Luther Visualized 20 – Final Days

Luther’s Final Days

Luther’s Death House Museum, Andreaskirchplatz 7, Eisleben (2005). 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 (© Red Brick Parsonage, 2013). The Castle Church was being renovated when this photo was taken.

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.

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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Luther Visualized 19 – In Decline

Luther’s Decline in Old Age

Left: Luther’s most infamous work, On the Jews and Their Lies (Wittenberg: Hans Lufft, 1543). Right: Luther’s probably second-most infamous work, Against the Papacy in Rome, Instituted by the Devil (Wittenberg: Hans Lufft, 1545). For more on the accompanying woodcut by Lucas Cranach, see #8 below.

Luther historians like Martin Brecht would have us “guard against too hastily explaining Luther’s actions in the last years of his life as the grumpiness of an old man.” But those who think this is too easy or simple an explanation have not fought the fight Luther had to fight or experienced his frustrations and disappointments. (Rf. Daniel Deutschlander’s brilliant treatment of the Christian’s struggles in the so-called golden years in The Theology of the Cross, pp. 187-193. Luther’s struggles were compounded many times over.) In a letter to Jakob Probst, bishop of Bremen, dated March 26, 1542, he wrote, “I am exhausted by age and work, ‘old, cold, and sorry to behold’ (as they say).” He closed by saying, “I have had enough of this life, or more accurately, of this extremely bitter death.”

Nevertheless, increasing cantankerousness in advancing age is an explanation, not an excuse. Two of his mounting frustrations in particular got the better of him in these years.

That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew (Wittenberg: Lucas Cranach and Christian Döring, 1523).

Luther and the Jews
In 1523 Luther had written That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew. In addition to defending himself against false rumors in it, he also attempted to win the Jews of his day as converts to the Christian gospel. He suspected that the reason more Jews hadn’t converted to Christianity up to that point was because the only Christianity they had been able to convert to was that of the pope and his followers. “[T]hey have dealt with the Jews as if they were dogs and not humans; they have afforded them nothing more than to insult them and take their property. … I hope that, if we deal with the Jews in a friendly way and give them careful instruction from Holy Scripture, many of them will become true Christians and return to the faith of their fathers, the prophets and patriarchs.”

Luther then went on to demonstrate patiently and thoroughly that the Christian faith was indeed the faith of the Old Testament prophets and patriarchs. He thought it enough to convince the Jews that Jesus was the promised Messiah; the teaching of Jesus’ divinity could wait for the time being. “For they have been led astray so badly and for such a long time that we must proceed cautiously with them… If we want to help them, then we must not practice the pope’s law with them but the law of Christian love, receiving them cordially and permitting them to trade and work with us. That way they will acquire the occasion and opportunity to be with us and around us and to hear and witness our Christian teaching and living.” He even joked that the papists might now begin to denounce him as a Jew as a result of the book.

Judensau, sandstone relief on the exterior of the parish church chancel in Wittenberg, c. 1304 (© Red Brick Parsonage, 2013).

Indeed, this book is remarkable when placed in the context of Luther’s thoroughly anti-Semitic culture. To this day you can visit the parish church in Wittenberg and see an anti-Semitic sandstone relief on the southeast corner of the building, called the Judensau or Jewish Sow, which preceded Luther’s arrival in Wittenberg by more than 200 years. It depicts Jewish boys suckling from a sow – an unclean animal in the Jewish religion (rf. Leviticus 11:1-8) – and a Jewish rabbi looking into the sow’s rear end to read the Talmud. This characterizes the world in which Luther grew up, lived, and worked.

But Luther’s hopes for the conversion of many Jews – hopes he also expressed in a letter he wrote to his friend Bernhard, a baptized Jew, in May or June 1523 – were not realized, and he grew increasingly frustrated with them on the whole. In part, his disappointments were fueled by reports and rumors about the Jews originating with Jewish converts to Christianity. After receiving and reading an unidentified treatise containing a dialogue between a Jew and a Christian in an attempt to convert Christians to Judaism, Luther penned On the Jews and Their Lies (pictured at the head) at the end of 1542. The first two sections were relatively tame, but the third section is now infamous. In view of the frightful rumors surrounding their activity and their supposedly negative effect on the economy, Luther advised the following (directly quoted from the book):

  1. to set fire to their synagogues or schools and to bury and cover with dirt whatever will not burn…
  2. that their houses also be razed and destroyed. … Instead they might be lodged under a roof or in a barn, like the gypsies.
  3. that all their prayer books and Talmudic writings…be taken from them.
  4. that their rabbis be forbidden to teach henceforth on pain of loss of life and limb.
  5. that safe-conduct on the highways be abolished completely for the Jews.
  6. that usury be prohibited to them, and that all cash and treasure of silver and gold be taken from them and put aside for safekeeping. … Whenever a Jew is sincerely converted, he should be handed one hundred, two hundred, or three hundred florins, as personal circumstances may suggest.
  7. putting a flail, an ax, a hoe, a spade, a distaff, or a spindle into the hands of young, strong Jews and Jewesses and letting them earn their bread in the sweat of their brow… But if we are afraid that they might harm us or our wives, children, servants, cattle, etc., if they had to serve and work for us…then let us emulate the common sense of other nations such as France, Spain, Bohemia, etc. [further proof of the anti-Semitic world in which Luther lived], compute with them how much their usury has extorted from us, divide this amicably, but then eject them forever from the country.

Martin Sasse, Regional Bishop of Thuringia, ed., Martin Luther on the Jews: Away with Them!, a 1938 pamphlet defending the events of the Night of Broken Glass (Kristallnacht).

Not surprisingly, this work was later utilized by Hitler and the Nazis to try and attract Christians to their cause.

