Luther Visualized 6 – Reform

The German Hercules

Hans Holbein the Younger, Hercules Germanicus, woodcut, c. 1519

This was not part of my sermon and service folder series, but I wanted to include it with this online series. In the midst of Martin Luther’s instructional and reformatory writings of 1519 and 1520, Hans Holbein the Younger of Basel produced this woodcut of “The German Hercules.” Luther with his tonsure and Augustinian habit, from which a lion’s skin hangs down protracted, holds a knotty club with long, sharp spikes in his right hand, in order to deal a crushing blow to the last of his opponents, which he holds down by the neck with his left hand. He is Jacob van Hoogstraaten, the Dominican doctor of theology and inquisitor of Cologne. (Perhaps Holbein produced this woodcut after being acquainted with Luther’s 1519 work A Page Against Jacob Hoogstraaten.) A string is drawn from Luther’s nose, which has a strangled pope hanging from the end of it. Beneath Luther the following have already been beaten down so that they lie there powerless: Aristotle, the philosopher; Thomas Aquinas; William of Ockham; an unnamed monk; Nicholas of Lyra, directly beneath Luther’s feet with his commentary on the Bible in hand; Peter Lombard, wearing a beret, virtually crushed by those around him, and holding his book (which reads “L. IV SENTENCIAR” – short for Libri IV Sententiarum [Four Books of Sentences] – in reflected letters); Robert Holcot, an English Dominican scholastic philospher, theologian, and influential Bible scholar; and Duns Scotus, who was know for his commentary on Lombard’s Sentences, is not visible. In the background are some houses, apparently belonging to a village, beneath a mountain. Between the village and the foreground another hooded, tasseled figure makes good his escape.

The colorized version of this woodcut appeared in the eighth book of the Schweizerchronik by Heinrich Brennwald and his son-in-law Johannes Stumpf, for the beginning of the year 1519. Beneath the woodcut are six Latin distichs, which read:

Do you not shudder, wicked Rome, at your enemy Luther,
the German Hercules, as he does away with monsters?

You see, do you not, how he has suspended the tripled Geryon [allusion to the three-tiered papal tiara]
from an aquiline nose, and how the drooping crest wearies the head?

See for yourself with what might he strikes down the raving sophists,
and how the agile club besets the rabid dogs.

Behold, what falls is a multitude gone mad, to whom Cerberus himself
is inferior, and a Hydra reproducing in new throats.

Why not then acknowledge the gallant man as both lord and father,
since you stretched out conquered hands to him when you were stung the first time?

There has been error enough, believe me; be sensible and cleanse yourself again,
or else impure Lerna’s sacred flame awaits you.

In a December 27, 1531, sermon on Isaiah 9:6, in talking about Christ as a Champion who “deals out blows left and right” “without swinging a sword,” Luther wittingly or not paid tribute to this portrayal of himself:

So too today, what have I done to the pope? I have not taken so much as a Heller [or dime] from him. I simply swing the gospel at the monks, nuns, priests, and bishops, and all their errors and idols have fallen to the ground.

Sources
Theophil Burckhardt-Biedermann, “Über Zeit und Anlaß des Flugblattes: Luther als Hercules Germanicus,” Basler Zeitschrift für Geschichte und Altertumskunde, vol. 4 (1905), pp. 38-40

Martin Luther, Luther at the Manger: Christmas Sermons on Isaiah 9:6 (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 2017), pp. 49-51

Title page from a first edition of Martin Luther’s Prelude on the Babylonian Captivity of the Church (Wittenberg, 1520); full book viewable here

1519 and 1520 were truly the years of the Reformation proper, as far as Luther’s writings are concerned. Among his instructional writings were his lectures on Galatians (May 1519, eventually replaced by his 1535 edition); lectures on Psalms 1-21 (1519), Meditation on Christ’s Passion (1519); Exposition of the Lord’s Prayer (April 1519); A Brief Form of the Ten Commandments; A Brief Form of the Creed; A Brief Form of the Lord’s Prayer (1520); A Sermon on Preparing to Die (October 1519); A Sermon on Usury (1519); A Sermon on the Sacrament of Penance (1519); A Brief Instruction on How Confession Should Be Made (January 1519) and How to Confess (March 1520); A Sermon on the Holy and Blessed Sacrament of Baptism (1519); A Sermon on the Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ, and the Brotherhoods (1519); and his Treatise on Good Works (May 1520).

