kept fully informed. Andreas Karlstadt, supported by the ex-Augustinian Gabriel Zwilling, embarked on a radical programme of reform there in June 1521, exceeding anything envisaged by Luther. The reforms provoked disturbances, including a revolt by the Augustinian monks against their prior, the smashing of statues and images in churches, and denunciations of the magistracy. After secretly visiting Wittenberg in early December 1521, Luther wrote A Sincere Admonition by Martin Luther to All Christians to Guard Against Insurrection and Rebellion. Wittenberg became even more volatile after Christmas when a band of visionary zealots, the so-called Zwickau prophets, arrived, preaching revolutionary doctrines such as the equality of man, adult baptism, and Christ’s imminent return. When the town council asked Luther to return, he decided it was his duty to act.
Luther secretly returned to Wittenberg on 6 March 1522. “During my absence,” he wrote to the Elector, “Satan has entered my sheepfold, and committed ravages which I cannot repair by writing, but only by my personal presence and living word.” For eight days in Lent, beginning on Invocavit Sunday, 9 March, Luther preached eight sermons, which became known as the “Invocavit Sermons.” In these sermons, he hammered home the primacy of core Christian values such as love, patience, charity, and freedom, and reminded the citizens to trust God’s word rather than violence to bring about necessary change.
Do you know what the Devil thinks when he sees men use violence to propagate the gospel? He sits with folded arms behind the fire of hell, and says with malignant looks and frightful grin: “Ah, how wise these madmen are to play my game! Let them go on; I shall reap the benefit. I delight in it.” But when he sees the Word running and contending alone on the battle-field, then he shudders and shakes for fear.
The effect of Luther’s intervention was immediate. After the sixth sermon, the Wittenberg jurist Jerome Schurf wrote to the elector: “Oh, what joy has Dr. Martin’s return spread among us! His words, through divine mercy, are bringing back every day misguided people into the way of the truth.”
Luther next set about reversing or modifying the new church practices. By working alongside the authorities to restore public order, he signalled his reinvention as a conservative force within the Reformation. After banishing the Zwickau prophets, he now faced a battle not only against the established Church but against radical reformers who threatened the new order by fomenting social unrest and violence.
Despite his victory in Wittenberg, Luther was unable to stifle radicalism further afield. Preachers such as Zwickau prophet Nicholas Storch and Thomas Müntzer helped instigate the Peasants’ War of 1524–25, during which many atrocities were committed, often in Luther’s name. There had been revolts by the peasantry on a smaller scale since the 15th century. Luther’s pamphlets against the Church and the hierarchy, often worded with “liberal” phraseology, now led many peasants to believe he would support an attack on the upper classes in general. Revolts broke out in Franconia, Swabia, and Thuringia in 1524, even drawing support from disaffected nobles, many of whom were in debt. Gaining momentum under the leadership of radicals such as Müntzer in Thuringia and Michael Gaismair in Tyrol, the revolts turned into war.
Luther sympathised with some of the peasants’ grievances, as he showed in his response to the Twelve Articles of the Black Forest in May 1525, but he reminded the aggrieved to obey the temporal authorities. During a tour of Thuringia, he became enraged at the widespread burning of convents, monasteries, bishops’ palaces, and libraries. In Against the Murderous, Thieving Hordes of Peasants, written on his return to Wittenberg, he explained the Gospel teaching on wealth, condemned the violence as the devil’s work, and called for the nobles to put down the rebels like mad dogs:
Therefore let everyone who can, smite, slay, and stab, secretly or openly, remembering that nothing can be more poisonous, hurtful, or devilish than a rebel … For baptism does not make men free in body and property, but in soul; and the gospel does not make goods common, except in the case of those who, of their own free will, do what the apostles and disciples did in Acts 4 [:32–37]. They did not demand, as do our insane peasants in their raging, that the goods of others — of Pilate and Herod — should be common, but only their own goods. Our peasants, however, want to make the goods of other men common, and keep their own for themselves. Fine Christians they are! I think there is not a devil left in hell; they have all gone into the peasants. Their raving has gone beyond all measure.
Luther justified his opposition to the rebels on three grounds. First, in choosing violence over lawful submission to the secular government, they were ignoring Christ’s counsel to “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s”; St. Paul had written in his epistle to the Romans 13:1-7 that all authorities are appointed by God and therefore should not be resisted. This reference from the Bible forms the foundation for the doctrine known as the Divine Right of Kings, or, in the German case, the divine right of the princes. Second, the violent actions of rebelling, robbing, and plundering placed the peasants “outside the law of God and Empire,” so they deserved “death in body and soul, if only as highwaymen and murderers.” Lastly, Luther charged the rebels with blasphemy for calling themselves “Christian brethren” and committing their sinful acts under the banner of the Gospel.
