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Martin Luther as Comforter

Studies in the History

of ChristianTraditions
Founded by
Heiko A. Oberman†

Edited by
Robert J. Bast
Knoxville, Tennessee

In cooperation with
Henry Chadwick, Cambridge
Scott H. Hendrix, Princeton, New Jersey
Paul C.H. Lim, Nashville, Tennessee
Eric Saak, Indianapolis, Indiana
Brian Tierney, Ithaca, New York
Arjo Vanderjagt, Groningen
John Van Engen, Notre Dame, Indiana

Martin Luther as Comforter
Writings on Death

Neil R. Leroux

On the cover: Lucas Cranach the Elder, “The Law and the Gospel” (1529). Photo: repro-
duction bednorz-images.com, used with kind permission.

This book is printed on acid-free paper.

Brill has done its best to establish rights to use of the materials printed herein. Should
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contact with them.

Hollander, David B. (David Bruce)

Money in the late Roman Republic / by David B. Hollander.
p. cm. — (Columbia studies in the classical tradition ; 29)
Based on the author’s Ph.D. thesis, Roman money in the late Republic, presented to
Columbia University in 2002.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN-13: 978-90-04-15649-4
ISBN-10: 90-04-15649-6 (hardback : alk. paper)
1. Money—Rome—History. 2. Coinage—Rome—History. 3. Monetary
policy—Rome—History. 4. Rome—Economic conditions. I. Title.

HG237.H636 2007

ISSN 1573-5664
ISBN 978 90 04 15880 1

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For Joyce, Shelly, and Amanda
In memory of Brian

Preface ......................................................................................... xi
Acknowledgements ..................................................................... xiii
Abbreviations .............................................................................. xv
Introduction ................................................................................ xvii

Chapter One “Think About These Things”: Luther’s

“Fourteen Consolations” (1519) ............................................. 1
I. Orientation to Luther’s Document ................................. 1
II. Analysis of “Fourteen Consolations” .............................. 9
A. The First Image: The Evil Within Us ..................... 9
B. The Second Image: The Future Evil or the Evil
Before Us .................................................................. 11
C. The Third Image: The Past Evil or the Evil
Behind Us ................................................................. 13
D. The Fourth Image: The Infernal Evil or the Evil
Beneath Us ............................................................... 16
E. The Fifth Image: The Unfavorable Evil on
Our Left Hand ......................................................... 18
F. The Sixth Image: The Favorable Evil on
Our Right Hand ....................................................... 18
G. The Seventh Image: The Supernal Evil, or the
Evil Above Us ........................................................... 22
H. The First Image: The Blessing Within .................... 25
I. The Second Image: The Future Blessing
Before Us .................................................................. 28
J. The Third Image: The Past Blessing Behind Us .... 31
K. The Fourth Image: The Infernal Blessing
Beneath Us ............................................................... 33
L. The Fifth Image: The Adverse Blessing on
Our Left Hand ......................................................... 35
M. The Sixth Image: Favorable Blessings on
Our Right Hand ....................................................... 37
N. The Seventh Image: The Supernal Blessing
Above Us .................................................................. 39
Postscript .......................................................................... 42
III. Conclusion ....................................................................... 43
viii contents

Chapter Two “I Have Overcome the World”: Luther’s

“Sermon on Preparing to Die” (1519) ................................... 45
I. Orientation to Luther’s Document .............................. 46
II. Context of Luther’s Book ............................................ 48
III. Analysis of Luther’s “On Preparing to Die” ............... 49
A. Using Scripture ....................................................... 54
B. Using Dialogue ........................................................ 56
C. Intimate Language .................................................. 59
D. Sacraments as Signs ................................................ 60
E. Visual Narration, Description, and Exhortation .... 67
F. Physical Action and Thought in Luther’s
Language ................................................................. 70
G. Overcoming the Enemy .......................................... 76
IV. Conclusion .................................................................... 80

Chapter Three “Of Whom the World was not Worthy”:

Luther’s Martyrological Literature ......................................... 81
I. A Letter of Consolation to All who Suffer
Persecution Because of God’s Word, Addressed to
Hartmuth von Cronberg (1522) ................................... 83
II. To the Christians in the Netherlands (1523) ............... 88
III. A New Song Here Shall Be Begun (1523) .................. 93
IV. To the Christians in Riga, Tallin, and Tartu
(August 1523) ................................................................ 101
V. Letter to Lambert Thorn (19 January 1524) ............... 104
VI. To the Christians of Miltenberg (14 February 1524) ... 108
VII. The Burning of Brother Henry (1525) ........................ 113
VIII. A Letter to the Christians at Halle (1527) ................... 119
IX. To Leonhard Kaiser (20 May 1527) ............................ 127
X. Conclusion .................................................................... 131

Chapter Four “To Whom Shall We Go? You Have the

Words of Eternal Life”: Luther’s 1532 Funeral Sermons ..... 133
I. Context and Scope of the Sermons ............................ 135
II. Analysis of Sermon One .............................................. 141
A. Introduction (WA 36:237–239) ............................... 141
B. Part One (WA 36:240–244) .................................... 143
C. Part Two (WA 36:244–249) .................................... 148
D. Part Three (WA 36:249–254) ................................. 154
E. Conclusion (WA 36:254.21–35) .............................. 158
contents ix