His two major reformatory writings were To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation Concerning the Reform of the Christian Estate (June 1520), in which he demanded that the papacy be reformed and celibacy for the priests abolished and proposed that every city should care for its own poor people (leading to the first congregational charity program), and his Prelude on the Babylonian Captivity of the Church (October 1520; pictured), in which he denied that there were seven sacraments and confessed only three or two (depending on whether an external element was part of the definition of sacrament), denied the doctrine of transubstantiation and taught the real presence, and taught that priests should be elected and permitted to marry. The latter work gained such notoriety that it was even rebutted by King Henry VIII of England.

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Luther Visualized 5 – The Tower Discovery

Luther Rediscovers the Gospel

Martin Luther, from his preface to Tomus Primus Omnium Operum Reverendi Domini Martini Lutheri, Doctoris Theologiae, etc. (Wittenberg: Hans Lufft, 1545)

This is the seventh and final page of Martin Luther’s preface to the first volume of the first attempted compilation of his works, published in 1545. The page begins:

At last, by the mercy of God, as I was earnestly meditating days and nights, I started paying attention to the context of the words [in Romans 1:17], namely, “The righteousness of God is revealed in it [viz., the gospel], just as it is written: ‘The righteous person lives by faith.’” There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous person lives by a gift of God, namely by faith…

Sources
Lewis W. Spitz and Helmut T. Lehmann, eds., Luther’s Works, trans. Lewis. W. Spitz, Sr. (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1960), 34:323-338

Weimarer Ausgabe, Tischreden 2:177, no. 1681 (recorded by Schlaginhaufen in 1532); 3:228, no. 3232abc (recorded by Cordatus in 1532); 4:72-73, no. 4007 (recorded by Lauterbach in 1538); 5:26, no. 5247 (recorded by Mathesius in 1540); 5:210,234-235, nos. 5518,5553 (recorded by Heydenreich in the winter of 1542-1543)

Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: His Road to Reformation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1985), pp. 221-227

Archeological excavation of the basement of “the tower,” © Red Brick Parsonage, 2013

The published preface mentioned above was the first time Luther made his gospel rediscovery public. From the Table Talk sources cited above, however, you can see that he had often talked about it privately with his friends before 1545. Most of Luther’s retellings focus exclusively on the content of his discovery. But the 1532 retelling, recorded by both Johannes Schlaginhaufen and Conrad Cordatus, is different. There Luther also makes a point of identifying the location (one gets the impression the group was near the site of the famous discovery at the time): “But when I was in this tower one time (in which there was a privy for the monks), I was speculating on those words [in Romans 1:17].” Another copy of Cordatus’ transcription has: “But when I was in this tower and sweating room…” And after describing his epiphany, he concludes, according to both of his transcribers, “The Holy Spirit introduced this art to me on this latrine” or “on this tower” or “on this latrine on the tower.”

What are we to make of this? I cannot make anything of it except to take Luther at his words. Consider the following:

