Luther Visualized 20 – Final Days

Luther’s Final Days

Luther’s Death House Museum, Andreaskirchplatz 7, Eisleben (© Red Brick Parsonage, 2018). This has been an officially, though erroneously, designated memorial site since 1863.

Even though the quality of his work declined in his waning years, Martin Luther ended his life well.

His last actions show that he ended his life serving his neighbors in love. He spent the last days of his life at the end of January and beginning of February 1546 trying to help disputing counts resolve their differences in the city of Eisleben.

His last written words, found on a slip of paper in his pocket on February 16, show that he ended in humility:

1) No one can understand Vergil in his Bucolics and Georgics [poems about the life of a shepherd and a farmer], unless he has been a shepherd or farmer for five years.
2) No one (as I see it) will understand Cicero in his letters unless he has been active for 25 years in some prominent commonwealth.
3) Let no one think he has sufficiently tasted the Holy Scriptures, unless he has governed the churches for a hundred years with the prophets.

Enormous therefore is the phenomenon of
1) John the Baptist,
2) Christ, and
3) the apostles.

Do not tamper with this divine Aeneid [Vergil’s epic masterpiece], but bow down and adore its very footprints.
We are beggars; this is true.

And his last spoken words show that he ended trusting in his Savior. On the night of February 17, he suffered pains and tightness in his chest. He woke up at about 1 a.m. on February 18 and expressed matter-of-factly that he was going to die in the city where he had been born and baptized. He recited several Bible passages—John 3:16, Psalm 68:20, and especially Psalm 31:5, which he spoke three times in rapid succession: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit; you have redeemed me, God of truth.”

When he became very still, Justus Jonas and Michael Coelius addressed him loudly as it was perhaps approaching 2:30: “Reverend Father, are you ready to die standing firmly on Christ and the doctrine that you have proclaimed?”

Luther rallied his strength and spoke a distinct “Yes,” then fell asleep for the final time. At about 2:45 he grew very pale under his face, his feet and nose grew cold, and he took a deep but gentle breath and gave up his spirit peacefully.

Martin Luther’s Headstone beneath the pulpit in the Castle Church (© Red Brick Parsonage, 2018).

His mortal remains are still buried in a coffin almost eight feet beneath the floor under the pulpit of the Castle Church. It is humbling to stand in front of it and to ponder how the triune God used this frail, sinful human instrument. Those who believe in the Savior of the world as Luther did know that, if they were suddenly to collapse and die, right there in front of his grave or anywhere else on earth, their eternal destination is not in question. Heaven is their home, and it has nothing to do with them being such good people. By nature they deserve hell just like Luther and everybody else. But because of the good news of righteousness graciously given that was restored to its proper place through Luther, they know that they are not going to get what they deserve. They are going to get what their Savior has won for them.

Melanchthon’s words are true in more than one way: Et mortuus vivit. Even dead, he lives.

Luther’s Actual Death House

During his final days in Eisleben, Luther stayed with his friend Johann Albrecht, the city clerk. After Luther’s death, the house quickly developed into a popular pilgrimage destination. Visitors would bring pieces of his deathbed back home; these shavings were allegedly used by some to treat toothache. Since these superstitions were reminiscent of the relics cult that Luther had condemned, the evangelical theologians in Halle put an end to them in 1707 by unceremoniously burning Luther’s deathbed and having the house closed to the public.

In 1726 Eusebius Christian Francke, a cantor, historian, and amateur theologian, having already published a history of the Countship of Mansfeld in 1723, drew up a Versuch einer Historischen Beschreibung der Hauptstatt der Graffschaft Mannßfeld und weltberühmten Geburthsstadt Lutheri Eißleben (Attempt at a Historical Description of Eisleben, the Chief City of the Countship of Mansfeld and World-Renowned City of Luther’s Birth; manuscript in the Eisleben City Archives). In this work he identified the house at what is today Andreaskirchplatz 7 as Luther’s death house. However, he confused the house of Dr. Philipp Drachstedt, in which Luther had died, with the house of his son, Barthel Drachstedt, a mere 50 meters away. Though Francke’s work was never published, a later local chronicler consulted it and used its information towards the end of the century, thus legitimizing the error.