On the one hand, it is folly merely to equate Luther’s religious post-judice (frustration resulting from the Jews’ rejection of the gospel) with Hitler and the Nazi leaders’ racial prejudice (fundamental disdain for the Jewish ethnicity). On the other hand, especially if we are Lutheran, we must acknowledge two things:

  1. The deep contradiction in Luther’s own theology, not only when compared to what he condemned and advocated in his earlier and better 1523 work, but also when compared to his previous assertions about the distinction between Church and State and the roles of each. For example, in his Admonition to Peace (1525) he had written that “no ruler ought to prevent anyone from teaching or believing what he pleases, whether it is the gospel or lies. It is enough if he prevents the teaching of sedition and rebellion.” But in On the Jews and Their Lies Luther tries to defend and advance Christ’s kingdom using the power of worldly government, even though Christ himself said his kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36).
  2. Even supposing that it were biblical to enlist the power of the State in defending and advancing Christ’s kingdom, Luther’s advice in this work would still be unchristian and abominable. How could such treatment ever win hearts, which is what Christianity is always after?

Luther and the Pope
This series has already covered Luther’s biblical conviction of the papacy as the Antichrist. In February and March 1545 Luther gave full, unrestrained vent to his pent-up frustrations with the pope, who had already convoked the Council of Trent (rf. woodcut #3 below). The result was Against the Papacy in Rome, Instituted by the Devil (pictured at the head), printed at the end of March.

While he was working on this book, he also designed a series of ten depictions of the papacy—not in the sense of drawing them himself, but in the sense of describing what he wanted artist Lucas Cranach to produce for him. He also composed a short poem, consisting of two distichs, to accompany each one. Cranach then created the woodcuts according to Luther’s designs and had them published with a Latin title at the top and Luther’s poem at the bottom of each. Today this collection of woodcuts is called Abbildung des Papsttums, or Portrayal of the Papacy. They consist of the following, with Luther’s corresponding poem as the caption of each:

1. Birth and Origin of the Pope – A she-devil gives birth to the pope and cardinals. In the background on the right Megaera, one of the Furies in Greek mythology (the Furies executed the curses pronounced on criminals), serves as the baby pope’s wet-nurse. Alecto, another of the Furies, serves as his nursemaid, rocking him and feeding him honey. Tisiphone, the last of the Furies, teaches the toddler pope to walk. Luther himself criticized Cranach for depicting the pope’s birth so crudely, saying that he should have been more considerate of the female sex.

Hier wird geborn der Widerchrist
Megera sein Seugamme ist:
Alecto sein Kindermegdlin
Tisiphone die gengelt jn.

2. The Monster of Rome, Found Dead in the Tiber River in 1496 – This was actually a reprint of a 1523 woodcut by Cranach. The births of freaks or “monsters” in Luther’s day were viewed as evil omens or signs (informative post on this here). So when Melanchthon found out about an alleged monster that had been found dead in the Tiber River in 1496 with head of a donkey, the body of a woman, the skin of a fish, different kinds of feet, and so on (see all the details in the woodcut), and shared it with Luther, Luther of course took it as a sign that God was telling people what the bishop of Rome had become. This depiction was commonly called der Papstesel, the pope-ass, which also unfortunately became the common way not a few German evangelicals referred to the pope.

Was Gott selbs von dem Bapstum helt
Zeigt dis schrecklich bild hie gestelt:
Dafür jederman grawen solt
Wenn ers zu hertzen nemen wolt.

3. The Pope Gives a Council in Germany – The council initially announced in 1536 (the announcement that prompted the Smalcald Articles of 1537) was finally convened by the pope in Trento—a city at the time in the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation—in December 1545, the now infamous Council of Trent. However by that time Luther and his followers had given up all hope of a council correcting Roman doctrine and practice and restoring the relationship between the Roman Church and the Lutherans. Here the pope giving a council is depicted as him riding a sow with a handful of his own waste in his hand, which the sow sniffs at greedily and to which the pope gives his paternal blessing. Basically Luther is saying that the pope views Germany as a sow which he can ride as he wishes and to which he can feed his waste—namely whatever decisions the council would render—and the pope expects Germany to be happy with all of it.

Saw du must dich lassen reiten.
Und wol sporen zu beiden seiten.
Du wilt han ein Concilium
Ja dafür hab dir mein merdrum:

4. The Pope as Doctor of Theology and Master of the Faith – Luther’s own biting poem beneath this woodcut says it all: “The pope alone can interpret the Scriptures and sweep out error—just as much as the ass alone can play the pipes and understand the notes correctly.”

Der Bapst kan allein auslegen
Die schrifft: und jrthum ausfegen
Wie der Esel allein pfeiffen
Kan: und die noten recht greiffen.

5. The Pope Thanks the Emperors for the Immense Benefits He Has Received – Pope Clement IV is depicted as beheading Conradin of Hohenstaufen (1252-1268), King of Sicily and Naples. Clement doubtless did not perform the execution himself, but was responsible for it. Luther used this as a metaphor for the pope’s ingratitude for all the benefits that had been given to the papacy by the emperors over the years.

Gros gut die Kaiser han gethan
Dem Bapst: und ubel gelegt an.
Dafür jm der Bapst gedanckt hat
Wie dis bild dir die warheit sagt.

6. Here the Pope, Obedient to St. Peter, Pays Honor to the King – This woodcut, not pictured here, also was not included in some editions of the collection. It shows the pope placing his foot on the neck of Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, and so the title is clearly sarcastic. The apostle Peter says to submit to kings and honor them (1 Peter 2:13,17), but the pope, who is the supposed successor of St. Peter, does the opposite. Luther’s accompanying poem reads: “Here the pope openly shows by his deeds that he is the enemy of God and men. What God creates and wants to have honored, the most holy man tramples with his feet.”

7. The Just Rewards of the Most Satanic Pope and His Cardinals – In his poem, Luther said that if the pope and cardinals were to receive what they deserved in the form of earthly punishment (and not just the eternal punishment they can anticipate), this is what it would look like. The pope (on the far right) and three cardinals hang from a gallows. Because of their blasphemies against God and his word, their tongues are nailed to the gallows next to their heads (the hangman is in the process of nailing the pope’s tongue to the crosspiece). Demons receive their souls and carry them away.

Wenn zeitlich gestrafft solt werden:
Bapst und Cardinel auff erden,
Jr lesterzung verdienet het:
Wie jr recht hie gemalet steht.