  1.  The plain language of Luther’s description (with several references varying in explicitness) recorded by two different transcribers
  2. The effort at covering up the location in Johannes Aurifaber’s famous 1566 edition of Luther’s Table Talk, which has Luther concluding: “The Holy Spirit alone introduced this art to me” (emphasis mine). Such cover-up would be unnecessary if Luther’s companions understood that he was referring to his study, where scholars will frequently try to locate his discovery.
  3. We know that Luther’s study was on the third floor of the tower (Brecht, 227). The latrine, as you can see from the picture, was clearly not. How could Luther and his conversational transcribers confuse the two, or use the basement latrine to refer to the entire tower, including Luther’s study?
  4. We can only verify that Luther used the tower as his study from 1522 onwards (info marker outside the excavation), but his epiphany most likely took place in early 1518 (some scholars date it earlier).
  5. In all of his descriptions of his epiphany, Luther never once says he was at his desk or reading; he always says he was speculating or meditating.
  6. The ground floor of the tower had under-floor heating. The warm air from a small stove was led through the pictured conduit under the floor slabs (info marker). Considering that this conduit went right above the latrine, it would have indeed made it a “sweating room.”
  7. According to an info marker outside the excavation, at some point the tower was demolished and earth was deposited over the top for a garden, preserving the ground floor and basement underneath. (Ironically, it was in an attempt to plant another garden there that the latrine was discovered in 2004.) This fits perfectly with Georg Rörer’s copy of Schlaginhaufen’s transcript; either he or someone else wrote “in the garden” above “on this latrine.”
  8. According to an info marker outside the excavation, the tower with the latrine “could only be reached from the monastery” (later Luther’s house after the monastery was gifted to him). This accords with its description in Cordatus’ transcription as “a privy [or private place] for the monks.”
  9. Finally – and this is admittedly more speculative – the basement had another, larger room in addition to the latrine. Luther’s 1532 retelling took place in the summer between June 12 and July 12. Would it not make sense for Luther and his companions to be conversing in the basement to get away from the heat, thus enabling Luther to say in effect, “It happened right here” (without us having to imagine a more awkward setting)? To those who would think this unlikely due to some lingering smell down there, an info marker outside the latrine says, “A small drain served to take the sewage waste from the latrine out of the building. At the time it was in use, the land sloped down quite considerably from east to west and from north to south so that the majority of the sewage was washed away.”

Many of course who are convinced that Luther’s famous discovery happened on the toilet, and who are not sympathetic to his reforms and teachings, love to make crude jokes about “the 95 Feces” and Luther going to discharge his waste and having something even worse come out, namely Lutheranism. Never mind all that. The Bible consistently testifies that the triune God’s modus operandi is to bring order and glory out of disorder and shame (creation, Judah and Tamar, crossing of the Red Sea, the Messiah’s birth, etc.) and to hide the truth behind weakness, shame, offense/scandal, and foolishness (Jesus’ choice of apostles, crucifixion, the means of grace, the theology of the cross, etc.), so that only those who are earnestly and genuinely seeking the truth find and remain with the truth (Jeremiah 29:13; Matthew 5:6; 13:11-15). Luther’s tower discovery on the toilet, then, really isn’t all that surprising. If you want to find the truth, you often have to look in the least likely places, according to our natural human reason. And if you want to find the truth of the gospel in 1518, you have to look in the bathroom at a monk from an ordinary copper miner’s family performing one of life’s less attractive chores. If you care nothing for the truth, you will run away disgusted. But to those who love the truth, that bathroom is one of the most attractive places on earth.

Luther Visualized 4 – The 95 Theses

Luther Posts the Ninety-Five Theses on Indulgences

Anonymous, Elector Frederick the Wise of Saxony’s Dream in Schweinitz on October 31, 1517, woodcut, 1717

This scene, itself a recasting of an earlier one from 1617, depicts a later tradition (dating to 1591), supposedly related thirdhand, that, on the night before Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Elector Frederick the Wise had a dream which he related to his brother John the following morning. In the dream, a monk wrote something on the door of his Castle Church with a pen whose quill stretched all the way to Rome and threatened to knock the tiara from the pope’s head.

Source
Johann Georg Theodor Gräße, Der Sagenschatz des Königreichs Sachsen (Dresden: Verlag von G. Schönfeld’s Buchhandlung, 1855), pp. 29-32

Lucas Cranach the Elder, Church of the Foundation of All Saints (Castle Church), woodcut, 1509 (coloring subsequent)

On the evening of October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed his Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. Or did he? Philipp Melanchthon was the first to report on the posting of the theses as we commonly depict it, but he was not in Wittenberg in 1517 and he didn’t report on the posting of the theses until after Luther’s death. The closest report we get that may have been recorded during Luther’s lifetime is a handwritten note by Georg Rörer in a 1540 copy of the New Testament that was also used by Luther for making translation revisions, but that note says that Luther posted his theses on October 31 on the doors of both churches in Wittenberg. Plus, Rörer later wrote another note that matched Melanchthon’s information, apparently after he had read Melanchthon’s account. We do know that Luther included a copy of the theses with a letter to Archbishop Albrecht of Mainz on October 31, and that he himself reckoned the “treading underfoot” of indulgences from that day, but his own correspondence from 1518 strongly implies that he did not immediately make the theses public. Historian Martin Brecht suggests that Luther did not post the theses until perhaps the middle of November 1517. This woodcut of the Castle Church appeared in Das Wittenberger Heiltumsbuch of 1509, which depicted Elector Frederick the Wise’s extensive relic collection and was illustrated with numerous woodcuts by Lucas Cranach. In 1760 the Castle Church, including the wooden doors on which Luther had allegedly posted the theses, was destroyed by fire. In 1858 commemorative bronze doors inscribed with the original Latin theses were mounted where the old wooden doors stood.

