August 1526 - The Imperial Diet of Speyer made Protestant reforms legal. Local rulers were able to decide how much reform they wanted within their own territories. The Diet temporarily suspended the Edict of Worms and its condemnation of Luther, who saw it as a reprieve on the charge of heresy. The action of the Diet, along with an ongoing feud between Emperor Charles and Pope Clement was highly favorable to the Reformation.
Luther suffered heart problems and dizziness (possibly Meniere's disease) in addition to his perennial digestive and intestinal difficulties. He attributed his poor health to the severity of his life in the monastery.
A Mass For the People and the Bible Sings
1538 (age 54) - Luther's health deteriorated. He suffered from "the stone" (probably kidney stones), moderately severe arthritis, a ruptured ear drum, heart problems, blindness in one eye and ever present digestive disorders. His poor health made him short-tempered and harsher in his writings. His writing volume also declined dramatically. That, plus his years of struggle with church officials, Emperor Charles, his fellow reformers and the pope took their toll. His wife Katharina was overheard saying
Dear husband, you are too rude.
to which he responded:
They are teaching me to be rude.
Since the pope, with his following, simply refuses to convoke a council and reform the church, or offer any advice or assistance toward that end, but boastfully defends his tyranny with crimes, preferring to let the church go to ruin, we ... must seek counsel and help elsewhere and first of all seek and ask our Lord Jesus Christ for a reformation.
1539 (age 55) - Luther wrote On the Councils and the Church
November 1, 1539 - Katharina Luther suffered a miscarriage. Luther spent as much time as possible beside her bed. People all over the Lutheran world prayed for her.
1541 (age 57) - Luther wrote the hymn Lord Keep us Steadfast in Your Word.
September 20, 1542 (age 58) - Magdelena Luther (age 13) died in her father's arms. A grieving Luther wrote a loving epitaph:
I, Magdalena, Luther’s dear child
September 27, 1540 - Ignatius Loyola founded the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) with the purpose of preaching and winning over new converts to the Catholic Church. Jesuits dedicated themselves to teaching and stressed the importance of preaching and obedience to the Pope; they believed it was essential for Christians to unite and that Protestant theology was flawed.
January 1541 - The cathedral chapter of the city of Naumburg on the Saale (82 miles southwest of Wittenberg) selected Julius Pflug, provost of Zeitz and a member of the Saxon aristocracy, to become their new Catholic bishop of Naumburg-Zeitz. However, Pflug was reluctant to take the post which was in the “heartland of the Reformation.” He asked the Pope to give him time to make up his mind. His reluctance was understandable: what would a Catholic bishop be able to achieve in Naumburg? The Lutheran dukes undermined the sovereignty of the bishop and a large proportion of the priests supported Luther.
Elector Johann Fredrick I of Saxony, a staunch Luther supporter, did not want a Catholic bishop in Naumburg. His aim was to appoint his own Protestant bishop. When Pflug finally announced his willingness to take the position in August 1541, the Elector acted quickly. In September he appointed his own candidate, Nicolaus von Amsdorf, a close friend of Martin Luther and one of his most determined supporters.
January 20, 1541 - Luther traveled to Naumburg and ordained Amsdorf as the first Protestant bishop of Zietz and Naumburg, at St. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Naumburg. He preached on An Example of the Ordination of a True Christian Bishop which he later expanded and published as a tract. It is said that a total of 5,000 people witnessed the event!
Two days later Bishop Amsdorf preached his first sermon at St. Michael's Church in Zietz, with Luther in attendance. This was the first time that an appointed Catholic bishop was a rival of a Protestant bishop. His position was a painful one, and he longed to get back to Magdeburg where he assisted the first efforts of reform. In 1544 Luther spent ten days in Zeitz and persuaded by Amsdorf to stay.
Winter 1542 - Luther suffered severe depression. He mourned his daughter's death, saw the plague sweeping through Wittenberg, believed the faithlessness of his fellow Germans was a sign of the End Tines. He wrote his will and thought of his own death.
January 4, 1543 (age 59) - Luther wrote Against the Jews, also known as Of the Jews and their Lies. He repeatedly quoted the words of Jesus in Matthew 12:34, where Jesus called the Jewish religious leaders "a brood of vipers and children of the devil."
20 years earlier, Luther advised kindness toward the Jews in That Jesus Christ was Born a Jew, but with the aim of converting them to Christianity. When his efforts at conversion failed, he grew increasingly bitter. His attitudes reflected a tradition which saw Jews as a rejected people guilty of murdering Christ. He considered Jews blasphemers and liars because they rejected Jesus as the Messiah.
Excerpt from the official statement by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) on Luther's statements about Jews:
1544 (age 60) - In Torgau, 31 miles southeast of Wittenberg, the chapel housed in one of the wings of Hartenfels Palace was consecrated by Luther, who also supervised its construction. It is regarded as the first Protestant church.
March 25, 1545 (age 61) - Luther wrote Against the Papacy at Rome Founded by the Devil. The language was the most vehement and vulgar Luther ever wrote. To accompany it Luther commissioned a series of political cartoons by Lucas Cranach defaming the pope and Rome.