8. The Kingdom of Satan and the Pope (2 Thessalonians 2) – This is by far the most famous of the woodcuts, since it was also used for the title page of Against the Papacy in Rome, Instituted by the Devil. The pope, with long donkey ears, sits enthroned in the jaws of hell and is waited on by various demons.

Jn aller Teufel namen sitzt
Alhie der Bapst: offenbart jtzt:
Das er sey der recht Widerchrist
So in der schrift verkündigt ist:

9. Here the Kissing of the Pope’s Feet Is Taunted – The pope is holding his ban or excommunication, which is emanating rays. In order to avoid having the ban fall upon them, these two peasants have been summoned to kiss the pope’s feet in repentance. Instead they curse his ban (“Maledetta” is Italian for “damned or accursed thing”), turn around to leave, moon him (in his poem, Luther calls this showing the pope the “Bel vedere,” Italian for “beautiful sight”), and pass gas at him as they go.

Nicht Bapst: nicht schreck uns mit deim bann
Und sey nicht so zorniger man.
Wir thun sonst ein gegen wehre
Und zeigen dirs Bel vedere.

10. The Pope Is Worshipped As an Earthly God – On a podium (altar?) decorated with the papal keys (which, however, are mere skeleton keys, showing that they have no power, because the pope does not use them according to Christ’s institution) sits an inverted papal tiara or crown. A peasant is defecating into it, while another one gets ready to do so. Luther’s poem for this woodcut reads: “The pope has done to Christ’s kingdom as they are treating his crown here. ‘Pay her back double,’ says the Spirit [in Revelation 18:6]. ‘Go ahead and fill it up’ [a play on his own translation of Rev 18:7]—it is God who says so.” To paraphrase: After all the “crap” the pope, as fallen Babylon, has given you true Christians, put twice as much crap in his crown for him to wear.

Bapst hat dem reich Christi gethon
Wie man hie handelt seine Cron. (Apo. 18)
Machts jr zweifeltig. spricht der geist
Schenkt getrost ein: Got ists ders heist

It will come as no surprise that, as went the woodcuts, so went the book. Luther speaks the truth, but he does so in such incredibly crude and indefensible ways that he must fall under the apostle Paul’s judgment of being “only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1). Here is a characteristic excerpt:

This, this, this is how one should lie and blaspheme if he wants to be a real pope. Dear God, what a completely and exceedingly brazen and blasphemous lying yapper the pope is. He speaks just as though there were no one on earth who knew that the four chief councils, and many others besides, were held without the Roman Church. Instead he thinks this way: “Since I am an uncivilized ass and do not read books, then there must not be anyone in the world who reads them. But when I sound out my assy braying – Hee-aw! Hee-aw! [German: Chika, Chika] – or if I just let out an ass fart, then they had better regard it all as an article of faith. If not, then Saints Peter and Paul, yes, God himself will be angry with them.” For God is not God anymore; there is only the Ass-God in Rome, where the great, uncivilized asses (the pope and the cardinals) ride on asses that are better than they.

It should go without saying that no Lutheran wears that badge because he worships Luther or thinks he was inspired by the Holy Spirit or without sin. Lutherans wear that badge because of Luther’s Christo-centric theology with its emphasis on grace, faith in Christ, and the authority of Holy Scripture.

Sources
Dr. Wilhelm Martin Leberecht de Wette, ed., Dr. Martin Luthers Briefe, Sendschreiben und Bedenken, fünfter Theil (Berlin: G. Reimer, 1828), pp. 450-452 (no. 2056)

Woodcuts and distichs from Abbildung des Papsttums in Ein Buch allerlei Rüstung von der Hand darein zu schreiben geistlich und weltlich, pp. 42-59

Helmar Junghans, Wittenberg als Lutherstadt, 2nd ed. (Union Verlag Berlin, 1982), picture #10

Helmut T. Lehmann and Eric W. Gritsch, eds., Luther’s Works (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), 41:257ff

Helmut T. Lehmann and Walther I. Brandt, eds., Luther’s Works (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1962), 45:195ff

Helmut T. Lehmann and Robert C. Schultz, eds., Luther’s Works (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1967), 46:22

Helmut T. Lehmann and Franklin Sherman, eds., Luther’s Works, trans. Martin H. Bertram (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971), 47:121ff, esp. pp. 137,268ff

Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: Shaping and Defining the Reformation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990), pp. 112-113

Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: The Preservation of the Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), pp. 229-235, 333-351, 357-367

Martin Luther, Das Jhesus Christus eyn geborner Jude sey (Wittenberg: Lucas Cranach and Christian Döring, 1523)

Martin Luther, Wider das Bapstum zu Rom vom Teuffel gestifft (Wittenberg: Hans Lufft, 1545)

St. Louis Edition of Luther’s Works 20:1822-1825

Luther Visualized 18 – Physical Appearance

Martin Luther’s Physical Appearance

Luther historian E. G. Schwiebert wrote that Lucas Cranach’s “zeal in reproducing the Reformer outstripped his talent,” and called it “most regrettable” that Luther was never sketched or painted by a more talented artist like Albrecht Dürer or Hans Holbein the Younger (p. 571). However, while Cranach’s reproductions are not exactly photographic, he and the members of his studio were certainly not lacking in skill.

Apart from Cranach’s reproductions of the man, which began in 1520, there was, to our knowledge, only one earlier depiction of him, an anonymous woodcut (#9 below) on the title page of Ein Sermon geprediget tzu Leipßgk uffm Schloß am tag Petri un pauli ym .xviiij. Jar / durch den wirdigen vater Doctorem Martinum Luther augustiner zu Wittenburgk (A Sermon Preached at the Castle in Leipzig on the Day of Sts. Peter and Paul in the Year [15]19 by the Worthy Father, Doctor Martin Luther, Augustinian in Wittenberg), printed by Wolfgang Stöckel in Leipzig. Both this woodcut, originally printed in reverse, and another anonymous woodcut, not included in this post, are consistent with Schwiebert’s assertion that for “the first thirty-eight years of his life [up until 1521] he was extremely thin” (p. 573). The latter woodcut is consistently depicted but erroneously cited in Luther biographies (e.g. Schwiebert, p. 574, where he calls it the “earliest known likeness” without citation or proof, and Brecht, vol. 1, p. 412, where he gives an erroneous source, as evidenced from the actual source he cites, whose woodcut is based on #1 below).