Sources
Philipp Melanchthon’s preface to Tomus Secundus Omnium Operum Reverendi Domini Martini Lutheri, Doctoris Theologiae, etc. (Wittenberg: Hans Lufft, 1546), par. 24 (third par. on the linked page)

Volker Leppin and Timothy J. Wengert, “Sources for and against the Posting of the Ninety-Five Theses,” Lutheran Quarterly, vol. 29 (Winter 2015), pp. 373-398

Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: His Road to Reformation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1985), pp. 190-202

Luther Visualized 3 – The Vow

Luther Becomes a Monk

Lutherstein, photo by Gernot Merten, © Thüringen Universal

On Wednesday, July 2, 1505, Luther was returning to Erfurt after visiting his parents in Mansfeld. About six kilometers north of Erfurt, along the Stollberg hills near Stotternheim, a thunderstorm broke out and a lightning bolt struck nearby. The pictured memorial stone marks the approximate spot. It reads: “Hallowed Ground | Turning Point of the Reformation | In a flash from heaven, the young Luther was here shown the way.” The opposite side has the words Luther cried out after being knocked to the ground: “Help, St. Anne! I will become a monk!”

Sources
Christian Gotthold Neudecker, ed., Die handschriftliche Geschichte Ratzeberger’s über Luther und seine Zeit (Jena: Druck und Verlag von Friedrich Mauke, 1850), pp. 45-46

Johannes Mathesius, Historien / Von des Ehrwirdigen in Gott Seligen thewren Manns Gottes / Doctoris Martini Luthers / anfang / lehr / leben und sterben (Nuremberg, 1566), fol. 4

Georg Oergel, Vom jungen Luther (Erfurt: Druck und Verlag von J. G. Cramers Buchdruckerei, 1899), pp. 27-28

Michael Wolgemut and Wilhelm Pleydenwurff, Erfordia, woodcut, 1493 (coloring subsequent)

Luther enrolled in the University of Erfurt in the spring of 1501. (The city’s population was about 20,000 at the time.) There he obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1502 (ranked 30 of 57) and his Master of Arts degree in February 1505 (ranked 2 of 17). He began studying law in May 1505, in keeping with his father’s wishes, but these studies were interrupted by his vow to become a monk on July 2. On July 17, his friends escorted him to the monastery of the Order of Hermits of St. Augustine in Erfurt. After his several-week trial period and his novitiate year, he took his vows of obedience, poverty, and chastity and became a full-fledged monk in 1506. This woodcut of Erfurt appeared in Hartmann Schedel’s so-called Nürnberger Chronik (more properly, Das Buch der Croniken und [Gedechtnus Wirdigern] Geschichten) (Nuremberg: Anton Koberger, 1493). The city is viewed from the east with the Kremper or Krämpfer Gate in the foreground. Most prominently depicted are St. Mary’s Cathedral and St. Severus’ Church on the left (south), and the Benedictine monastery of St. Peter on Peter’s Hill (Petersberg) on the right (north). St. Augustine Church, marking the location of the Augustinian monastery, would be represented (if it is) by one of the steeples more toward the foreground on the northern half. The only building from the old university still in existence today, the Collegium Maius, is not far southwest of the monastery and would probably be near the fold of the woodcut.

The Burial of Dr. C. F. W. Walther

By Prof. Martin Günther

The Burial of the Blessed Dr. Walther

On May 7, during the synod convention, on its fourth day of sessions, Dr. Walther fell asleep. So that the convention would not be interrupted and so that a truly large number of the synod’s members could take part in the burial, the burial was postponed at the desire of the convention.

