Luther: A Life by John M. Todd
John M. Todd is the author of a number of books, including Reformation, and John Wesley and the Catholic Church. Luther: A Life was published in 1982 by The Crossroad Publishing Company. This book was prepared for Religion Online by Harry W. and Grace C. Adams.
Chapter 16: The Shining of the Sun
The Saxon Elector lost no time. By February 1531, he was ready at Schmalkalden in western Saxony to sign a document of wide-ranging alliance. It set up a League with the Landgrave of Hesse, the Dukes of Brunswick and Luneberg, the prince of Anhalt, the Counts of Mansfeld, and the representatives of eleven ‘cities of Upper Germany, Saxony and the Sea’, Strassburg, Ulm, Constance, Reutlingen, Memmingen, Lindau, Bibrach, Isny, Lubeck, Magdeburg and Bremen. This Schmalkaldic league was an alliance for their mutual defence if attacked on account of the Word of God and the doctrine of the Gospel. Nuremberg was not in the alliance. Rich, commercial, cultured, the home of Albert Durer and Hans Sachs, both of them ‘Lutherans’, Nuremberg had been one of the first cities to implement Church reforms. But it liked to keep its independence at all times, whether in pioneering liturgical reforms in the 1520s, or in declining now to join in a possibly dangerous alliance against the Emperor. The Town Council’s Chancellor, Lazarus Spengler, sent a message to Wittenberg enquiring whether Luther (an old acquaintance) had changed his mind on the matter of resistance to a possible attack from imperial forces. Put on the spot, Luther replied that he had not changed his mind about the correct way to approach such a matter, but that the lawyers had changed theirs about the legal facts! He was much more guarded than in his ‘Warning to his Dear German People’. But the practical outcome did not escape the Nuremberg Council. It was a turnabout.
The Schmalkaldic League was founded on 27 February 1531. For fourteen months thereafter, its members worked at building up a network of organisational procedures; these were confirmed at Schweinfurt in April 1532. The deadline for compliance with the Augsburg Diet was now a year past. No action had come from the Emperor, who was taken up with renewed threats from the Turks in Eastern Europe. Something like the political birth of modern Germany was in process. The Emperor requested the pro-imperial and pro-papal Electors to come to an arrangement with the Schmalkaldic League. The latter was growing. The recent death of Zwingli in a local Swiss canton battle of Protestant versus Catholic had reduced the level of worry about maintaining some kind of credible doctrinal unity. The League was willing to negotiate with the Emperor, who had one demand — he wished to retain the Imperial office for the Habsburg family. A formal agreement with the League would depend on acceptance of his brother Ferdinand, as Emperor elect. The Saxon Elector, not surprisingly, was bitterly opposed and consulted Luther, who advised that the condition was not intolerable, It would be best to negotiate:
‘I am of the opinion that the negotiations proposed by the Cardinal of Mainz should not be rejected — "Gain a night, gain a year,"’ Luther wrote to Altkanzeler Bruck on 16 June 1531, when negotiations had already begun. By the following summer, Nuremberg itself was involved in the setting up of an entirely new kind of ‘Peace’ between the Emperor and those political entities which favoured the Reforms but were part of the Empire. Again Luther backed it and disapproved of delays: ‘If we want cleverly to arrange matters exactly as we wish them to be. . .it will be for us as Solomon says: "He who blows his nose too hard forces blood from it."’ The Peace of Nuremberg was signed on 23 July 1532 between the Emperor, nine princes and twenty-four cities, which now included Hamburg. Essentially, it was a temporary abrogation of some of the imperial powers. The Emperor had again to forgo the solution of the religious issue which was thrown forward to a ‘Council’ — and the council was again foreseen not as a normal Church Council but a ‘free’, and ‘Christian’ Council in Germany. Local religious independence and political independence on a national basis, were again being actively intertwined and this progress, laced with the duplicity and corruption common to such affairs, was at the heart of local and international politics during the coming twelve years.
A definitive stage was being reached for the political future of Germany and for the organisational future of Christianity everywhere. In Nuremberg and the surrounding Margraviate of Brandenburg-Ansbach, documents, emerged to regularise Christian liturgy and discipline. On 1 August 1532 the four Wittenberg leaders, Luther, Melancthon, Jonas and Bugenhagen, sent their comments on an Ordinance submitted to them, approving it in principle. It concerned the use of excommunication by the new Christian authorities, and other difficult matters like the celebration of Mass when there was no congregation (not approved) and the reservation of the Sacrament — also not approved because Communion should not be separated from the Word. Luther had earlier been in correspondence with Link, still the Pastor at Nuremberg, on the regulation of baptism. (Link had also sent him some oranges, a wash basin and a candelabrum, with no note — Luther asked whether they were a gift, or what.) In April 1533 Luther was again in contact with Nuremberg about Confession, insisting, with Melancthon, that both public and voluntary private confession should be retained. In the letter of 1532 the Wittenbergers had expressed concern about being thrust into the position of assessors of new norms. But the logic of the situation demanded it ‘in order to maintain pure teaching, and also external Christian discipline and behaviour . . .until the Almighty grants more peace and unity both in ecclesiastical and political governments’.
The Peace of Nuremberg had included an item obliging the signatories to assist the Emperor in the defence of Europe against the Turks. Swiftly came a request, in August 1532, to Luther from Duke Joachim of Brandenburg, who was to lead a contingent of the Saxon army against the Turks. He wanted prayers for his undertaking and spiritual advice. In the old days he would have had a blessing from the local bishop and an Indulgence. In his response, serious and detailed, almost paternal, if not quite episcopal or pontifical, Luther said he wished to move out to war spiritually with our earnest prayers, to join with the dear Emperor Charles and his soldiers’ — he still thought Charles V ill-advised rather than perverse. He spoke of the dangers of useless self-congratulation: they were not to place reliance in the Turks being altogether wrong and God’s enemy while we are innocent and righteous. . . rather fight in the fear of God and in reliance on his grace alone. . . I pray that in such a war our people by no means seek honour, glory, land, booty, etc., but only the glory of God and. . . defence of poor Christians and subjects . . . May Your Sovereign Grace now go forth in God’s name, . . . Our Pater Noster shall follow you.