As for the reproductions originating with Cranach and his studio in Wittenberg during Luther’s lifetime (#8 excepted), they can be classified into 8 groups (medium and year[s] that the depictions originated and flourished in parentheses):

  1. Luther the Monk (copper engraving, 1520; variously copied and embellished by a number of artists)
  2. Luther the Doctor of Theology (paintings, c. 1520; copper engraving, 1521)
  3. Luther as Junker Jörg (paintings and woodcut, 1521-1522)
  4. Luther the Husband (paintings, 1525 & 1526)
  5. The Classic Luther (paintings, 1528-1529)
  6. Luther the Professor (paintings, 1532-1533)
  7. Luther the Aging Man (paintings, 1540-1541)
  8. Luther on His Deathbed (painting based on Lukas Fortennagel’s sketch of the dead Luther, 1546)

The other three visual depictions included below are the already mentioned anonymous woodcut (#9), a sketch of Luther lecturing by Johann Reifenstein (#10), and Fortennagel’s already mentioned painting (#11). Scroll down beneath the engravings, woodcuts, and paintings for more on Luther’s appearance.

1. Lucas Cranach, Martin Luther as an Augustinian Monk, copper engraving, 1520. The caption reads: “The eternal images of his mind Luther himself expresses, while the wax of Lucas expresses the perishable looks.”

2. Lucas Cranach, Martin Luther with Doctor’s Cap, copper engraving, 1521. The caption reads: “The work of Lucas. This is a transient depiction of Luther; the eternal depiction of his mind he himself expresses.”

2. Lucas Cranach, Martin Luther as an Augustinian Monk with Doctor’s Cap, oil on panel, c. 1520 (erroneous “1517” in the upper left-hand corner); housed in a private collection. These paintings circa 1520 are lesser known and therefore both are included here.

2. Lucas Cranach, Martin Luther, oil on panel, c. 1520, since transferred to canvas; housed in the Lutherhaus Museum in Wittenberg.

3. Lucas Cranach, Martin Luther as Junker Jörg [Gentleman George], oil on beechwood, 1521-1522; housed in the Weimar Classics Foundation. Martin Luther likely posed for this painting during his secret trip to Wittenberg in the first half of December 1521, but cf. next image.

3. Lucas Cranach, Martin Luther as Junker Jörg, woodcut, 1522. The Latin superscription accompanying this woodcut read: “The image of Martin Luther, portrayed as he appeared when he returned from Patmos [Luther’s own biblical nickname for the Wartburg Castle] to Wittenberg.”

4. Lucas Cranach, Portraits of Martin Luther and Katharina von Bora, oil on beechwood, 1525; housed in the Basel Art Museum.

4. Lucas Cranach’s Studio, Portraits of Martin Luther and Katharina von Bora, oil on beechwood, 1525-1526; housed in the LWL-Museum für Kunst und Kultur, Münster.

5. Lucas Cranach, Martin Luther, oil on panel, 1528; housed in the Art Collections of the Veste Coburg. Cf. the similar painting in the Lutherhaus Museum.

6. Lucas Cranach, Martin Luther, oil on beechwood, 1533; housed in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg. The prototype for this painting, done on parchment in 1532 and housed in Drumlanrig Castle in Thornhill, Scotland, is one of Cranach’s boldest and finest depictions of Luther.

7. Lucas Cranach’s Studio, Martin Luther, oil on panel, c. 1541; housed in the Lutherhaus Museum, Wittenberg.

8. Lucas Cranach’s Studio, Martin Luther on His Deathbed, oil on oak, 1546; housed in the Lower Saxony State Museum, Hanover. See commentary above.

9. Anonymous, Doctor Martin Lutter [sic] Augustinian, woodcut, 1519. See commentary above.

10. Johann Reifenstein, Luther lecturing in the classroom, sketch, 1545. The inscription was added in 1546 by Melanchthon. It begins with oft-quoted words of Luther: “While alive, I was your plague; when I die, I will be your death, O pope.” After some obituary-esque information, it concludes: “Even dead, he lives.”

11. Lukas Fortennagel, The Dead Luther, sketch, February 19, 1546.

While Cranach did have a virtual monopoly on Luther with regard to visual depictions, there are also written depictions that help us to complete our image of the man. Schwiebert gives the most complete treatment on the subject that I have read:

Vergerio, the papal nuncio, noted that Luther had a heavy, well-developed bone structure and strong shoulders… The Swiss student Kessler accidentally met Luther at the Hotel of the Black Bear in Jena when Luther was returning to Wittenberg from the Wartburg, still dressed as a knight. Kessler wrote in his Sabbata that Luther walked very “erect, bending backwards rather than forwards, with face raised toward heaven.” Erasmus Alber, the table companion, described Luther as well-proportioned and spoke of his general appearance in highest praise. …

One important aspect of his general appearance, noted by every observer, was Luther’s unusual eyes. Melanchthon made a casual remark that Luther’s eyes were brown and compared them to the eyes of a lion or falcon. Kessler, when he became Luther’s pupil, observed that his professor had “deep black eyes and brows, sparkling and burning like stars, so that one could hardly bear looking at them.” Erasmus Alber also likened them to falcon’s eyes. Melanchthon added the observation that the eyes were brown, with golden rings around the edges, as in the case of eagles or men of genius. Nikolaus Selnecker also compared Luther’s eyes to those of a hawk, falcon, fox, and eagle, having a fiery, burning sparkle. …

[Roman] Catholics, on the other hand, saw in these eyes diabolic powers. After the first meeting with Luther at Augsburg, [Cardinal] Cajetan would have no more to do with this man, the “beast with the deep-seated eyes,” because “strange ideas were flitting through his head.” Aleander wrote in his dispatches to the Pope that when Luther left his carriage at Worms, he looked over the crowd with “demoniac eyes.” Johannes Dantiscus, later a [Roman] Catholic bishop, visited Wittenberg in 1523 and noticed that Luther’s eyes were “unusually penetrating and unbelievably sparkling as one finds them now and then in those that are possessed.” His enemies also commonly compared him to a basilisk, that fabulous reptile which hypnotizes and slowly crawls upon its helpless prey. …

Another attribute which greatly enhanced Luther’s physical qualifications as a preacher and professor was his voice. It was clear, penetrating, and of pleasing timbre, which, added to its sonorous, baritone resonance, contributed much to his effectiveness as a public speaker. … Luther’s students enjoyed his classroom lectures because of the pleasing qualities of his delivery. Erasmus Alber added that he never shouted, yet his clear, ringing voice could easily be heard.