On Friday, May 13, in the afternoon, the embalmed body was brought into the seminary building and placed on the bier in the main hall [großen Halle] there, near the lecture rooms. When it was time to depart from the house of mourning, Mr. Pastor Stöckhardt gave an address and said a prayer. The coffin, carried by eight students, was followed by the grieving survivors—the two sons of the deceased, Mr. Pastor Ferdinand Walther and Mr. Constantin Walther, Mr. Pastor St[ephanus] Keyl and his wife and daughter,1 and Mr. Pastor H[einrich] Niemann, whose wife, the youngest daughter of Dr. Walther,2 was unfortunately prevented from attending by illness. The rest of the students followed after them.

The seminary building was draped in black both inside and out. Even the professors’ residences, as well as those of the church members who live here, were hung with black. The students took turns keeping guard.

On Saturday evening, at the desire of Americans, an English funeral service was held in the main hall [Aula] of the seminary. Mr. Pastor Birkner from St. Louis was the speaker.

On Sunday afternoon the body was brought to Trinity Church. Great was the number of those who made an appearance for this solemn occasion. The main hall [große Aula] could not hold them all. Mr. Pastor Stöckhardt gave the address for this, printed in this issue. A great multitude followed the corpse on foot, in spite of the threatening weather. Trinity Church was decked in mourning crape both inside and out. Many, many additional people came into the church on that day and on Monday and Tuesday morning, in order to have one last look at the countenance of the cherished deceased.

At midday on Tuesday the body was brought to its final resting place. Around 11 o’clock the students, professors and pastors, from both here and elsewhere, teachers, congregational administrators, and others assembled in the schoolhouse on Barry Street, in order to proceed from there to Trinity Church in solemn procession. Around 12 o’clock the funeral service began, in which Mr. President Schwan preached on Psalm 90 and Mr. Professor Crämer spoke at the altar on 2 Kings 2:12. The pallbearers on this solemn occasion were the professors of the seminary and the pastors of the city. From all parts of our country pastors of our synod had hastened this way to pay their last respects to the beloved deceased. Even other synods were represented: the Hon. Minnesota Synod by her president, Mr. Pastor Albrecht; the Hon. Wisconsin Synod by Professors Notz and Gräbner from her seminary in Milwaukee; and the Hon. Norwegian Synod by her president at large3 and Mr. Professor Larsen from Decorah. Certainly there has been no funeral for a theologian in America in which that many theologians have taken part. Certainly the city of St. Louis has scarcely seen a larger funeral.

At the grave Mr. Pastor O[tto] Hanser gave the graveside address on Daniel 12:2,3. Mr. Professor Larsen (of the Norwegian Synod) could not refrain from giving a short speech, in order to testify for how much also the Norwegian Synod has the cherished departed to thank. We impart his heartfelt words here:

Included among the great host of mourners who have assembled on this sad occasion are a small number of pastors from the Norwegian Synod, including the president at large of this synod. On behalf of so many of our brothers, we would very much like to express the heartfelt gratitude that we feel toward God and his servant, the cherished Dr. Walther, now of blessed memory, for every good thing God has poured out through him, on us as well. And so we cannot pass up the opportunity also to convey our thanks to the entire synod, so strongly represented here, who had him as her leader. The Missouri Synod has demonstrated such great and sacrificial love to us for nigh unto thirty years now. Since the year 1858, surely without interruption, we have had students in her theological seminaries. Approximately half of our pastors have studied at these seminaries, and most of them have had the benefit of Walther’s instruction. Who can measure the blessings they have reaped from this, and the blessings reaped through them by their congregations and our people? But also others of us, including some older persons in our synod, who did not receive formal instruction here as enrolled students—did we not sit at Walther’s feet too? Certainly we did, and far from being ashamed of it, we rather count it as an honor and, more than that, as a great blessing which we have been allotted thereby. Our people have also been blessed by Walther and the Missouri Synod in that quite a few writings from here have been translated into our language and have been distributed among our fellow countrymen. We mention especially Walther’s Gospel Sermons [Evangelien-Postille] and the glorious little book, The True Form of an Evangelical Lutheran Local Congregation Independent of the State [Die rechte Gestalt einer vom Staate unabhängigen evangelisch-lutherischen Ortsgemeinde].