King Wilhelm I of Prussia bought the mistakenly identified house in 1862 and his government subsequently established it as a Luther memorial. The government also commissioned art professor Friedrich Wilhelm Wanderer in 1892 to oversee the renovation of two rooms in the museum, which were thought to be the ones mentioned in Justus Jonas and Michael Coelius’ report of Luther’s death. Wanderer was to see that these rooms were period-correct in style and filled visitors with a sense of reverence for the man who had supposedly died there.

In the late 1960s a chemist and amateur historian named Franz Rämmele was in the Eisleben Museum doing some research on the history of the Department of Central Labor of the Wilhelm Pieck Mansfeld Combine VEB (German abbreviation for Publicly Owned Company). He came across an ancient city plan which showed a street where Luther’s Death House should have been. Resolving to the get to the bottom of the mystery, he eventually synopsized his findings in an essay that he submitted to the museum for safekeeping; he also gave a copy to the Institute for Monument Preservation and filed another in the Mansfeld Combine Archives. Word began to spread in the city that Rämmele had discovered that Luther had actually died in the Socialist Unity Party of Germany’s district administration office for the Mansfeld Combine. The First Secretary of the administration, Ernst Wied, saw the rumors as an attack on the political party, which consistently painted Luther in a negative light. He summoned Rämmele and “made it clear that Luther already had a death house,” though Rämmele later claimed that the secretary’s fears were unfounded, because he never had any intention of publishing his findings.

Hotel Graf von Mansfeld, Markt 56 (© Red Brick Parsonage, 2018), which marks the actual location where Martin Luther died.

In 2001 Dr. Eberhard Eigendorf caused a stir with his self-published work, Gab es in Eisleben Wohnschlösser der Mansfelder Grafen? In welchem Hause verstarb der Reformator Martin Luther am 18. Februar 1546? (Were There Residential Castles for the Counts of Mansfeld in Eisleben? In What House Did the Reformer Martin Luther Pass Away on February 18, 1546?) Both Eigendorf and Rämmele came to the same conclusion, that Martin Luther died at what is now Markt 56. The original building has long ago burned down. Today the site is occupied by the Hotel Graf von Mansfeld, a well-rated restaurant and hotel.

Nevertheless, the mistakenly identified building continues to serve as the official museum commemorating Luther’s final days on earth. In 2013, after a two-year renovation, it reopened with a permanent exhibition called “Luther’s Final Path.”

Sources
Andreas Ranft, ed., Sachsen und Anhalt: Jahrbuch der Historischen Kommission für Sachsen-Anhalt (Cologne: Böhlau Verlag, 2003), vol. 24, p. 251

Burkhard Zemlin, “Martin Luthers Sterbehaus: Uralter Stadtplan hat stutzig gemacht” (accessed 4 December 2017)

E. G. Schwiebert, Luther and His Times: The Reformation from a New Perspective (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1950), pp. 745-752

Eusebius Christian Francke, Historie der Grafschafft Manßfeld (Leipzig: Jacob Schuster, 1723)

Franz Kadell, “Das echte und das falsche Sterbehaus” (accessed 4 December 2017)

Luther Visualized 18 – Physical Appearance

Lutherstadt Eisleben, “Sterbehaus” (accessed 4 December 2017)

Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: The Preservation of the Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), pp. 369-382

Weimarer Ausgabe 48:241; 54:479ff, esp. 489ff

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Michael Schulteis: Student in Wittenberg

By Wilibald Gurlitt

Translator’s Preface

The following was translated from Wilibald Gurlitt’s Michael Praetorius (Creuzbergensis): Sein Leben und Seine Werke (Michael Praetorius [of Creuzburg]: His Life and His Works) (Leipzig: Druck von Breitkopf & Härtel, 1915), p. 9-10. This is the third in a series of posts on Michael Praetorius.

For more on the author, click here. For more on this particular work of the author, read the Translator’s Preface here.

This section picks up after Michael Schulteis, Michael Praetorius’ father, has enrolled at the University of Wittenberg during the winter semester of 1528, at about age 13. Though we have no personal recollections from Schulteis about his time in Wittenberg, Gurlitt is able to put us in his shoes anyway by citing the recollections of a man who enrolled at the university on May 30, 1529, at the age of 24, Johannes Mathesius. (I was startled to discover that Mathesius’ series of sermons on Luther’s life, a sine qua non for any serious Luther biographer or Reformation historian, has not yet appeared in English.)