Sources
Cranach Digital Archive, combined with the power of Google

E. G. Schwiebert, Luther and His Times: The Reformation from a New Perspective (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1950), pp. 571-576

Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: His Road to Reformation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1985), pp. 318,412

Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: The Preservation of the Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), Plates between pp. 14 & 15, and p. 378

Luther Visualized 17 – Smalcald Articles

The Smalcald Articles

MS (employed in Lucas Cranach’s studio), The Eighteenth Figure, woodcut, 1534.

This figure was printed immediately above Revelation 13 in the first edition of Luther’s translation of the entire Bible (1534). That chapter first describes a seven-headed beast coming out of the sea, representing civil government in its antichristian aspect, and then a beast coming out of the earth with two horns like the Lamb but speaking like the Dragon, representing the Antichrist himself. About the second beast, the apostle John says, “He exercises all the authority of the first beast in his presence. And he makes the earth and its inhabitants worship the first beast… And he performs great signs so that he even makes fire come down from heaven to earth in the sight of men” (Rev 13:12,13). Notice that the artist portrayed the beast out of the earth wearing a monk’s cowl and cloak, as Lucas Cranach had in the 1522 New Testament.

At first Martin Luther was befuddled and frustrated about the refusal of the pope and his legates to hear him out and to join him in reforming the church on the basis of clear testimonies of Holy Scripture. But as he continued to study Scripture, he gradually came to a realization of what or whom he was actually up against. This growing suspicion was confirmed for him when on October 10, 1520, he received the pope’s bull (official decree) threatening his excommunication if he did not retract his teachings. The next day he wrote to his friend Georg Spalatin, the elector’s court secretary: “I feel much more free now that I am made certain that the pope is the Antichrist.”

Luther most clearly articulated his views on the Antichrist in the articles of faith he prepared in 1536 in preparation for a council that Pope Paul III had convoked, to be held in Mantua, Italy, in May 1537. Elector John Frederick had asked Luther to compose the articles on the Lutherans’ behalf. He wanted Luther to distinguish between articles of faith in which they could not yield anything without committing treason against God and his Word and articles in which they could perhaps yield something for the sake of Christian love without violating God’s word. But he also asked Luther for a confession that was clearer than the Augsburg Confession with respect to the pope.

Luther finished the rough draft in December 1536 and submitted it to seven other theologians. With very few changes it was unanimously adopted (though Melanchthon gave it a somewhat qualified subscription), and the elector was also pleased with it. The council never took place during Luther’s lifetime, but the confession Luther composed still gained widespread acceptance among Lutheran theologians in the following years. It became known as the Smalcald Articles because it was circulated and read at Schmalkalden by the large number of theologians and scholars that assembled there in February 1537. Even though it was never officially discussed or accepted there due to Melanchthon’s intrigues and Luther’s illness, Johannes Bugenhagen did present it to them for their voluntary, personal subscription after official business had been concluded, and 44 men signed it in all. It received official confessional status when it was included in the Book of Concord of 1580. (You can read it online here.)

MS (employed in Cranach’s studio), The Twenty-First Figure, woodcut, 1534. This image is based on Revelation 17. The great prostitute of Babylon, representing the unfaithful element within the visible Christian church, sits upon the seven-headed, ten-horned beast (Rev 13:1-10). In her left hand she holds “a golden cup…full of abominations and the filth of her adulteries” (17:4). Note also the triple-tiered papal tiara on her head.

The Smalcald Articles stand out in at least three ways. First, Luther presents the doctrine of justification by God’s grace alone through faith in Christ alone as the core of Scripture from which all other scriptural doctrine emanates and radiates. Second, he also gave a clearer confession about the Lord’s Supper than even the Augsburg Confession did. And third, he also gave a clear confession about the bishop of Rome. He wrote:

[T]here stand all [the pope’s] bulls and books, in which he roars like a lion…that no Christian can be saved without being obedient and subject to him in all that he wishes, all that he says, all that he does. … All of this powerfully demonstrates that he is the true christ of the end times or Antichrist, who has opposed and exalted himself over Christ [cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:4]. For he will not permit Christians to be saved apart from his power, even though his power is nothing, neither established nor commanded by God. … Finally, it is nothing but the devil himself at work when [the pope] pushes his lies about masses, purgatory, the monastic life, and human works and worship [cf. Mark 7:6-8] (which is in fact the essence of the papacy) over and against God, and condemns, kills, and harasses all Christians who do not exalt and honor this abomination of his above all things.

Lucas Cranach’s Studio, woodcut opposite Chapter 11 of Revelation in the September 1522 edition of Luther’s translation of the New Testament (left) and the December 1522 edition (right). Note the difference between the beast’s crown in each.

Once Luther was convinced that the Roman papacy was the Antichrist, he wasted no time making it known in his writings and using the artist at his disposal, Lucas Cranach, to reinforce it visually. He had Cranach portray “the beast that comes up from the Abyss” with the triple-tiered papal tiara to accompany Revelation 11 in the first edition (September 1522) of his translation of the New Testament. Probably at the complaint of the Imperial Council of Regency (Reichsregiment), the papal tiara had to be replaced in the second edition (December 1522) by a simple crown.

MS (employed in Cranach’s studio), The Fifteenth Figure, woodcut, 1534. This image corresponds to Cranach’s images from 1522 above.

However, when Luther’s translation of the entire Bible was being prepared for publication in 1534, and the as-yet-unidentified MS from Cranach’s workshop was preparing woodcuts for it based in large part on Cranach’s previous woodcuts, the triple-tiered papal tiara was restored. (See image on the right.)