Walther and the synod who had him as her leader gave us such strong guidance and encouragement in faithfulness, both in preserving the divine truth and in striving for true holiness. Let it be our earnest wish and prayer today that this faithfulness might long survive the dear departed both in our synod and in his own! May it be so for Jesus’ sake! Amen.

It should go without saying that the students sang their funeral songs at the grave of their beloved teacher, just as they had for the preceding solemnities. Mr. Pastor Sieck spoke the collect and blessing, and Mr. Pastor Wangerin, after he and the assembly had finished singing the antiphonal burial song, “Now Lay We Calmly in the Grave,”4 spoke the Lord’s Prayer. The grave into which the coffin was lowered is lined with masonry. A heavy stone slab covers the coffin.

Source
Der Lutheraner, vol. 43, no. 11 (June 1, 1887), pp. 86-87

Endnotes
1 Stephanus Keyl (1838-1905), the oldest son of Pastor Ernst Gerhard Wilhelm Keyl, was taken into the custody of C. F. W. Walther, his uncle, in 1847 when his father accepted a call to Milwaukee. He ended up marrying Walther’s daughter Magdalena (b. Nov. 22, 1842), his first cousin, in 1862.

2 Julie (b. July 27, 1849)

3 Herman Amberg Preus (1825-1894; president of the Norwegian Synod from 1862)

4 A hymn by Michael Weisse (c. 1480-1534), #476 in the Evangelical Lutheran Hymnary

Luther Visualized 2 – Education

Luther’s Education

Ferdinand Pauwels, Luther Singing for Bread with His Schoolmates at Mrs.
Cotta’s House in Eisenach, oil on canvas, 1872

After attending school in Mansfeld (1488-1497) and Magdeburg (1497-1498), Luther attended St. George School in Eisenach from 1498 to 1501. There he took part in the custom of the students at the time, of going around singing in exchange for any sort of charitable support. A young Ursula Cotta, who was living with her husband Kunz in the home of her parents, allegedly enjoyed his singing and sincere prayers in church and took him into her home.

Sources
Christian Gotthold Neudecker, ed., Die handschriftliche Geschichte Ratzeberger’s über Luther und seine Zeit (Jena: Druck und Verlag von Friedrich Mauke, 1850), p. 43

Johannes Mathesius, Historien / Von des Ehrwirdigen in Gott Seligen thewren Manns Gottes / Doctoris Martini Luthers / anfang / lehr / leben und sterben (Nuremberg, 1566), fol. 3

Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: His Road to Reformation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1985), pp. 9-21

Matthäus Merian der Ältere, Manßfeldt, woodcut, 1650

In the summer of 1484, Martin’s parents moved to Mansfeld in the heart of beautiful copper mining country. There Hans Luther leased a smelter and Martin received his first formal education in the Latin trivial school next to St. George’s Church. When Martin Luther eventually enrolled in the University of Erfurt in 1501, he signed himself “Martinus ludher ex mansfelt.” This woodcut of Luther’s hometown appeared in Martin Zeiler’s famous Topographia Germaniae series, specifically Topographia Superioris Thüringiae, Misniae, Lusatiae etc (Frankfurt am Main: Matthaeus Merian, 1650), between pages 132 and 133. The city is viewed from the south, with Mansfeld Castle, the seat of the countship, on the hill (east) overlooking the town. (The castle was renovated, expanded, and heavily fortified in 1547, the year after Luther’s death.) St. George Church lies in the valley below.

The Death of Dr. C. F. W. Walther

By Prof. Martin Günther

✠ Dr. C. F. W. Walther ✠

So the sad occurrence has now come to pass. Although it was not unexpected, all our hearts are still filled with the deepest grief. Our dearly beloved and highly respected father and teacher, Dr. C. F. W. Walther, has passed away.

What this dear, departed man has meant to our synod,1 yes, to the Church both near and far, and what we therefore have now lost by losing him, we need not highlight here. What we have him to thank for, right after God, we highlighted in Der Lutheraner when we had occasion to report on his 50th anniversary in the ministry,2 and the synodical address and synodical sermon printed in this issue show how we rightly mourn, yet not without hope.

We will therefore limit ourselves here to a brief recounting of our blessed Walther’s final days on earth and of his blessed departure.