In the summer of 1532, the Emperor left Germany and was not forcefully present again for nearly a decade. He could not move far between November and March each year on account of weather and transport difficulties; and his pressing concerns were in areas widely separated geographically; the Turks in eastern Europe, his Spanish territories in Italy, the attempt to insist with the Pope on the calling of a Council, Spain itself, a new war with France (in conspiracy with the German Protestants), a revolt in the Netherlands, and the Turks again, in Northern Africa. In the Emperor’s long absence the Church reforms in Germany spread more widely and pushed their roots more deeply down. They went hand in hand with reforms in Switzerland and Scandinavia and to a lesser extent in some parts of France, and in England. Luther was free again to follow all the normal demands on his time, university lectures (Galatians, Psalms, Genesis) sermons in the town, Bible translation and activities in the whole field of strengthening the new or reformed Church institutions. In spite of increasing illness, vigorous initiatives began to flow from him again. Sometimes he felt a decline in energy and output; in 1534 he wrote to a friend Schlaginhaufen: ‘I do not know how the days pass without me achieving what I would like and want to do. I live such a useless life that I cannot stand myself.’ However, inner desperation was held at bay. Domestic life enlivened him.
On his return from the Coburg the family had welcomed him home, his wife Katherine, four-year-old Hans, baby Lenchen, Seeberger the handyman, Jerome Weller the tutor, and Aunt Lena. Family life burgeoned. They took in a number of orphan children. Students boarded. Relations and friends visited. The garden did well and increased in size. Pig-keeping was undertaken. Katie brewed beer where lay brothers had brewed it in days gone by. Eventually, in 1540, with a view to her widowhood, Luther bought for her from her brother a little farm at Zolsdorf, south of Leipzig, and she spent a few weeks there in the year. The door into the old Priory, now the ‘Lutherhaus’, was ever open. In and out went young students and old students, fellow lecturers and their families, preachers and pastors and their families, men from the Elector, men from the local Council local residents, men and women with their various problems. And occasionally came representatives from afar, from England, even from the papacy, implicitly recognising Luther’s new status.
The German prophet became a patriarch, and the living room was dominated by his presence. He enjoyed his beer and had a great mug with three rings on it, one ‘the Ten Commandments’, the next ‘the Creed’ and third ‘the Lord’s Prayer’. He boasted that he could encompass all three with ease. Once in 1535 away from home he wrote to his wife about some bad beer he had drunk ‘which did not agree with me, so that I had to sing. . .I said to myself what good wine and beer I have at home, and also what a pretty lady, or lord.’ On another occasion, he told Katie how well he was sleeping because of the beer but that he was ‘sober as in Wittenberg’.
They sat down to meals sometimes a dozen and a half, or more. Luther would grow irritated as everyone came to hang on his word. Sometimes he was silent and all were silent. He was ill with ringing in the ear, violent headaches, stone. He was not often contradicted. Melancthon came in and would dissent, so quietly that no one heard. But Katie spoke up, and there was usually some young man jotting down the table talk — openly, and with the approval of the master who sometimes gave a specific direction about what to write. Graduate Johann Schlaginhaufen recorded in April 1532 that Luther came out with the remark:
‘The time will come when a man will take more than one wife.’ The doctor’s wife responded, "Let the devil believe that!" The Doctor said: ‘The reason, Katie, is that a woman can bear a child only once a year while a husband can beget many.’ Katie responded: ‘Paul said that each man should have his own wife.’ To this the doctor replied: Yes, "his own wife" and not "only one wife", — the latter is not what Paul wrote.’ The doctor joked in this way for a considerable time, and finally the doctor’s wife said: ‘Before I put up with that, I’d rather go back to the convent and leave you and all our children.’
Luther enjoyed getting a spirited response out of his wife. She managed him and tolerated his wayward reactions, his sometimes coarse but not obscene conversation and his increasingly frequent illness in a way which some thought he hardly deserved. He would suddenly erupt with: ‘The world is a gigantic anus and I am a ripe stool, ready to drop from it.’ Then in a moment he was back on the religious tack. When he was depressed and despairing he said that a word from ‘Pomeranus or Philip or indeed my Katie’ would bring him round: ‘I was comforted as I realised that God was saying this through a brother who was speaking it from duty or from love.’ The marriage was happy. They were real companions and friends to each other. ‘There is no sweeter union than that of a good marriage. Nor is there any death more bitter than that which separates a married couple. Only the death of children comes close to this; how much this hurts I know from experience.’
In November 1532, Martin Luther the second was born. A month later, when Katie was finding the trials of the children too much, Luther passed the remark: ‘God must be friendlier to me and speak to me in friendlier fashion than my Katie to little Martin.’ Seven months later Katie was pregnant again, and Luther repeated a phrase which had been made before on the difficulties of a mother swiftly pregnant again while still nursing a previous infant: ‘It is difficult to feed two guests, one in the house and the other at the door.’
In November 1532, Luther wrote to Amsdorf, now Pastor in Magdeburg: ‘My Katie is ill from lack of sleep and close to her delivery.’ In January 1588, he wrote to a friend in the Electoral service, Johann Loser, asking him to be godfather to his son ‘whom God has given me this night by my dear Katie, so that he may come out of the old Adam’s nature to the rebirth in Christ through the holy sacrament of baptism, and may become a member of sacred Christendom. Perhaps the Lord God may wish to raise a new enemy of the Pope or the Turk. I would very much like to have him baptised around the hour of vespers and then he will be a heathen no more.’ He ended the letter ‘at 1 am, in the night of 29 January 1583’. The new child was named Paul. The sixth and last child Margaret, was born on 17 December 1534.
Marriage and its problems, including the trauma of marital breakdown, occupied Luther’s mind much at this time: ‘Marriage consists of these things: the natural desire of sex, the bringing to life of children, and life together with mutual fidelity. Yet the devil can so rupture marriage that hate is never more bitter.’ Luther’s solution was to start off in the right way. The breakdown ‘comes from our beginning everything without prayer, and with presumption. A God-fearing young man who is about to be married should pray "Dear God, add thy blessing."’Veit Dietrich recorded this in the early spring of 1532 when he was soon to be married. ‘So, dear Master Veit, do as I did. When I wished to take my Katie I prayed to God earnestly. You ought to do this too.’
The domestic scene was conjured up in many of Dietrich’s entries. Luther’s dog Tolpel ‘watched with open mouth and motionless eyes, and Luther said "Oh if I could only pray the way this dog watches the food! All his thoughts are concentrated on the chunk of meat."’ Another time, when Luther was ‘writing or doing something else, my Hans may sing a little tune to me. If he becomes too noisy I tell him off a bit, and he continues to sing but does it more to himself and with a certain concern and uneasiness. This is what God wishes; that we be always cheerful, but reverently.’