Christoph Walther, a proofreader and typesetter in Hans Lufft’s print shop in Wittenberg, confirmed that Luther wasn’t just responsible for the translation, but also for much of the artwork:

Luther himself dictated to some extent how the figures in the Wittenberg Bible were supposed to be depicted and portrayed, and demanded that the content of the text be portrayed and depicted in the simplest way, and he would not tolerate anything superfluous or useless that did not benefit the text getting smeared in with the rest.

Lucas Cranach’s Studio, woodcut opposite Chapter 17 of Revelation in the September 1522 edition of Luther’s translation of the New Testament (left) and the December 1522 edition (right). Note the difference between the prostitute’s crown in each. These images were the basis for MS’s The Twenty-First Figure above.

Sources
Dr. Wilhelm Martin Leberecht de Wette, ed., Dr. Martin Luthers Briefe, Sendschreiben und Bedenken, erster Theil (Berlin: G. Reimer, 1825), pp. 238ff (no. 127), 419f (no. 204), 494f (no. 262)

Friedrich Bente, Historical Introductions to the Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), pp. 109-138

Hans Lietzmann, Heinrich Bornkamm, et al., eds., Die Bekenntnisschriften der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche, 2nd ed. (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1955), pp. xxiv-xxvii

Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: Shaping and Defining the Reformation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990), pp. 46-56

Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: The Preservation of the Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), pp. 95-102,178-185

Stephan Füssel, Die Luther-Bibel von 1534: Ein kulturhistorische Einführung (Cologne: Taschen, 2012), pp. 43-44,61

The September (New) Testament (1522)

The December (New) Testament (1522)

Biblia / das ist / die gantze Heilige Schrifft Deudsch: Das Newe Testament (Wittenberg: Hans Lufft, 1534)

“Die Schmalkaldischen Artikel” in the Weimarer Ausgabe, vol. 50, pp. 160ff, esp. pp. 213ff

Luther Visualized 16 – Busyness and Health

Luther’s Busyness and Ill Health

Lucas Cranach the Elder, Predella of the Reformation Altar in Wittenberg, oil on panel, 1547.

The painting shows Luther preaching, of which he did plenty. From May 1528 to June 1529 and from October 1530 to April 1532, for example, the parish church’s regular pastor, Johannes Bugenhagen, was on leave introducing the Reformation in cities like Brunswick (Braunschweig), Hamburg, and Lübeck, and Luther had to take over his preaching duties in the meantime. Toward the end of 1531, Luther told his table companions, “I am extremely busy. Four people are relying on me, and each one of them was in need of someone all to him- or herself. I’m supposed to preach four times during the week, lecture twice, marriage cases need to be heard and letters need to be written, plus I’m supposed to work on books for publication.”

The pulpit from which Luther preached thousands of sermons in the Wittenberg parish church, today housed in the Lutherhaus museum in Wittenberg (© Red Brick Parsonage, 2013). The two reliefs are of the apostles and evangelists Matthew (left) and John (right).

Several details in the Cranach painting above merit further comment. The writing in Luther’s Bible is indistinct; regardless of his sermon text, he can and ought to point his audience to Jesus (John 5:39). The audience consists of people of every age; the gospel of Jesus is for all (Matthew 28:19,20; Mark 16:15; Luke 18:15-17). Cranach painted himself in the front of the male audience; he viewed the message of Christ crucified for sinners as one needed by him first (cf. 1 Timothy 1:15,16). Katy and little Hans Luther are in the front of the female audience; even the reformer’s son needed to be restrained and taught to stay still and listen. In spite of the fact that the great reformer himself is preaching, there are still some in the audience paying attention to the “picture-taker” and not to God’s Word. At his table in the evening of December 26, 1531, Luther told his companions, “My preaching is useless. It’s like a man who sings in a forest to the trees and hears only the glad-sounding echo in return.” And yet, as he went on to say, “although many people badmouth [gospel preaching], it is still good to preach Christ for the sake of the few who do not.”

In addition to the strain of his professional duties and callings as husband and father, Luther also suffered at various times from the following health issues:

  • Periods of depression occasioned by personal doubts, disease and death in his circle of family and friends, disturbances in the church, and the other health problems in this list
  • Constipation
  • Hemorrhoids
  • Ménière’s (pronounced mane-YAIRZ) disease
  • Recurring dizzy and fainting spells (likely caused by the previous)
  • Soreness in his teeth and throat
  • Recurring kidney stones (the most famous instance in February 1537)
  • Gallstones
  • Abscess on the lower part of one of his legs
  • Recurring colds
  • Diarrhea
  • Severe heart attack in December 1536
  • Dysentery
  • Abscess on his neck
  • Recurring headaches toward the end of his life
  • Gout
  • Arthritis
  • Loss of sight in one eye (cataract?)
  • Exacerbation of health issues from ill-advised treatments

Luther had definitely abused his body earlier in his life with, for example, his excessive fasting in the monastery. His life then changed drastically when he got married and went from not taking good care of himself to eating regular homemade meals prepared by his wife—a change to which his body probably never completely adjusted. But ultimately, it was the Lord who used these recurring health issues to keep Luther from becoming conceited, to show him the all-sufficiency of his grace, and to demonstrate that his power is made perfect in weakness (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:7-9).

Sources
E. G. Schwiebert, Luther and His Times (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1950), pp. 580,581,748-750

Kurt K. Hendel, Johannes Bugenhagen: Selected Writings, vol. 1 (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2015), pp. 33-53

Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: Shaping and Defining the Reformation (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990), pp. 204-211,429-433

Martin Brecht, Martin Luther: The Preservation of the Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), pp. 21-23,185-188,229-235

Weimarer Ausgabe, Tischreden 1:73, no. 154; 2:417-418, no. 2320

Luther Visualized 15 – Treasures of the Reformation

The Law and the Gospel

Lucas Cranach the Elder, Allegory of Law and Grace, oil on panel, after 1529; housed in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Nuremberg

I am posting this out of order; it was originally intended to be the last post in this series. However, it is fitting to post it on this day commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation.