Without Luther’s backing for the uprising, many rebels laid down their weapons; others felt betrayed. Their defeat by the Swabian League at the Battle of Frankenhausen on 15 May 1525, followed by Müntzer’s execution, brought the revolutionary stage of the Reformation to a close. Thereafter, radicalism found a refuge in the anabaptist movement and other sects, while Luther’s Reformation flourished under the wing of the secular powers.
On the evening of 13 June 1525, Luther married Katharina von Bora, one of 12 nuns he had helped escape from the Nimbschen Cistercian convent in April 1523, when he arranged for them to be smuggled out in herring barrels. “Suddenly, and while I was occupied with far different thoughts,” he wrote to Wenceslaus Link, “the Lord has plunged me into marriage.” Katherina was 26 years old, Luther 42.
Some priests and former monks had already married, including Andreas Karlstadt and Justus Jonas, but Luther’s wedding set the seal of approval on clerical marriage. He had long condemned vows of celibacy on Biblical grounds, but his decision to marry surprised many, not least Melanchthon, who called it reckless. Luther had written to George Spalatin on 30 November 1524, “I shall never take a wife, as I feel at present. Not that I am insensible to my flesh or sex (for I am neither wood nor stone); but my mind is averse to wedlock because I daily expect the death of a heretic.” Before marrying, Luther had been living on the plainest food, and, as he admitted himself, his mildewed bed was not properly made for months at a time.
Luther and his bride moved into a former monastery, “The Black Cloister,” a wedding present from the new elector John the Steadfast (1525–32). They embarked on what appeared to have been a happy and successful marriage, though money was often short. Between bearing six children, four of whom survived to adulthood, Katharina helped earn the couple a living by farming the land and taking in boarders. Luther confided to Michael Stiefel on 11 August 1526: “My Katie is in all things so obliging and pleasing to me that I would not exchange my poverty for the riches of Croesus.”
By 1526, Luther found himself increasingly occupied in organising a new church. His Biblical ideal of congregations’ choosing their own ministers had proved unworkable. According to Bainton: “Luther’s dilemma was that he wanted both a confessional church based on personal faith and experience and a territorial church including all in a given locality. If he were forced to choose, he would take his stand with the masses, and this was the direction in which he moved.” From 1525 to 1529, he established a supervisory church body, laid down a new form of worship service, and wrote a clear summary of the new faith in the form of two catechisms.
To avoid confusing or upsetting the people, Luther avoided extreme change. He also did not wish to replace one controlling system with another. He concentrated on the church in the Electorate of Saxony, acting only as an adviser to churches in other territories, many of which followed his Saxon model. He worked closely with the new elector, John the Steadfast, to whom he turned for secular leadership and funds on behalf of a church largely shorn of its assets and income after the break with Rome. This partnership was the beginning of a questionable and originally unintended development towards a church government under the temporal sovereign. The elector authorised a visitation of the church, a power formerly exercised by bishops. At times, Luther’s practical reforms fell short of his earlier radical pronouncements. For example, the Instructions for the Visitors of Parish Pastors in Electoral Saxony (1528), drafted by Melanchthon with Luther’s approval, stressed the role of repentance in the forgiveness of sins, despite Luther’s position that faith alone ensures justification. The Eisleben reformer Johannes Agricola challenged this compromise, and Luther condemned him for teaching that faith is separate from works. The Instruction is a problematic document for those seeking a consistent evolution in Luther’s thought and practice.
In response to demands for a German liturgy, Luther wrote a German Mass, which he published in early 1526. He did not intend it as a replacement for his 1523 adaptation of the Latin Mass but as an alternative for the “simple people”, a “public stimulation for people to believe and become Christians.” Luther based his order on the Catholic service but omitted “everything that smacks of sacrifice”; and the Mass became a celebration where everyone received the wine as well as the bread. He retained the elevation of the host and chalice, while trappings such as the Mass vestments, altar, and candles were made optional, allowing freedom of ceremony. Some reformers, including followers of Huldrych Zwingli, considered Luther’s service too papistic; and modern scholars note the conservatism of his alternative to the Catholic mass. Luther’s service, however, included congregational singing of hymns and psalms in German, as well as of parts of the liturgy, including Luther’s unison setting of the Creed. To reach the simple people and the young, Luther incorporated religious instruction into the weekday services in the form of the catechism. He also provided simplified versions of the baptism and marriage services.