There were the ordinary disagreements between husband and wife. ‘"Anger in the home is God’s plaything; it’s only like a slap or a cuff from him. Political fury, on the other hand, carries away wife and child through massacre and war. . . If I can put up with battles with the devil, sin and a bad conscience, then I can also put up with the irritations of Katie von Bora." This he said when he happened to get involved in a quarrel with his wife about some trifling thing.’ But conscience still made a coward of him: ‘Without the forgiveness of sins I can’t stand a bad conscience at all; the devil hounds me about a single sin until the world becomes too small for me, and afterwards I feel like spitting on myself for having been afraid of such a small thing.’
Luther was aware of his own tiresome nature, and of his anger, yet often defended it. ‘When asked by the younger Margrave why he wrote with such vehemence he said, "Our Lord God must precede a heavy shower with thunder and then let it rain in a very gentle fashion so that the ground becomes soaked through. To put it differently, I can cut through a willow branch with a knife, but to cut through oak requires an axe and wedge, and even with these one can hardly split it."’ Again, ‘Philip stabs, too, but only with pins and needles. The pricks are hard to heal and they hurt. But when I stab I do it with a heavy pike of the sort used for hunting boars.’ Philip must have found the pike stabs quite painful, too, presumably, but somehow they expected such things from Luther and it was not intolerable. They listened with some resignation as he held forth: ‘I am free from avarice, my age and bodily weakness protect me from sensual desire, and I am not afflicted with hate or envy towards anybody. Up to now only anger remains in me, and for the most part this is necessary and just. But I have other sins that are greater.’
The other ‘sins’ were still grouped around lack of faith, and the tendency to despair. In 1538 the Table Talk has ‘My temptation is this, that I think I don’t have a gracious God — Beware of melancholy.’ Life was unacceptably burdensome and he felt he only kept on through a continually repeated act of turning to God, and by spontaneity of action. ‘No good work is undertaken with prudent reflection. It must all happen in a half-sleep. This is how I was forced to take up the office of teaching. If I had known what I know now, ten horses would not have driven me to it.’ But once he had been called to be a Professor, and notably a Doctor, there must be no turning back. And now, in his fifties, he was irreversibly involved in the shaping of new forms of Church and State. They were not wholly new, since there had always been local independence. But now this independence was being given doctrines and institutions. And, although previously there had been translations of the Bible, the wide and entirely new availability of the New Testament and later of the whole Bible was central to them, and also entirely without precedent.
The translation of the Old Testament had taken a leap forward during the five and a half months at the Coburg. Luther pondered on the principles involved, and on the strictures of his critics. In the 1520s, Duke George of Albertine Saxony had commissioned Luther’s old enemy, ‘the Goat’ Emser, to produce a competing translation of the New Testament, acceptable to Catholics. Emser produced a translation which looked very like Luther’s, at first sight, with some of the same woodcuts by Cranach; but also very like at second sight. Although Emser said he had translated from the ‘orthodox’ Latin of Jerome’s Vulgate, in fact it soon became clear that he had lifted long sequences straight from Luther’s own translation. ‘Just take the two Testaments, Luther’s and the scribblers, compare them; you will see who is the translator in both of them. He has patched and altered it in a few places . . . I had to laugh at the great wisdom which so terribly slandered, condemned and forbade my New Testament when it was published under my name, but made it required reading when it was published under the name of another,’ wrote Luther in a piece about translating the Bible, written at the Coburg. He enjoyed his running battles with Duke George. An illustration to the first edition of his New Testament had shown ‘the whore of Babylon’ (featured in the last book of the New Testament), wearing a triple crown — clearly it was the papal tiara. Old Frederick the Wise had received such a blast of complaint from Duke George that in the next edition the headpiece had to be cut down to a single crown. But later again, Luther had the triple tiara reinstated.
In the text on translation Luther defended his addition of the word ‘alone’ to St Paul’s famous definition of justification by faith. Luther said he was only bringing out the real sense of the original Greek. Previous interpreters, including Aquinas, had made the point before. St Paul did clearly mean ‘by faith alone’. Luther also defended his translation of the famous words in St Luke’s Gospel of the angel telling Mary that she would have a child. Instead of ‘Hail Mary full of grace, he had translated: ‘Dear Mary, thou most gracious one.’ In reply to critics, Luther attacked the old literal translation: ‘Tell me . . . when does a German speak like that, "You are full of grace"?. . . He would have to think of a keg "full of" beer, or a purse "full of" money. So I have translated it "Thou gracious one" and then a German can at least think his way through to what the angel means by this greeting.’
Why should I talk so much about translating? . . . well, I would need a year to say everything. . . I have never taken nor looked for a single penny for it, nor made one. Neither have I looked for any honour from it. God my Lord knows that. Rather have I done it as a service to the dear Christians. . . have not just gone ahead any old how and disregarded the exact wording of the original. Rather with my assistants l have been very careful to see that where everything depends on a single passage, I have kept to the original quite literally.
For a while in early 1531, the Bible Translation Committee reassembled in a number of sessions to give a final revision to the translation of the Psalms. Matthew Aurogallus, still the Hebrew professor, was always there, and of course Philip Melancthon, the Greek expert. The fourth member was the Professor of Theology, Caspar Cruciger; and finally the Master Secretary, Georg Rorer. In his Introduction to the subsequent definitive draft of the Psalms in German, Luther expounded their method again and threw out a challenge: ‘We praised the principle of at times retaining the words quite literally, and at other times rendering only the meaning . . . if my critics are so tremendously learned and want to display their skill, I wish they would take that single and very common little Hebrew word, chen, and give me a good translation of it. I will give fifty gulden to him who translates this word appropriately and accurately throughout the entire Scriptures.’ Luther’s translation of the Bible survived in active use into the present century, praised by Catholic and Protestant alike, and formative of the framework, style and idiom of the German language.