The aforementioned issue already reported on the illness he had contracted.2 Since that time, with every passing week, the hope that this faithful, tireless laborer would be restored to his work in the Lord’s vineyard increasingly dwindled. His strength continued to wane. Indeed, at first the departed was entertaining the hope that he would still recover at some point; indeed, the man who was accustomed only to work on behalf of God’s kingdom was thinking that he would be able, even if only in a limited way, to take up his usual work once again. But later he gave up these thoughts and looked forward to his release from bondage and eagerly anticipated his redemption.

He often confessed that he experienced great joy when he called to mind all of the many great blessings which God had shown him during his long life. Right up to the end, he often praised it as a special grace of God that God had protected him from severe spiritual afflictions in this final illness, which he had not been spared in past illnesses. He also comforted himself with God’s gracious election, and was comforted by others with it. One time he mentioned that many people probably considered him a truly stubborn man who would not be dissuaded from his opinions, but he was certain that this “obstinacy,” with which he had held firmly to the truth he had come to know, was a donum Dei (gift of God).3 Regarding special wishes and concerns for the future, he expressed several times that he had nothing in particular on his heart—just one matter that Mr. Pastor Stöckhardt took care of at his wish. Only in general terms did he frequently declare: Oh, if our synod will simply persevere in what she has! God has shown her such extravagant grace. And if she will only preserve a devout ministerium and not let any unworthy persons into the ministry [ins Amt]!

In his final weeks he often slept and was unconscious. Visitors could speak with him very little. During this time, when writers, upon taking their leave, would say to him, “The Lord will not leave you or forsake you; he will stand by you with his power,” the wearied man would turn his head a little and say, “Especially in the final hour!” Often the sigh would rise from his heart: “God, have mercy!” Often he would pray: “Jesus, your blood and righteousness My beauty are, my glorious dress,” etc.4 When Mr. Pastor O. Hanser took leave of him and asked him if he was looking forward to the glory of heaven, he answered, “Yes.”

Concerning his final days, Mr. Pastor Stöckhardt reports as follows:

At 5:30 this evening ([Saturday,] May 7), our Dr. Walther was finally set free from his prolonged suffering and transferred to the company of those who have overcome. His final days were a truly peaceful conclusion to a difficult confinement in bed. While he was almost continually without consciousness a week ago, since Wednesday one could once again speak with him intelligibly and he understood everything that was said to him. At the start of the convention, his son reminded him that the convention was now beginning, but that he would soon be called to another assembly, that of the patriarchs, prophets, and apostles. To that he replied, “That will be glorious!” Indeed he still did much sighing: “God, have mercy! O God, do not forsake me!” But right up to the end he also affirmed the deathbed comfort that people shared with him from God’s Word with “Yes,” or by nodding, or with a handshake. When an old church member visited him the day before yesterday and began to speak Psalm 23, he recited the entire psalm. Yesterday evening we prepared ourselves for the end. At his request I prayed one more time with him and his relatives and then read the verse from the evening hymn: “Should this night be my final night In this dark vale of tears, Let me behold your Son in light With your elected heirs,” etc.5 When I was finished, he said, “May God grant it!” I then posed him this question: Was he now also ready to die confidently in the same grace of the Lord Jesus Christ to which he had testified throughout his life? He answered it with a loud and clear “Yes.” Toward midnight he seemed to have terrible pains one more time, and then he said, “That is enough!” After that, he seems to have experienced no more agony. The whole day today he was, as they say, at the point of death, but he did remain conscious right up to the end, and he made it clearly known that he had no problem understanding what his son, Prof. Schaller, and I said to him. One hour before his death, I was called straight to another dying man and, when I came back, I found him departed. In short, it was a truly peaceful, quiet, uplifting conclusion to a prolonged, often gloomy period of suffering.

We bow down beneath the hand of God. It is sorrowful for us. It is wonderful for him. He has entered into his Master’s happiness. We can only imagine the joys with which the soul of this devout and faithful servant was received! O how glorious, how great his reward will be!

Source
Der Lutheraner, vol. 43, no. 10 (May 15, 1887), pp. 77-78

Endnotes
1 Namely, the German Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio, and Other States, today called the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod

2 From Der Lutheraner, vol. 43, no. 3 (February 1, 1887), p. 17: “This issue of Der Lutheraner is festively decorated, and rightly so, since the man who founded this newspaper in 1844, who ran it by himself for years, who, even after its editorship was placed into the hands of the St. Louis seminary faculty, has labored most faithfully on its behalf and carried its welfare on his heart up to the present, namely Mr. Doctor C. F. W. Walther, celebrated his 50th anniversary in the ministry [Amtsjubiläum] on January 16.