Luther and his colleagues introduced the new order of worship during their visitation of Electoral Saxony, which began in 1527. They also assessed the standard of pastoral care and Christian education in the territory. “Merciful God, what misery I have seen,” Luther wrote, “the common people knowing nothing at all of Christian doctrine … and unfortunately many pastors are well-nigh unskilled and incapable of teaching.”
Luther devised the chatechism as a method of imparting the basics of Christianity to the congregations. In 1529, he wrote the Large Catechism, a manual for pastors and teachers, as well as a synopsis, the Small Catechism, to be memorised by the people themselves. The catechisms provide easy-to-understand instructional and devotional material on the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. Luther incorporated questions and answers in the catechism so that the basics of Christian faith would not just be learned by rote, “the way monkeys do it”, but understood.
The catechism is one of Luther’s most personal works. “Regarding the plan to collect my writings in volumes,” he wrote, “I am quite cool and not at all eager about it because, roused by a Saturnian hunger, I would rather see them all devoured. For I acknowledge none of them to be really a book of mine, except perhaps the Bondage of the Will and the Catechism.” The Small Catechism has earned a reputation as a model of clear religious teaching. It remains in use today, along with Luther’s hymns and his translation of the Bible.
Luther’s Small Catechism proved especially effective in helping parents teach their children; likewise the Larger Catechism was effective for pastors. Using the German vernacular they expressed the Apostles’ Creed in simpler, more personal, Trinitarian language. He rewrote each article of the Creed to express the character of the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit. Luther’s goal was to enable the catechumens to see themselves as a personal object of the work of the three persons of the Trinity, each of which works in the catechumen’s life. That is, Luther depicts the Trinity not as a doctrine to be learned, but as persons to be known. The Father creates, the Son redeems, and the Spirit sanctifies, a divine unity with separate personalities. Salvation originates with the Father and draws the believer to the Father. Luther’s treatment of the Apostles Creed must be understood in the context of the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) and the Lord’s Prayer, which are also part of the Lutheran catechical teaching.
Luther had been suffering from ill health for years, including Ménière’s disease, vertigo, fainting, tinnitus, and a cataract in one eye. From 1531 to 1546, his health deteriorated further. The years of struggle with Rome, the antagonisms with and among his fellow reformers, all may have contributed. In 1536, he began to suffer from kidney and bladder stones, and arthritis, and an ear infection ruptured an ear drum. In December 1544, he began to feel the effects of angina.
His poor physical health made him short-tempered and even harsher in his writings and comments. His wife Katharina was overheard saying, “Dear husband, you are too rude,” and he responded, “They are teaching me to be rude.”
Luther’s final journey, to Mansfeld, was taken due to his concern for his siblings’ families continuing in their father Hans Luther’s copper mining trade. Their livelihood was threatened by Count Albrecht of Mansfeld bringing the industry under his own control. The controversy that ensued involved all four Mansfeld counts: Albrecht, Philip, John George, and Gerhard. Luther journeyed to Mansfeld twice in late 1545 to participate in the negotiations for a settlement, and a third visit was needed in early 1546 for their completion.
The negotiations were successfully concluded on 17 February 1546. After 8:00 p.m., he experienced chest pains. When he went to his bed, he prayed, “Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God” (Ps. 31:5), the common prayer of the dying. At 1:00 a.m. he awoke with more chest pain and was warmed with hot towels. He thanked God for revealing his Son to him in whom he had believed. His companions, Justus Jonas and Michael Coelius, shouted loudly, “Reverend father, are you ready to die trusting in your Lord Jesus Christ and to confess the doctrine which you have taught in his name?” A distinct “Yes” was Luther’s reply.
An apoplectic stroke deprived him of his speech, and he died shortly afterwards at 2:45 a.m. on 18 February 1546, aged 62, in Eisleben, the city of his birth. He was buried in the Castle Church in Wittenberg, beneath the pulpit.
A piece of paper was later found on which he had written his last statement. The statement was in Latin, apart from “We are beggars,” which was in German.
- No one can understand Vergil’s Bucolics unless he has been a shepherd for five years. No one can understand Vergil’s Georgics, unless he has been a farmer for five years.
- No one can understand Cicero’s Letters (or so I teach), unless he has busied himself in the affairs of some prominent state for twenty years.
- Know that no one can have indulged in the Holy Writers sufficiently, unless he has governed churches for a hundred years with the prophets, such as Elijah and Elisha, John the Baptist, Christ and the apostles. Do not assail this divine Aeneid; nay, rather prostrate revere the ground that it treads. We are beggars: this is true.