Luther’s mind continually came back to that which had been central to his life for so long, the principal liturgical action of the Christian Myth, the Mass. He wished to celebrate it only in the context of the ‘Word’, the message of Jesus of Nazareth, Christ, speaking through the Bible. But he did still wish to keep the reformed Mass central. At the Coburg he wrote: ‘Admonition concerning the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of our Lord.’ It was a pastor’s text, expounding the reasons why people should go to Mass and take communion. While not a ‘sacrifice’ as a good work, Mass was a ‘sacrifice of thanksgiving’. He pointed out that Christians of the first centuries called it eucharist, thanksgiving, and the sacrament of thanksgiving. By it
Christians were reminded of grace; faith and love were stimulated. One should take part often, It was easy to put it off and say ‘I will go next week’, and then faith grew cold until one ‘becomes completely bored of thinking about "his dear Saviour."’ He had experienced this himself, putting it off from week to week: ‘I broke out of the vicious circle and took part in the Sacrament, even without making confession’ — he assured the reader that he had not been guilty of any gross sins. His approach here is indistinguishable from that of the most conventional Catholic. ‘Where such faith is thus continually refreshed and renewed, there the heart is also at the same time refreshed anew in its love of neighbour and is made strong and equipped to do all good works and to resist sin and all temptations of the devil . . .’ He repeated a facetious approach, also part of the traditional armoury of Catholic spiritual advisers. Someone who thought he did not need to take the sacrament had to be a saint already: ‘Bells should be rung wherever you go on the street to tell of the saint coming.’
The subject of the eucharist was never far from his mind. He was still fighting to retain what he saw to be the true tradition and meaning as against other Reformers who wished to ‘spiritualise’ it, and against the practice of the papal authorities who had not modified their functional and canonical position. Bucer was the principal go-between with the other Reformers and found himself closer to Luther’s view than he had at one time thought he was. Eventually, a new statement of reformed doctrine on the eucharist was agreed in the Concord of Wittenberg (1536). It preserved above all the idea of divine initiative in an objectively significant sacramental act; it was signed by a wide range of representatives except for the Anabaptists. The latter remained apart, retaining something like the position of many ‘heretics’ of the previous several hundred years; they continued to attract many converts and martyrs. They rejected infant baptism and declined to respect the authority of the local minister and Christian community, whether papal or Lutheran, trusting to a ‘spiritual’ and unstructured approach.
In his fundamental acceptance of a single visible Church with appointed ministers and a sacramental structure, the position of Luther was closer to that of Rome than to that of the Anabaptists. But little or no progress was being made towards an understanding with the papal authorities, and Luther was continually stung by the absence of any practical response to his criticism of received Church practices, criticism which had been admitted quite widely as justified. The Mass still seemed in effect to be bought, particularly in the case of money left in a will to pay for priests to say Masses for one’s soul, sometimes hundreds or even thousands of Masses. The associated scandal of Indulgences remained untouched. The whole solid structure of the ordained priesthood and of the Mass as a propitiatory sacrifice remained unreformed along with its financial basis. Luther started off on another attempt to explain what was wrong and to denounce it in ‘The Private Mass and the Ordination of Priests’.
He went once again into the basis of the celebration of Mass. One of the old names for Mass was communion, a direct contradiction of a privatam missam, the private Mass. Then he remembered incidents from his early life. The text became an angry tirade. He recalled how his fellow priests had in many cases become very casual, and how in Rome ‘I heard, among other clever and coarse anecdotes at mealtimes, members of the papal curia laugh and boast about how some said Mass and with reference to the bread and wine spoke these words:‘"Panis es, panis manebis; vinum es, vinum manebis" — "Bread you are and bread you shall remain; wine you are, and wine you shall remain" — and with these words they elevated the host and the wine in the usual way. Now I was a young and particularly earnest devout religious. . . What was I to think of such words?. . .It also disgusted me very much that they could say Mass with such assurance and expertise and in such haste as if they were engaged in juggling. For before I had reached the Gospel reading [less than halfway through the text], the priest next to me had concluded his Mass, and they called aloud to me: "Passa, passa — hurry up, hurry up."’
It was this ‘juggling’, this seemingly magical element that still offended Luther so deeply, and he criticised theological theories, enshrined in such a phrase as ex opere operato, referring in various ways to the automatic realisation of a sacrament when performed correctly by a properly ordained priest, with little or nothing said about the recipient and the faith he should have. He also ridiculed the use of chrism (olive oil scented with balsam) in anointing, which was an obligatory part of the sacraments of baptism confirmation and ordination. In place of the doctrine that only an ordained priest could perform a sacrament and in particular effect the ‘miracle’ of transubstantiation, Luther said that every baptised Christian was a true priest.
Sitting in the barber’s chair at Wittenberg, one day, Luther was talking to his old friend Peter Beksendorf, who had been cutting hair and beards there for many years. The barber said he did not know how to pray. This was a challenge. In a few hours Luther had sketched out what amounted to a new version of the Little Catechism, presented more personally and biographically. His text on how to pray went through twenty editions. ‘I will tell you as best I can what I do personally when I pray. . .’ He was still using the well-tried texts of the old tradition, and his childhood, the Our Father, the Ten Commandments, the Creed. His recommendations differed little from what had been taught for centuries, only they were shorn of the incentives provided by Indulgences and the earning of merit, and of the fulsome prayers to and reliance on Mary the Mother of Jesus, and the Saints, which had often almost submerged the biblical texts and Creed. ‘I take my prayer book and hurry to my room, or if it be the day and hour . . . to the church.’ He recited to himself slowly, meaning the words, and seeing how they might apply in his day, the Our Father, the Ten Commandments and the Creed. Watch out for those deluding ideas: "Wait a little. I will pray in an hour; first I must attend to this."’ Work could be prayer. But actual prayer still needed to be done, and the only way was not to put it off Mornings and evenings were the times. Luther said people should make their own applications, and they were not to treat the actual words as essential — if they found personal prayers welling up of their own accord. The texts were not incantations. But ‘a good and attentive barber keeps his thoughts, attention and eyes on the razor and hair and does not forget how far he has got with his shaving or cutting. If he wants to engage in too much conversation or let his mind wander or look somewhere else, he is likely to cut his customer’s mouth, nose or even his throat. . . How much more does prayer call for concentration.’
At this time, Luther was preaching on St John’s Gospel at the parish church. Though he was the reformed practical pastor, the incarnational theology which he preached still had about it something of the divine glow of the thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Rhineland movements, as he preached on Jesus of Nazareth, son of God, and man’s nourishment: ‘God has set his seal on the Son, who is man. He is the food, but also the grain merchant, the baker, the waiter, and the storehouse.’ Christ tears all our hearts and eyes away from all bakeries and granaries, from all cellars, shops, fields, and purses, yes, from labour at all, and points them to Himself’. He was ‘the bread, the dish and the plate that gives us imperishable food’. And he made ‘one cake’, ein Kuchen of us all. Divinity and humanity were ‘one cake’ in Christ.