...when a desperate, wicked, cunning knave puts on the mask and name of Christ or St. Peter and gains such an advantage that the Christians fear him and flee ... he has won and does what he likes, commits one rascality after another, particularly when God's wrath allows the devil to lift and push him along.
July 9, 1545 - After news reached Luther that a church council was expected to open in Trent, Italy, Luther wrote
The Pope shouts that we are heretics and that we must not have a place in the council ... indeed Satan reigns, all of them are so totally mad that they condemn us and at the same time ask for our consent.
July 28, 1545 - Luther became angry and disillusioned with Wittenberg and wanted to move. He told Katharina to sell their goods. The university, Philipp Melanchthon and the burgomaster persuaded him to stay.
1545 - Bible in Low German was published, Luther's final revision of his High German Bible, first published in 1534
December 13, 1545 (age 62) - Prompted by the Protestant Reformation, Pope Paul III opened the Council of Trent in northern Italy.. Luther looked at the council with skepticism and held that it was impossible to reform the unreformable.
January 1546 – Luther wrote to a friend complaining about the infirmities of old age:
I, old, weary, lazy, worn-out, cold, chilly and over and above, one-eyed man. Half dead as I am, I might be left in peace.
January 17, 1546 (age 62) - Luther was called to mediate an embarrassing inheritance dispute between the young brothers, Count Albrecht and Count Gebhard of Mansfeld, who were attempting to bring the copper mining industry under their control. The controversy involved all four of the Mansfeld counts: Albrecht, Philip, John George and Gerhard. Twice earlier, in 1545, journeyed to Mansfeld to be involved in the negotiations. But a third trip was needed to reach a final settlement.
January 23, 1546 - Luther left Wittenberg for Eisleben, accompanied by his three sons, their tutor and a few servants. His health was especially poor but he felt the conflict threatened both his siblings' families continuing in their father Hans' copper mining trade and the work of the Reformation. Ice and storms made river-crossings a challenge. Luther alternated between naming chunks of ice after Anabaptist opponents, Roman Catholic bishops and popes. His sense of humor was still intact.
January 25, 1546 - The entourage arrived in Halle where Luther’s longtime associate, Dr. Justus Jonas, joined them. Luther preached a sermon and wrote to his wife:
We reached Halle today at eight o'clock, but could not go on to Eisleben; for we encountered a great Anabaptist, with huge water-billows, and great blocks of ice, covering the land and threatening us with re-baptism.
January 28, 1564 - The traveling party left Halle and made a triumphal entry into Eisleben. The hometown hero was welcomed with cheering crowds. He preached another sermon on Sunday, January 31. In yet another letter to Katie, he wrote:
Your sons are still at Mansfeld. We have enough to eat and drink, and would otherwise have a good time if this troublesome business were at an end. It seems as if the devil were mocking us...
Luther wrote two more letters to Katie, teasing over her useless worrying about him. In one of them, dated February 10, he told her about some near disasters:
We were nearly consumed by a fire in our inn, just outside my room door; and yesterday, doubtless on account of your anxiety, a stone fell upon our heads and almost crushed us as as in a mousetrap. And over and above, in our own private room, lime and mortar came down for two days, and when the masons came—after touching the stone with two fingers—it fell, and was as large as a pillow...Happily the dear angels guarded us.
February 15, 1564 – Luther preached four sermons in Eisleben's St. Andrew's Church and, as it turned out, they were his last:
...Now, if in worldly affairs one is quite rightly opposed to these people who want to be wise and are not, how much more irksome are those people, whom both God and men rightly dislike, who want to be wise in the holy Christian church and are not. For these people hinder the ministry, so that the people cannot come to God. Such in our time were Münzer, and the antisacramentarians, who prevent and obstruct the course of the gospel and mislead the people, imagining that they alone are wise and understanding because they are in the office and government of the church.
February 17, 1546 (age 62) – In what proved to be his last letter Luther informed his wife that the dispute between the counts had been resolved. Luther did not take part in the final negotiations because he was not feeling well. From his chambers one could hear prayers and the shout: "Doctor Jonas and Herr Michael (Coelius, the court preacher in Mansfeld), I was born and baptized here in Eisleben, what if I should stay here.” Luther ate dinner with family and friends, spent time in prayer as usual, and went to bed.
Thursday, February 18, 1546 – Waking up in pain around 1 am, Luther said, "I am ready to depart." Then he said three times, "Pater, in manus tuas commendo' tibi spiritum meum" (Father, into your hands I submit my spirit).
After this he was silent. When they shook him and called him, he did not answer. They then applied Aqua Vitae (a strong alcoholic liquor) to his nose and called him loudly by name.
His friend Justus Jonas asked: "Doctor Martine, Reverende pater, are you now ready to die in the faith of Christ and the doctrine which you preached in His name? He said, so that it could be clearly heard , 'Yes.'"
He turned on his right side and slept for some minutes. Then came the death-rattle, a deep drawn breath, and he was gone. He took his last breath at 2:45 am.