There are any number of treasures or hallmarks of the Reformation that could be highlighted on this day—the three solas, as just one example. But in 1549, three years after Luther’s death, when a young Martin Chemnitz accompanied his relative Georg Sabinus on a trip to Wittenberg and “in a letter written in Greek” asked Philipp Melanchthon “to show [him] a method of properly instituting and shaping the study of theology,” Melanchthon gave a response that bespoke Luther’s lasting influence on him. He “replied that the chief light and best method in theological study was to observe the distinction between the Law and the Gospel.”

If a person could only be given one piece of advice before opening and reading the Bible on his own, this would indeed be the best. There are two main teachings in the Bible, the Law and the Gospel. The Law shows us our sin and how we should live. It shows us that we can never measure up to God on our own, and therefore it threatens, terrifies, and condemns us and thereby prepares us for the Gospel. The Gospel shows us our Savior Jesus and how he has lived and died for us. It showcases God’s gracious promises to us, and so it comforts, assures, and saves us. This distinction is the single greatest aid for reading and understanding the Bible. As the apostle John wrote, “The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). And if there is one piece of artwork that correctly and beautifully captures that distinction, yes, encapsulates all of the Reformation’s and confessional Lutheranism’s theology, this painting by Cranach is it.

The left half of the painting depicts the Law. The defenseless sinner is driven by death and the devil towards eternal destruction in hell, having been judged guilty by Jesus, enthroned in heaven above as Judge of the world. The man was unable to keep God’s law and earn God’s favor because of original sin, inherited as a result of Adam and Eve’s fall into sin, portrayed in the background. In the foreground on the right, the chief prophet Moses, holding the two tables of God’s law, explains to the other Old Testament prophets that the Law can only condemn and hope must be sought elsewhere. The tree on the right is bare, representing how the Tree of Life is not accessible to fallen mankind by his own powers, or how fallen mankind is spiritually dead and can produce no good fruits (works pleasing to God).

The right half of the painting depicts the Gospel. Jesus is portrayed not as Judge of the world, but as the Savior of the world. John the Baptist points the defenseless sinner to Jesus, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29) through the atoning sacrifice of his life on behalf of sinners. Through this good news, the Holy Spirit, represented by a dove, instills faith in the sinner’s heart, and thus the sinner receives the benefits of Jesus’ sacrifice; the sinfulness of his heart is covered by Jesus’ blood. The rest of the panel depicts, for the most part, scenes from Jesus’ life. In the background, instead of judging from heaven, he comes down from heaven to share in our humanity and suffer our condemnation in our place (the incarnation in the womb of the virgin Mary). In the foreground, Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is portrayed as the ultimate proof of his victory over death, the skeleton under his left foot, and the devil, the dragon under his right foot. In the upper right hand corner, Jesus ascends into heaven, the nail-marks in his feet still showing. The counterpart to the serpent’s tempting and mankind’s fall into sin in the left half is the prefiguring or foreshadowing of Jesus’ redeeming work through the bronze serpent on the pole (Numbers 21:4-9) in the right half. “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14,15). The tree in this panel is leafy, representing how the Tree of Life is accessible to fallen mankind through faith in Jesus, or how the one who believes in Jesus has spiritual life and produces good fruits.

What God does in his law demand
And none to him can render
Brings wrath and woe on every hand
For man, the vile offender.
Our flesh has not those pure desires
The spirit of the law requires,
And lost is our condition.

Yet as the law must be fulfilled
Or we must die despairing,
Christ came and has God’s anger stilled,
Our human nature sharing.
He has for us the law obeyed
And thus the Father’s vengeance stayed
Which over us impended.

Since Christ has full atonement made
And brought to us salvation,
Each Christian therefore may be glad
And build on this foundation.
Your grace alone, dear Lord, I plead;
Your death is now my life indeed,
For you have paid my ransom. – Paul Speratus, 1523

Today is an anniversary celebration like none other. Happy Reformation Day, dear readers!

Sources
August L. Graebner, “An Autobiography of Martin Kemnitz” in Theological Quarterly, vol. 3, no. 4 (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, October 1899), p. 480

Cranach Digital Archive here and here

Christian Worship: A Lutheran Hymnal (Milwaukee: Northwestern Publishing House, 1993), #390

Quote of the Week – Commands and Promises

Similar Paintings

Hans Holbein the Younger, Allegory of Law and Grace, oil on oak panel, early 1530s; housed in the Scottish National Gallery

Hans Holbein the Younger (c. 1497-1543) was a renowned artist and contemporary and sympathizer of Luther. This painting, clearly influenced by Cranach’s above, is usually titled An Allegory of the Old and New Testaments or even The Old and the New Law, but the painting itself clearly identifies its contrast between the law (lex) and grace (gratia). (The painting correctly shows that both the Old and the New Testaments proclaim grace in Christ.) On the left the two tables of the law are given from heaven to Moses. The law makes us conscious of our sin (peccatum; Romans 3:20; 7:7-13), inherited from Adam as a result of the fall into sin (Romans 5:12-19). The wages of sin is death (mors; Romans 6:23). Nevertheless our justification was foreshadowed (mysterium justificationis) through the bronze serpent erected on the pole (Numbers 21:4-9), and Isaiah the prophet (Esayas propheta) foretold of salvation through the coming Christ (“Behold, a virgin will conceive and bear a son [Ecce virgo concipiet et pariet filium]” – Isaiah 7:14).

At the center of the painting is man (homo). “Wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from this body subject to death [Miser ego homo, quis me eripiet ex hoc corpore morti obnoxio]?” – Romans 7:24.

On the right, John the Baptist (Ioannes Baptista) points sinful man to Jesus, the Lamb of God (Agnus Dei), who takes away the sin of the world (Ecce agnus ille Dei, qui tollit peccatum mundi – John 1:29). His coming down from heaven to take on human flesh in the womb of the virgin Mary is the token of God’s grace. An angel announces Jesus’ birth to the shepherds in the valley below. Jesus as the living bread who came down from heaven (John 6:51) on the right side is the antitype to the bread that was rained down from heaven on the Israelite camp in the wilderness, depicted on the left side (Psalm 78:23-25). As an adult, Jesus is explaining to his disciples that he came to seek and to save what was lost and that he must suffer, die, and rise again in order to do so (Mark 8:31; Luke 19:10). His crucifixion is pictured as our justification or acquittal from sin (justificatio nostra) and his resurrection from the dead as our victory (victoria nostra) over death and the devil (Romans 4:25; 1 Corinthians 15:54-57).