Although Luther was not the Wittenberg parish priest, often it was the pastor talking, drawing on twenty-five years’ experience of death beds, marriages, baptisms, and the giving of counsel in every kind of trouble. The counsel he gave was strongly rooted in a Saxon religion, five centuries old or more, itself stemming from a religious tradition of a millennium in the Mediterranean basin, the Roman and the Celtic lands. There was a traditional piety about it. But he was putting a renewed biblical stamp on it, practical, personal and with a mark of violent antithesis to some of the standard conventions. However, in situations of need his human sympathy was still expressed in tones of late medieval piety:
That sickness of yours is God’s fatherly, gracious chastisement. . . you should accept it with thankfulness as being sent by God’s grace . . . how slight a suffering it is, even if it be sickness into death, compared with the sufferings of his own dear Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. . . You also know the true centre and foundation of your salvation from whom you are to seek comfort in this and all troubles, namely Jesus Christ, the cornerstone. He will not waver or fail us . He says ‘Be of good cheer; I have overcome the world . . .’ Let us therefore now rejoice with all assurance and gladness, and should any thought of sin or death frighten us, let us oppose it and lift up our hearts and say: ‘Look, dear soul, what are you doing: Dear death, dear sin how is it that you are alive and terrify me? Do you not know that you have been overcome? Do you, death, not know that you are quite dead?’
These words came from a letter which began: ‘My dearest mother, I have had a letter from my brother James about your illness.’ It continued after the excerpt above: "‘Be of good cheer" by such words and none other, let your heart be moved, dear mother’, and she was to be thankful that she lived in a time when they no longer had to see Jesus as a Judge. He continually repeated the words ‘Be of good cheer’, and drew fresh comfort from them. And finally: ‘All our children and my Katie pray for you; some weep, others say at dinner: "Grandma is very ill."
God’s grace be with us all. Amen. 20 May 1531. Your loving son. Martin Luther.’
The streets of Wittenberg were different. There were no friars and many fewer Massing priests as the castle church gradually transformed its liturgical life. Tensions were still there, some just as before, some new. The ideals and demands of religion were still there. There was still fear of death and judgement, heaven or hell. Obedience was still required to the great negatives, not to murder, slander, steal or take another man’s wife; and God should still alone be worshipped, and parents should be honoured. The two last commandments were emphasised more than before. And here was both a new tension and a new opening. The preachers spoke more directly and practically of spiritual things and with less fantastic metaphors. And those who could read or could listen to someone reading aloud, began to know more of the foundation document of Christianity. Jesus of Nazareth became more ‘available’; a wider vocabulary both of humanity and of divinity reached them. The Church services themselves, the prayers and the hymns and psalms were in their own language. Though still the stock-in-trade of professional priests, the rites were less distant, people went to communion more often, receiving the consecrated wine as well as the consecrated bread both together being the sacrament of the Saviour, bringing his real presence.
There was some loss. The houses of vowed religious, though often so worldly and often denaturing the message of Jesus of Nazareth, had still in spite of everything spoken of the selfless and encouraging commitment of their founders, and had enabled some men and women to live out lives of inspiring charity and holiness. The perpetual round of prayers of praise, thanksgiving and petition in the churches had still spoken of God’s all-comprehending presence. The absence was not all good. Some negative, primitive and cruel aspects of society remained largely unchanged. Witches were still burnt. ‘Heretics’ were still burnt, though the exact process by which they came to be judged to be in heresy was different. In some towns torture and judicial murder still thrived. Strange signs in the sky, the birth of deformed children, the mentally handicapped, vivid dreams all still roused inarticulate fear. But the beginning of a new atmosphere was apparent. The mentally handicapped and indigent old people who now inhabited the old Cistercian monastery of Haine in Hesse was a symbol of a society taking a new control over itself. It was not a simple process. In Nuremberg the burghers had, already prior to the Reform movement, taken over many aspects of life previously controlled by the Church. Reform in that town led to more not less supervision of life by the church in the form of the new Lutheran pastors.
The transformation of society that was just beginning, was one still inside the old medieval unity. Religion continued to dominate all. Indeed, a new religious authoritarianism was already apparent, though more local, more ‘moral’ and more Saxon. It was some generations before the first emphatic notes of an alternative, agnostic, sometimes atheist ideology were to be heard regularly, and two more centuries before it began to burgeon to produce a quite new, secularised world. In that world the Myth would have to find a new place, supported by its followers, sometimes by states and wealthy institutions and persons, for reasons ambiguous, not wholly welcome or at least somewhat disharmonious with the message at the heart of the Myth. Christianity spoke of a Founder who had been property-less and had died as a criminal. The gospel message always tended to be contradicted by its medium. But something like a purification of Christianity, the beginning of its removal from any final dependence on other social institutions, had now been set on foot.
The Saxon streets of the 1530s witnessed the first bemused blinkings of Christianity reborn, re-identifying itself from its sources and wondering what its forms should be. There were still churches, the local community still met in them, there was still a local and apparently universal Church community. How to define it properly continued to worry Melancthon, and he continued to try to see the reformed local churches in Germany as bodies that should really be in communion with the rest of the western Church, centred in Rome. About this latter ‘worldly’ matter, Luther worried little. Preaching, administering the sacraments, praying, and doing one’s job in life, here and now, was the task of a Christian — it was God’s rather than Man’s concern to see how the world aggregate of such activities hung together. He believed in the Church as a local, ‘face-to-face’ community of believers such as he had understood the early Christians to have formed. But a sense of need for conformity and consistency over a large geographical area did not go away. As the reformed Churches grew up, their leaders, independent of Rome, had regularly to take crucial decisions which were destined to serve as precedents and formers of fresh traditions In the future Protestant and Anglican Churches. And Luther’s own theology of the Church did itself encourage the formation of new visible structures substituted for the Roman papal structure. His thoughts on the Church were high. The Church was the bride of Christ, and although it was composed of a people scattered abroad throughout the world, the Church was ‘one body with Christ through faith’; and this unity he loved to illustrate: ‘The husband confides all his secrets to his wife; she has become part of his body, and she bears the keys at her side. In just this way Christ is the bridegroom and flesh of our flesh.’
The most notable and the most ironical aspect of the new Churches was that, in order to make themselves independent of the great units of Empire and Papacy, they fell, almost inevitably it seems, into the arms of the lesser local political units, the newly maturing nation states. The bonds of political authority bound ever tighter. And the doctrine of the ‘Godly prince’ led to conclusions far from welcome to Luther, notably the persecution of the Anabaptists. Essentially, he wanted to let these ‘heretics believe what they wished — faith could not be forced: ‘It is not right that the poor people are so pitifully executed, burnt. . . . Let everyone believe what he likes . . . one should oppose them with Scripture and God’s word. Fire achieves nothing.’ But, exactly as with the medieval papacy, he found himself agreeing with the state that their heterodox beliefs were in effect ‘seditious’.