“Now if it is already a great and gracious gift of God when a servant of the Church has labored for 50 years in one or more congregations, then we should extol it as an especially great and gracious gift when such a man has completed 50 years in the ministry [Amtsjahre] who has served not just as a pastor, but whose service has extended into far reaches. And this is the case with our beloved celebrant. Passing over his abundantly fruitful activity as a pastor, he has functioned as editor of Der Lutheraner, as author of many significant doctrinal and polemic writings, as long-standing president of our synod, as professor and president of our St. Louis institution, as tireless speaker and consultant at synod conventions, as correspondent and adviser not just here in America, but also all the way into the farthest reaches of our church, to Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australia. Not just friends, but even opponents are compelled to acknowledge this abundantly fruitful activity. Thousands owe him a debt of thanks, right after God. Our paper therefore has fittingly put on festive adornment in honor of this joyous occasion for its founder.”

From the same issue, column 2 of p. 18: “This celebration, which for many months now had occupied the hearts of the St. Louis congregations and of most of the congregations in the synod, now lies behind us. During this time, ardent prayers have ascended to the throne of divine grace, asking that our faithful Savior would please permit our faithful teacher to enjoy this great and rare day of honor in good health and with all his former mental vigor, and that he would permit us to celebrate a truly joyful day of jubilee. But it has pleased the Lord, in his unsearchable wisdom, not to answer our prayers in the way our hearts implored; otherwise we would be able to report today on a larger public celebration. If all of our human wishes and plans had been achievable, this day would certainly have been a day of jubilee for the entire synod, led by the St. Louis congregations, and the presidents and delegations from all our synodical schools and pastoral conferences would have made an appearance. For, God be praised, everyone in our synod was saying the same thing, that we had to honor the celebrant as the spiritual father of the synod, whom God has so richly endowed with such extraordinary gifts, because it is chiefly due to him that our synod has spread out so rapidly, that she has enjoyed such unity in faith and confession with corresponding practice, and that each one of her congregations enjoys such glorious freedom and independence, limited only by the clear word of God. And since this is true only by God’s free grace, this day was accordingly also supposed to be prepared as a day of rejoicing and of pure thanks and praise for God’s superabundant grace, which he has so undeservedly shown us through the celebrant.

“These were our human thoughts. But God had other things in mind. The illness of our dear doctor, which had already cropped up in September of last year, grew all the more rampant as he strenuously carried on with his work in his old self-denying way, without permitting himself a moment’s rest, until he finally exhausted himself completely and broke down. The illness had now grown so strong that all the skill of the doctors seemed wasted and we even despaired of his life. But God answered the prayers of his children that were certainly being sent up to him from all over the synod on behalf of this precious life. The illness slowly abated, but a completely extraordinary infirmity remained, which still left us in a constant state of concern for his life. Naturally, this extremely critical condition soon threw all plans for a larger celebration up in the air and, when asked about it, the doctors unanimously declared that, while they did have confident expectations for the dear invalid’s eventual recovery, an exciting, outdoor celebration was also out of the question for the time being. However, they were optimistic that a quieter, short congratulation ceremony in his room with not too many visitors, as the expression of sincere love and grateful veneration, would be much more likely to have a beneficial effect on him.”

3 This is reminiscent of John Adams’ famous quote: “Thanks to God that he gave me stubbornness when I know I am right” (David McCullough, John Adams [New York: Touchstone, 2002], p. 228).

4 At age three, Walther had memorized this stanza for Christmas. “His father was so impressed by this memory that he gave Ferdinand a three-penny piece. This left an indelible mark on the young boy, who determined that if knowing this text was worth so much to his father, it must contain a very important truth” (C. F. W. Walther, Law & Gospel: How to Read and Apply the Bible, ed. Charles P. Schaum [St. Louis: CPH, 2010], p. xix).

5 The final two stanzas of J. F. Herzog’s hymn, “Nun sich der Tag geendet hat.”