Lucas Cranach the Elder and the Younger, Middle Panel of the Epitaph Altar for John Frederick the Magnanimous in the Parish Church of St. Peter and Paul in Weimar, oil on lindenwood panel, begun in 1552, completed in 1555

Duke John Frederick I of Saxony commissioned the work to the left a couple years before his death. Lucas Cranach himself died the following year, so the project was taken up and completed by his son. 1 John 1:7; Hebrews 4:16; and John 3:14,15 are printed on the pages of Martin Luther’s open Bible. John the Baptist points to Christ with his finger; Luther points to him with his gaze. Cranach the Elder painted himself in between the two, with Christ’s blood spilling onto his head. (He has made himself the counterpart to “the defenseless sinner” of his earlier painting.) His gaze is directed at the viewer, inviting him or her to worship Christ as Savior with him. The other unique detail is the angel flying in midair in the background over the shepherds, which has a double allusion. The first allusion is to the angel who announced the birth of Christ. This second allusion, indicated by the scroll he holds, is to Revelation 14:6,7. Johannes Bugenhagen, the pastor of the parish church in Wittenberg, preached on those verses for Luther’s funeral and identified Luther as the angel or messenger mentioned there. (Subsequent Lutheran preachers have also not shied away from that identification, though they also apply it to any Christian who faithfully proclaims the gospel.) The words printed on the victory banner borne by the lamb beneath the cross are those of John 1:29. The other details correspond exactly to Cranach’s earlier painting above.

Luther Visualized 14 – Augsburg Confession

The Augsburg Confession

Left: Lucas Cranach the Elder, Elector John the Steadfast of Saxony, oil on panel, c. 1533; housed in the National Gallery of Denmark, Copenhagen. Right: Lucas Cranach’s Studio, Philipp Melanchthon, oil on panel, 1532; housed in the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden.

Around 3 p.m. on Saturday, June 25, 1530, Ferdinand, King of Hungary and Bohemia, and all the other electors, princes, and imperial estates assembled before Holy Roman Emperor Charles V “in the large downstairs room” or chapter hall of the episcopal palace in Augsburg, where the emperor was lodging for the duration of the diet he had convened that year. The Saxon chancellor Christian Beyer stepped forward with the German copy of the confession that Philipp Melanchthon (pictured above right) had prepared and that seven princes and representatives of two free imperial cities had signed. The chancellor read it “so clearly, distinctly, deliberately, and with a voice so very strong and rich that he could be clearly heard not only in that very large hall, but also in the courtyard below and the surrounding area.” It took him two hours to finish, and his copy and a Latin copy were then handed over to the emperor.

Because of how the Romanists received the confession, its presentation subsequently came to represent the birthday of the Lutheran Church and the official split from the Roman Catholic Church. Confessional Lutheran churches and church bodies still subscribe to its doctrine without qualification today. It covers a wide range of subjects from God to original sin to justification to the sacraments to free will to monastic vows. (You can read it online here.) Martin Luther, writing from the Coburg Fortress, where he stayed for the duration of the diet since he was still an outlaw, commented on an early draft of the confession, “It pleases me quite well and I know nothing to improve or change in it, nor would it work if I did, since I cannot step so gently and softly.”

The princes and representatives who signed the confession are as follows:

  • John, Duke of Saxony, Elector (pictured above left)
  • George, Margrave of Brandenburg
  • Ernest, Duke of Lueneberg
  • Philip, Landgrave of Hesse
  • John Frederick, Duke of Saxony (the son of Elector John; regarding the high esteem in which he held the confession, see here)
  • Francis, Duke of Lueneberg
  • Wolfgang, Prince of Anhalt
  • The City of Nuremberg
  • The City of Reutlingen

Sources
Georg Coelestin, Historia Comitiorum Anno M. D. XXX. Augustae Celebratorum (Frankfurt an der Oder: Johannes Eichorn, 1577), fol. 141

Dr. Wilhelm Martin Leberecht de Wette, ed., Dr. Martin Luthers Briefe, Sendschreiben und Bedenken, vierter Theil (Berlin: G. Reimer, 1827), p. 17

Carolus Gottlieb Bretschneider, ed., Corpus Reformatorum, vol. 2 (Halle: C. A. Schwetschke and Son, 1835), cols. 139ff, esp. col. 142

Theodor Kolde, Historische Einleitung in die Symbolischen Bücher der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche (Gütersloh: Druck und Verlag von C. Bertelsmann, 1907), pp. xix-xx

Hans Lietzmann, Heinrich Bornkamm, et al., eds., Die Bekenntnisschriften der evangelisch-lutherischen Kirche, 2nd ed. (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1955)

Augusta iuxta figuram quam hisce temporibus habet delineata, woodcut, 1575 (coloring subsequent), based on Hans Rogel, Des Heiligen Römischen Reichs Statt Augspurg, woodcut, 1563

This famous bird’s-eye view woodcut of Augsburg by Hans Rogel was published in Georg Braun’s Civitates Orbis Terrarum (Antwerp: Aegidius Radeus, 1575). It is oriented with west on top. #105 marks the palace of the prince-bishop, where the Augsburg Confession was presented, just west of the Cathedral of Our Lady (#32). Only the tower from the original palace remains today, attached to a late-Baroque style building that now houses government offices for the district of Swabia. A single plaque on the outside of this building is the only tribute to the presentation of the Augsburg Confession. It reads:

Hier stand vordem die bischöfliche Pfalz in deren Kapitelsaal am 25. Juni 1530 die CONFESSIO AUGUSTANA verkündet wurde.

This is where the episcopal palace once stood, in whose chapter hall the AUGSBURG CONFESSION was delivered on June 25, 1530.