In a Memorandum of 1536, he and Melancthon advised Philip of Hesse that Anabaptists by their rejection of government, private property and other social structures were in effect guilty of deliberate sedition, and this in spite of the hesitations of Philip of Hesse himself. Luther worried about it, and added to the Memorandum a recommendation to mercy. But the logic of his position was difficult to evade and behind his texts on ‘The Infiltrating and Clandestine Preachers’ (1532) lurked the same appeal to charges of sedition as had lurked behind his denunciations of Muntzer in the early 1520s. In the 1532 text he wrote: ‘I have been told how these infiltrators worm their way to harvesters and preach to them in the field during their work, as well as to the solitary workers at charcoal kilns or in the woods.’ Luther deprecated their going to work secretly. If they thought they had a call from God let them go about it publicly and go first to their local pastor. ‘If God wants to accomplish something over and beyond this order of office and calling and to raise up someone who is above the prophets, he will demonstrate this with signs. . . When God does not do so we are to remain obedient to the office and authority already ordained.’ The place of true spiritual authority was in practice difficult to identify with certainty when there were competing candidates. Special signs from God were needed if the, as it were, failed candidate was yet to be recognised.
The year before Luther and Melancthon wrote their Memorandum, there occurred the violent take-over of the town of Munster by Anabaptists, declaring they had guidance and revelation to unseat the government. There followed a year of cruel tyranny and chaos which looked like a justification of what had been written about the dangers of Anabaptists to the State. The majority Protestant position increasingly came to be identified with that of local political authority. Luther himself sometimes saw nothing to worry about and was happy with the situation. History was unknowingly adapted: ‘Orders in the Church are civil positions which were taken over and made into spiritual offices’, was recorded in the ‘Table Talk’.
The irresistible drive towards local political sovereignty was present in England as elsewhere. Henry VIII found a minister of great efficiency, Thomas Cromwell, driven by a twofold wish to rationalise and then close down or transform the religious houses, or to produce a useful adjunct of property and wealth to his sovereign, all things which he could see being done in the German lands. But it was not that which precipitated a formal quarrel with the papacy itself. Henry needed to have a blessing and judicial seal from the Lords of the Myth, from the Pope and bishops, on his persecution of his ex-Queen and wife, Katherine of Aragon, aunt of the Emperor, to have a formal divorce from her and a recognition of his marriage to Anne Boleyn, on which he pinned his hopes for a male heir. Sexual gratification as such was not in question. The optional taking of numerous mistresses was conventional in every court from that of the Pope and Emperor downwards — Charles V was notorious for the number of his illegitimate children. A slight complication had indeed arisen in that Anne had held out for the position of Queen as long as she dare before admitting Henry to her bed. However, in any case, Henry needed his first marriage of twenty years standing to be nullified. His case was that since Katherine had previously been married to his brother Arthur who died aged fifteen, the Pope should never have given him permission to marry his deceased brother’s wife. The Archbishop of Canterbury, William Warham, died in 1582. It was the King’s opportunity. He had been granting swift promotion in diplomatic service abroad to a Cambridge don, who had suggested that the universities of Europe might be persuaded to give an opinion supporting the nullifying of his first marriage. Thomas Cranmer’s name was sent to Rome as the best (and only) choice for the vacant See. He was duly appointed and as soon as possible held a Church Court hearing to annul the first marriage, and then officiated at the coronation of the greatly pregnant Anne.
In the course of the enquiries to the universities about Henry VIII’s marriage problems, the query reached Wittenberg. In a letter to the Englishman, Robert Barnes, Luther wrote out an exposition of the problem. Unabashed that he found himself on the same side as the papacy (which had declined to grant a divorce) and of the conservative University of Louvain, which he commonly castigated, and out of step with most of the other European universities which had all been bribed, he came down resoundingly with a judgement of authentic common sense and morality. A man might not thus easily disown his wife. Under no circumstances will the King be free to divorce the Queen to whom he is married, the wife of his deceased brother, and thus make the mother as well as the daughter into incestuous women. . .Before I would approve of such a divorce I would rather permit the King to marry a second woman and to have, according to the examples of the patriarchs and kings, two wives or queens at the same time.’ The possibility of bigamy or polygamy, following Old Testament example, had often been canvassed and Luther’s suggestion was nothing unusual. At the risk of losing his salvation and under the threat of eternal damnation, the King is to be held responsible for retaining the Queen to whom he is married.’ The marriage of a deceased wife’s brother was forbidden in the Old Testament. But so was it to remain uncircumcised. ‘The legislator Moses is dead and invalid for us. Matrimony is a matter of divine and natural law. In cases where the divine and the positive laws contradict each other, the positive law must yield to the divine law.’ Luther’s grasp of the legality and the morality of the situation was integrated and convincing. He shone a largely unwelcome light on the matter.
In spite of this rebuff, Henry and his ministers from time to time made overtures in the direction of the Schmalkaldic League, seeking for a satisfactory alignment in relation to the Emperor or to ecclesiastical developments. An attempt was made to get Melancthon to go to England, and a similar attempt was made by the French government to get him to go to France. He was a scholar of prestige who wanted to keep things together and could be relied on not to make trouble. Luther was consulted on both occasions and tried to persuade the Elector to let Melancthon go, but the Elector had no special reason for sending hostages to either country, and Melancthon had to remain in Saxony. Henry wanted to be invited to join the Schmalkaldic League; and he wanted to deign to join it, without any doctrinal strings attached. Protracted negotiations finally led to a nil result in 1536 when the Elector and the League as a whole continued to insist on formal assent to the Confession of Augsburg, but also now to the new Articles agreed at the Concord of Wittenberg in that same year.