The bracketed [ ] interpolations in the Mathesius excerpt are Gurlitt’s, except for those that contain the original German. For the sake of translation accuracy, I consulted four editions of Mathesius’ work:

  • Historien von des Ehrwirdigen in Gott Seligen thewren Manns Gottes, Doctoris Martini Luthers, anfang, lehr, leben und sterben (Nuremberg, 1566), folios 81, 82. (See link under “Sources” on the right.)
  • A. J. D. Rust, ed., Leben Dr. Martin Luthers, in siebzehn Predigten (Berlin: Verlag von G. Crantz, 1841), p. 105-106, 107.
  • Dr. Martin Luthers Leben (St. Louis: Druckerei des Lutherischen Concordia-Verlags [Concordia Publishing House], 1883), p. 125-126, 128.
  • The edition Gurlitt used for his citation (rf. Endnote 1).

Michael Schulteis: Student in Wittenberg

Master Johannes Mathesius, who spent his first semester at the University of Wittenberg in 1529, paints a vivid picture of student life at that time. Among other things, he relates the following from that year:

[S]ince Doctor Johann Pommer, pastor in Wittenberg, was absent at this time [Bugenhagen was in Hamburg], being regularly called upon to organize churches and schools in the land of Saxony [Lower Saxony], our Doctor [Luther] preached three or four sermons every week. In them he expounded the Sunday Gospels, the Gospel of John, and chapters 19 and 20 of the second book of Moses in a wise and Christian manner. It was also at that time, on St. James’ Day [July 25], that he beautifully applied the legends of St. Christopher to all preachers and Christian people who carry Jesus Christ in their heart and arms, guard their conscience, and help other people, and who receive nothing but ingratitude from the world and false brothers for doing so.

During this year I also heard, in the first place, the Catechism and many other comforting doctrines expounded, by Doctor Justus Jonas [theological dean from 1523-1533] in the castle [the collegiate Castle Church] and by the three deacons, Master Georg Rörer, Johann Mantel, and Master Sebastian Fröschel [in the parish church]. Now, just as the Parish Church and Castle Church were very well managed at that time, and the word of Christ was wisely taught in good harmony and produced much fruit, so also the university was held in the highest honor at that time.

From the Doctor [Luther] I heard the last 22 chapters in the prophet Isaiah expounded in the course of perhaps forty weeks. From these lectures I often returned home filled with comfort and joy [confidence].

From Mr. [Herrn] Philipp [Melanchthon], the faithful and diligent professor, I heard during this short time a portion of Cicero’s Orations and the beautiful Latin oration pro Archia. During this year I also heard him lecture on the entire dialectics [logic], which he dictated to us afresh, together with rhetoric [including homiletics]. In the morning this great man explained the epistle to the Romans; on Wednesday he lectured on honorable ethics and virtue from Aristotle’s Ethica or book of ethics. We debated or gave speeches [declamiret] on this every week. Mr. Johann Bugenhagen [who returned to Wittenberg in June of 1529] expounded the epistles to the Corinthians; Doctor Jonas expounded several Psalms. Aurogallus [Matthäus Goldhahn, d. 1543] lectured on his Hebrew grammar and Psalm 119. Master Franz [Burchart] of Weimar lectured on Greek, Tulichius [died as rector in Lüneburg in 1540] on Cicero’s De officiis, Master Vach [Balthasar Fabricius from Vacha an der Werra] on Virgil. The old Master [Johannes] Volmar lectured on the Theoricas planetarum,* Master [Jakob] Mülich on the sphere.† Master Caspar Creuziger lectured on Terence to the young students in the paedagogium at this time.‡ The private schools were excellently managed in the same way. Master Winsheim [Veit Örtel from Windsheim], Master Kilian Goldstein, Master [Veit] Amerbach, and Master Erasmus Reinhold, and soon afterwards Master [Johannes] Marcellus, Mr. Georg Maior [Major], and Master [Paul] Eber all kept their students in good discipline and diligently lectured and repeated.