An unknown artist from the workshop of Lucas Cranach the Elder captured the image of Luther in his burial shroud (based on this drawing it was determined that Luther was obese, weighing in at 330 pounds),. Two other death portraits were made by Lukas Furtenagel, one in the late afternoon of the 18th and again on the 19th. Only one, a pen drawing, has survived.
Within hours of his death two artists made portraits of him, the first, an unnamed man from Eisleben, found Luther still lying on his bed. By the time the second artist, Lukas Furtenagel, arrived he had already been placed in his coffin. Furtenagel clearly painted the deceased twice, in the late afternoon of the 18th and again on the 19th. On the basis of these authentic portraits of the dead man, of which only one pen drawing attributed to Furtenagel has survived, a mass-production industry was rapidly launched: more than a dozen paintings as well as engravings and woodcuts were used to publish on a grand scale the image of Luther in death.
Based on this drawing it was determined that Luther was obese, weighing in at 330 pounds.
Luther's last written words on a scrap of paper found on his table (translated from Latin):
Virgil's shepherd poems cannot be understood, except by one who has been a shepherd for five years. Virgil's poetry about agriculture cannot be understood, except by one who has been a farmhand for five years. Cicero's letters cannot be understood, except by one who has participated and lived within a large community for 25 years. The Holy Scriptures do not have a satisfactory taste for me or anyone else, unless he has spent 100 years ruling a community as the prophets Elijah and Elisha, John the Baptist, Christ and the Apostles.
Luther ended his final statement with the words (in German):
We are beggars. This is true.
The actual house where Luther died was demolished in 1570. The site is now occupied by the Hotel Graf Mansfeld, above, on the opposite side of the market square from St. Andrew's Church. The mistaken identification wasn't discovered until 2013, when it learned that in 1726 the chronicler Eusibius Francke confused the sites of the houses of Barthel Drachstedt and of his father Dr. Philipp Drachstedt. The consequence of this mistake was that in 1862 the town of Eisleben took over the wrong house. In 1892 the house was almost completely rebuilt in order to reflect what was believed to be its appearance at the time of Luther’s death, even down to a reconstruction of the supposed room where he died. The Hotel has no desire to become a museum or a pilgrimage site.
February 19, 1546 - Luther's remains were taken to St. Andrew's Church. Justas Jonas preached a funeral sermon. That night ten citizens stood vigil. The next day the corpse, clad in a white robe, was placed in a hearse and escorted to Halle. All the bells in the city began to ring and an immense crowd gathered around it.
Sculptures prepared a traditional death mask of Luther's face, and also made a cast of his hands. The thumb and index finger on his right hand are curled almost as if holding a pen to write one more book.
In Halle, Justas Jonas repeated the funeral sermon he preached in Eisleben. Two days later the entire party neared Wittenberg. They were met outside the city gates by Katharina and her children, the city council and a crowd of citizens, who escorted Luther's body to the Castle Church, where Johannes Bugenhagen, pastor of Wittenberg's city church and Luther's confessor, preached another funeral sermon before a crowd numbering in the thousands. Philipp Melanchthon gave a eulogy in Latin and Luther's body was buried inside the church by the pulpit
At one point Luther expressed his thoughts on the unforeseen chain of events that transpired after he posted his 95 Theses in 1517:
No good work comes about by our own wisdom; it begins in dire necessity. I was forced into mine. But if I had known then what I know now, ten wild horses would not have drawn me into it.
Excerpts from the funeral oration for Martin Luther given by Johannes Bugenhagen:
Dear friends, I am now supposed to preach a sermon at the funeral of our dearly beloved father, blessed Dr. Martin, and gladly do so. But what shall I say and how shall I speak, since I probably will not be able to utter a word because of my tears? And who shall comfort you if I, your pastor and preacher, cannot speak?
...Through him God has rendered inexpressible gifts and grace to all of us and to all the churches of Christ in Germany, as well as to many in foreign countries. Through him God has also triumphed gloriously over the kingdom of Satan and against so much shameful idolatry and human ordinance, indeed, as Paul says, against the devil's teachings throughout the world, and has revealed to us in the Gospel the sublime, great heavenly secret, his dear Son Jesus Christ (as Paul also says in Ephesians and Colossians). Through him, our dear father, Christ has defended his Gospel against the grievous Pope and various rabble and tyrants, indeed, against all the portals of hell ... God has taken away from us this great teacher, prophet, and divinely sent reformer of the church. Oh, how can we cease mourning and crying?
In the four-story ex-monastery at the eastern end of Wittenberg that served as the Luthers' home, it was open house all year long. University students boarded there, visitors used it as a hotel, family and friends dropped in. At mealtimes, Luther made observations and amused guests with his sense of humor. Students wrote down nearly everything he said while seated at the table in his living room. After Luther's death the notes were compiled and published in a book called Luther's Table Talk (German "Tischreden").
When sharing his thoughts Luther was not hindered by prudence and propriety. He was blunt and outspoken, sometimes using rather course language.
Selected excerpts from Table Talk:
Hymns attributed to Martin Luther
Did you know?
Today, approximately 1 out every 4 Christians in the world are Protestant, and 1 out of every 5 Protestants in the world are Lutheran. Thus, approximately 1 out of every 20 Christians in the world are Lutheran.