Still trying to agree on a definition of the Eucharist, theologians over a wide range of background had finally agreed in the Wittenberg Concord that ‘with the consecrated bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ are truly and substantially present, shown forth and received’, also that the sacrament has its authentic value in the Church and does not depend on the status of either the minister or the recipient. Soon after the English delegates had declined to agree to the doctrinal demands, the horrific news arrived of Anne Boleyn’s execution. The Elector was glad the English had left the Continent empty-handed, and that he had not agreed to Melancthon’s trip. Luther himself had been mystified by the varying attitudes of Robert Barnes, at one moment apparently a crypto-ambassador of Henry VIII and the next moment in terror for his life. In a letter to Thomas Cromwell he showed he was as good as the next man at saying little in the nicest possible way. However, as a reformer Cromwell could be encouraged: ‘You are capable of accomplishing very many things throughout the whole kingdom, and with the Most Serene Lord King you can do much good. I do pray and shall pray to the Lord to strengthen abundantly his work . . . Through Doctor Barnes, Your Lordship, whom I commend to the Father’s mercy, will become thoroughly acquainted with the situation here. Wittenberg, 9 April 1536. Your Lordship’s dedicated Martin Luther, Doctor.’ More to the point for Luther had been William Tyndale’s achievements. But now in this year came the news of his violent death in Brussels, having been arrested for heresy by agents of the local Council in the Imperial city.
Tyndale had come to Wittenberg for a short time in 1525, going on to Cologne and then to Worms where he completed the printing of his translation into English of the New Testament. He finally settled in Antwerp in a house belonging to the association of English merchants who had been his patrons in London and enabled him to start on the translation work. In Antwerp he remained translating the Old Testament and reissuing the New, for which he provided Introductions inspired by Luther until 1536 when he was lured out of the protection of the merchants’ house. Tyndale’s work and martyrdom was one of similar events throughout northern Europe, news of which kept reaching Luther. Reforms progressed in Iceland, Scotland, Scandinavia and Denmark.
In 1536 Luther heard of things in Switizerland which he liked more than the Zwinglianism of previous years. Young Jean Calvin had arrived in Geneva, and published the work which he had been writing to justify and reorientate himself after his conversion to the reforming camp. A Renaissance humanist of formidable ability, he proceeded to provide a detailed Summa —something much more substantial than Melancthon’s Commonplaces. He called it Institutio Religionis Christiani, and had it published in Geneva. Later, in 1539, Luther read with delight Calvin’s reply to Jacopo Sadoleto, a Catholic Reformer who was trying to persuade the Church in Geneva to return to papal obedience. Calvin’s reply, from Strassburg, was a sign of a new generation of intellectually well-based reformers.
The University continued to be at the heart of Luther’s daily life and if the plague kept returning so did good reasons for celebrations and feasts. For most of the decade he was regularly reappointed as Dean of the Theology Faculty. In that capacity he wrote in 1535 to Melancthon, at that time living away from Wittenberg with other members of the University on account of the plague. There was to be a disputation, graduation ceremony and a feast in honour of Jerome Weller:
‘Here are the disputation papers, excellent Philip, which we would kindly ask you to distribute to the theological candidates. . . I have been suffering from diarrhoea.’ He was weak, could not sleep, and there was no beer in the town. ‘In the last two days I have had fifteen bowel movements.’ To Jonas, Luther wrote: ‘The chief cook, our Lord Katie, asks you to accept this coin and to buy for us poultry or other birds, or whatever in the airy kingdom of our feathered friends is subject to the dominion of man (and may be eaten) — but for God’s sake no ravens. . . bring rabbit or similar meaty delicacies. . . My Katie has brewed seven Quartalia . . . into which she has mixed thirty-two Scheffel of malt. . . She hopes it will turn out to be good beer. Whatever it is, you and others will be tasting it!’ Then came some blustery comment on the international news of the Emperor, about Africa and Constantinople, sharp remarks on their mixing the old religious styles with their fighting, and some classical references to Terence, and finally: ‘My Katie cordially and reverently greets you and all your family. But hold a minute, if my wife greets you, I, in turn greet your wife. What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Farewell in the Lord! 4 September 1535. Yours, Martin Luther.’
In the daytime he could rejoice. At night-time the horrors came. But the next day he could share them with his family and house guests. Dietrich noted down in the spring of 1583, with Luther’s own approval, as a source of comfort to others who suffer such terrors:
I have heard no argument from men that persuaded me, but the bouts I have engaged in during the night have become much more bitter than those in the daytime . . External temptations only make me proud and arrogant — as you see in my books that I despise my enemies. I take them for fools. But when the devil comes he is the lord of the world and confronts me with strong objections. . . I will defy Duke George and all the lawyers and theologians, but when these knaves, the spirits of evil come, the Church must join in the fight. . .Whether God wishes to take me hence now or tomorrow, I want to leave this bequest, that I desire to acknowledge Christ as my Lord. This I have not only from the Scriptures but also from Experience, for the name of Christ often helped me when nobody else could. . .
It was at this time that he recollected how Staupitz had said he did not understand him and reminisced about the old days.
When I was sad and downcast, Staupitz started to talk to me at table and asked: Why are you so sad?’ I replied, ‘Well, what on earth can I do?’ Then he said, ‘You don’t know how necessary this is for you; otherwise nothing good will come of you.’ He himself didn’t understand what he said, for he thought I was too learned and that I would become haughty if I remained free from spiritual trials. But I took his words to be like Paul’s, ‘A thorn was given me in the flesh to keep me from being too elated . . . the Lord said to me "My power is made perfect in weakness"’.
Luther was often still obsessed with thoughts of what had flowed from his actions — was it really all right? He comforted himself with having sincerely answered a ‘Call’, words from his superiors and his brothers in the monastic community. He made this an example for all life: ‘One should be glad to have a brother who says "Brother, do this, for it is the call of your superior or of God (which is a call of faith) or of an equal (which is a call of love)". Nobody realised how great and necessary a place was occupied by the calling, by saying to someone "Do this".’
These were traditional Christian precepts, redeployed to show that at their heart was not a threatening God but an all loving, all understanding God. It still seemed like thin ice, sometimes. It was still strange to sit in the living room to live with his wife and children in the old Friary buildings. So much to be done always, so much still wrong, but so much about it also seemed right. News from England came that reformers there were still accepting the idea of the unattended private Mass. He wrote to Jonas (October 1535): ‘I am thinking about putting theses together against the private Mass . . . My lord Katie sends greetings; she drives the wagon, takes care of the fields, buys and puts cattle out to pasture, brews, etc. In between she starts to read the Bible, and I have promised her fifty guilden if she finishes before Easter.’ Then a sentence in German: ‘she is very serious’; then back to the Latin used in all letters except to those who might not understand it, officials of State and Church, his wife and, in the past, his father and mother.
The depression syndrome led to bouts of exaggerated pleasure or displeasure. At the Coburg, Luther had written: ‘The world hates me and I hate the world.’ Feelings of hopelessness and despair continued to invade him, and bursts of great anger. The mood became particularly unnerving, to himself and to others, when he was expected to act as an Authority. In 1586, when the theologians gathered for the meeting at Wittenberg, having had to come from Eisenach and Torgau because Luther was not well enough to go there, he lectured them like schoolchildren, himself almost intolerably overcome with irritation. Then, suddenly, the ‘Concord’ was worked out and accepted, and he was transfigured with joy, and a feast was laid on.