There was also good peace and harmony between students and townspeople. …

… We all lived and sang in our choir [hatten unser Canterey] with joy and in good spirits, in love and friendship. Moreover, from the lips of the old men, for whom we juveniles had an honorable awe and reverence, fell many good speeches and stories which I diligently retained. And because it was precisely Mr. Philipp who lectured on dialectics, we had very good discussions consisting of questions and instruction in these and other lectures. There was also no excessive or immature eating, drinking, or entertainment; everyone tended to his studies for which he had come to the place…1

These captivating recollections were written down in the years 1562-1564. Many a detail in them would seem distorted by the passage of time, which tends to make the past more glorious. However, the great and significant thing that was alive in Wittenberg at that time still sounds out clearly on every side of this small portrait of time, which gives an accurate glimpse into the quiet sphere of the inner life of this great time, into the world which a young Wittenberg student experienced in those days, and into the wealth of stimuli and the abundance of important personalities whom he encountered on a daily basis and who filled his soul with sublime happiness.

In these incomparable surroundings, united by uniform convictions and common goals, Michael Schulteis also laid the foundation of his comprehensive education, which would set him apart from so many of his brothers in the ministry in the varied struggles of his life.

We first have to imagine the young Schulteis, occupied with the subjects of the trivium, as a student in one of those numerous Wittenberg “private schools,” which had arisen in the home of various professors according to Melanchthon’s standard. It is uncertain how long this course of study lasted for Schulteis. It is also uncertain when he obtained in Wittenberg the lowest academic degree, the honor of a Bachelor of Arts – or if he did at all;2 his later mention as such may have been merely a professional designation. For indeed, by March 22, 1534, he has been appointed as a Bachelor at the Latin school in Torgau; on that day he receives a pay raise of 10 florins from the council.3 He thus seems to have belonged to the teaching profession for some time already, the customary first step toward the preaching ministry. His outward circumstances were apparently quite poor, which also would have taken him away from his studies in Wittenberg prematurely.

Endnotes

* This might refer to Giovanni Campano’s (also called Campanus von Novara) influential work Theorica Planetarum (1261-1264).

† That is, the sphere of the heavenly bodies, since the universe was thought to be arranged in a series of revolving, concentrically arranged spherical shells in which the heavenly bodies were set in a fixed relationship. Today we would call this astronomy.

Heath’s New German and English Dictionary (1939) defines Pädagogium as a “secondary school (usually a private educational institution); college; academy; cramming establishment [or cram school].” The Journal of Education, ed. Henry Barnard (Hartford, CT: F. C. Brownell, 1860), in part 2 of its “History of the University of Tübingen,” dealing with the years 1535-1652, reads: “For better preparation in the languages, two preparatory schools were adjoined to the university proper; a ‘Trivial School,’ for the rudiments [of grammar, rhetoric, and logic], and a ‘Paedagogium’ immediately preceding entrance to the university. An eminently fit person was to be made ‘Paedagogarch,’ with three masters to assist him; and they were principally to teach grammar and rhetoric; to read with their pupils Terence, Virgil, and Cicero’s epistles; to make them compose a poem (carmen) and an epistle (epistolam); to instruct them in music, both simple and figured, and to sing with them, sometimes after meals, a motet or a psalm” (p. 70). A footnote says that the Paedagogium in Tübingen lasted until the Thirty Years’ War. It appears that the University of Wittenberg had a somewhat similar arrangement.

1 Johannes Mathesius, Luthers Leben in Predigten, in Ausgewählte Werke, ed. G. Loesche (Prague, 1898), 3:159ff.

2 Cf. Jul. Köstlin, Die Baccalaurei und Magistri der Wittenb. philosoph. Fakultät 1518-1537 (Halle, 1888), p. 14, where the conferrals from the years 1525-1532 are missing, with the note (fn. 4): “There seem to have been no conferrals in these years, partially due to the disturbances occasioned by Carlstadt and partially due to plague.”

3 Karl Pallas, Die Registraturen der Kirchenvisitationen im ehemals sächsischen Kurkreise, in Geschichtsquellen der Provinz Sachsen und angrenzender Gebiete, vol. 41, sect. 2, part 4 (Halle, 1911), p. 16.