But if it was still possible to think of trying to work out an agreement with other reformers, towards Rome his mind had become totally closed and what seems like compulsive abuse was directed at them. And any mention of Erasmus was liable to lead to a string of expletives. Yet if the abuse was compulsive, he would still think through the arguments again, as he did on 1 April in 1533 when, so Conrad Cordatus told in his ‘Table Talk’, Luther spent most of the day re-reading Erasmus’s prefaces to the New Testament. Luther found them pernicious: ‘He obscures the authority of Paul and John.’ But he went on puzzling about it. In 1537 Lauterbach said:
He sat at the table after breakfast and after some reflection he wrote on the table with chalk: ‘Substance and words — Philip. Words without substance — Erasmus. Substance without words — Luther. Neither substance nor words — Karlstadt.’ Philip Melancthon came in later and said that too much was attributed to him, and that ‘words’ must also be attributed to Luther.
Elector John died in 1533 and was succeeded by his son John Frederick, educated by Spalatin, deeply devoted since adolescence to Luther. The Pope died the following year. The choice fell again on a man from one of the wealthy Italian families, the Farnese this time, and an old man too. But Paul III immediately applied himself seriously to the task of calling a Council, which Clement VII had continually postponed. He summoned it to Mantua, failing to grasp the extent to which this choice of a city in Italian speaking lands could not be acceptable to the Germans. He sent off an ambassador, Vergerio, round Europe to prepare the way. Luther wrote to Jonas on 10 November 1585:
Suddenly out of the blue the Legate of the Roman Pope visited this town as well. Now he is with the Margrave. This man seems to fly rather than ride. How I wished you had been here! The legate invited me and Pomer for breakfast, since I had declined an evening meal on account of having a bath. I went and ate with him up at the castle. But I am not allowed to write to anyone about what I said. During the whole meal I played the proper Luther.
Vergerio was surprised to see Luther, looking so young at fifty-two, and remarks were made on both sides about preparations made at the barber’s to present himself as still lively. Luther went the short distance up the street to the castle by coach with Bugenhagen, and dressed not in academicals but in his best Renaissance hose, short coat and fur. The Legate had to listen to Luther telling him that a Council was indeed necessary for the papists but that the evangelicals did not need one as they were already reformed. Vergerio was, on the whole, agreeably surprised by Luther, with the quiet timbre of his voice, though he found the eyes trying. Years later he became a Protestant himself.
Luther was increasingly often ill. He had phlebitis in the leg, and a vein had been opened, so that he could bleed himself at will. He felt ill most mornings, and suffered increasingly from the vertigo which had begun ten years previously. The fantasy of death began to take on more credible and personal characteristics. Luther grew more philosophical about it, joking more gently and less melodramatically about himself as too old. To Caspar Muller in January 1536, he wrote: ‘I too am sick with cough and catarrh. But my worst affliction is that the sun has shone on me for a long time, a vexation which, as you well know, is common, and certainly many people die of it!’ He apologised for not taking a particular student into the household as boarder, there was no room left. Then he spoke of the lately dead Katherine of Aragon: ‘We poor beggars, the theologians in Wittenberg, are the only exceptions who would like to maintain her in royal honour. . . Tell my brother that my cough and his silence kept me from answering him! Give my greetings to his black hen . . .’ After a further reference to the tiresome shining of the sun, he continued: ‘I am quite rough and coarse, large, grey, green, overburdened . . . sometimes in order to survive I have to force myself to make a joke . . . Greet all good gentlemen and friends. 19 January 1536. Doctor Martin Luther.’
The Schmalkaldic League determined to meet at Schmalkalden in a full session to work out its response to Pope Paul III’s summoning of a Council. Although ill with heart trouble, stones and frequent dizziness, Luther worked out a first draft of Articles for the Conference. On the way there, early in 1537, it was Jonas not Luther who was taken ill and had to be left behind at Torgau. When he reached Altenberg, Luther wrote him a cheering letter with the latest information and hopes for his recovery, and a request that Jonas, who was to return to Wittenberg, should greet his family ‘and also the Pomeranian Rome and his little Quirites’, the little Bugenhagens. Luther and all of them were being very well entertained; they were playing a game of verses, and Luther sent his attempt with his letter: ‘Master Philip, that is Homer, sends his too. 1 February, at Altenberg, at 8.00 p.m. Yours, Martin Luther, Doctor.’
But then, at Schmalkalden, it was Luther’s turn. He had trouble passing water. By the end of February he was in great trouble, but finally he had relief and wrote to his wife the next day: ‘Not one little drop of water passed from me; I had no rest nor did I sleep, and I was unable to retain any food or drink. In summary I was dead; I commended you, together with the little ones, to God and to my gracious Lord, since I thought I would never again see you in this mortal life. . . But soon several litres passed from me, and I feel as if I were born again.’ He gave her directions about renting some horses. Then there was a further relapse. Luther made a confession of his sins to Bugenhagen, received absolution and prepared himself for death. However, eventually he passed six stones. He then began to get better but the convalescence was lengthy.
Back at home on 21 March, Luther wrote to Spalatin: ‘By God’s grace I gradually recuperate and learn to eat and drink again. Yet my thighs, knees and bones are still shaky and are unable so far to carry my body. . . My Katie is sorry she brought nothing in the line of a present for your daughters . . . She raves about your thoughtfulness and your great kindness.
From now on, Luther was an old man. In the seven years since Augsburg, he had become an institution. The river of reform was in full flood, destroying as it went and providing water for new growth. Luther could not control it, and he was no longer by any means the only reformer of stature. Men of the hour burgeoned in every country. Tyndale’s English Bible and Calvin’s great systematic theology were the new wonders. But Luther was revered everywhere as the principal and original begetter. His own complete Bible translation had finally been published in 1534. But the great thing was that he had done what had been thought to be impossible. He had survived as a heretic and had provided a re-presentation of Christianity which more and more people began to see to be right. He was a nuisance to himself and to his friends, and sometimes made his own insights difficult to grasp, making them seem, with his bombast, less convincing than they truly were. But, briefly, who could really believe in a God whose love was full of threats and sly reckoning? Man was made for better things. He was made for faith in the incomprehensible but all loving God, seen and embraced in his Word.