III. Analysis of Sermon Two ................................................. 159

A. Introduction (WA 36:255.15–257.35) ....................... 160
B. Part One (WA 36.257.36–262.17) ............................ 162
C. Part Two (WA 36:262.17–264.11) ............................ 166
D. Part Three (WA 36:264.13–267.17) .......................... 168
E. Part Four (WA 36:267.17–269.27) ............................ 170
F. Conclusion (WA 36:269.28–270.18) ......................... 173
IV. Prominent Themes and Strategies in the Sermons ........ 174

Chapter Five “Faithful are the Wounds of a Friend”:

Luther’s Consolatory Letters .................................................. 181
I. Consolatory Letter as Rhetorical Response ................... 182
II. Consolatory Genre in Rhetorical and Epistolary
Traditions ......................................................................... 184
III. Luther’s Letters ................................................................ 187
A. Letters to Bereaved Parents ...................................... 189
B. Letters to Surviving Spouses ..................................... 200
C. Letters to Surviving Siblings ..................................... 217
IV. Conclusion ....................................................................... 220

Chapter Six “Am I My Brother’s Keeper?”:

Luther’s “On Whether One May Flee from a Deadly
Plague” (1527) ......................................................................... 223
I. Structure of Luther’s Book ............................................. 226
II. Analysis of Luther’s Book ............................................... 227
A. Preliminaries .............................................................. 227
B. The Substance of the Case ...................................... 229
C. Self-Preservation is Biblical ....................................... 235
D. Prolepsis: But Should One Try to Avoid Death
from Plague? ................................................................. 236
E. Positive Instructions for One’s Actions Toward Self
and Others ................................................................. 238
F. Warnings to Those Who Forsake Their Neighbor ... 240
G. Caring for the Sick .................................................... 242
H. What One Should Tell the Devil ............................. 243
I. God’s Mighty Promises for Ministers of the Needy 244
J. Gods Attention and Healing Dwarf the Risks of
Serving Plague Victims ............................................. 246
K. Tempting God ........................................................... 250
L. Instructions for Caregivers ........................................ 251
x contents

M. Instructions to Plague Victims and Potential Disease

Carriers ...................................................................... 253
N. Brief Instructions on Preparation for Death ............ 255
O. Advice about Burial Practices ................................... 259
III. Conclusion ....................................................................... 265

Conclusion .................................................................................. 269

I. Acknowledging Loss ........................................................ 269
II. Putting Loss into Perspective .......................................... 270
III. Emphasizing Resurrection Victory ................................. 271
IV. Exhorting Christians to Suffer Willingly ......................... 273

Appendix Glossary of Rhetorical Terms ................................ 279

Bibliography ................................................................................ 281

Index of Scriptures ..................................................................... 305

Index of Persons & Places .......................................................... 311
Index of Subjects ........................................................................ 325

Much of the analysis in Chapters One through Six involves close

reading of Luther’s texts. When I quote Luther, I provide my own
translation from the Weimarer Ausgabe (WA), providing volume, page,
and line numbers. A colon (:) separates volume and page; a period (.)
separates page and line numbers. When I quote or cite from English
editions of Luther’s texts, I cite only volume and page. In quotations,
I sometimes offer a more syntactically literal translation than English
grammar usually prescribes. When this occurs, my intention is to follow
Luther’s syntax, in German or in Latin, in order to permit his parallel
structures to emerge. It is hoped that such a translation will allow the
reader to appreciate better Luther’s rhetorical style, which contributes
substantially to his arguments’ becoming clearer and/or more compel-
ling. In addition, where warranted, I have documented and commented
on other English translations of a given phrase or clause (LW, PE, or
Tappert), in order to call attention to how they have not—for whatever
reason—chosen to mirror Luther’s syntax in their translation.
In the analysis that provides ubiquitous paraphrases and quotations
of Luther’s language, I have frequently included the original words,
phrases, clauses, or even sentences in square brackets—when furnish-
ing a direct quote, or in parentheses—when I paraphrase. In order
to make reading easier, in the main text of the analysis I have placed
these original terms in italics, and I have capitalized the German nouns.
In the footnotes, however, where I normally quote entire sentences
or paragraphs (in German or Latin), I have not used italics for these
quotes. In other words, italics distinguish foreign words in the main text,
and in the footnotes such distinction is usually unnecessary and would
sometimes lead to confusion with original titles of works in Latin or
German. In all cases I have retained the original spelling of WA.
In the analysis I frequently identify a particular rhetorical or gram-
matical strategy (or figure) by employing its technical name in Latin
or transliterated Greek. I have not placed these terms in italics, and I
have often (though, by no means, always) provided a short explanation
of the term when I use it. For a complete definition of each term, see
the Appendix: Glossary of Rhetorical Terms. Latin terms that signify
parts of an oration or letter are in italics in my analysis.
xii preface

Finally, unless otherwise specified, when I quote Scripture in my own

arguments and analysis, I use the Revised Standard Version, copyright
1971, by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council
of the Churches of Christ of the United States of America.

While I take full responsibility for any errors in this book, I must also
thank so many individuals and institutions for generous assistance and
encouragement. Robert Bast graciously accepted my work for inclu-
sion in his series, Studies in the History of Christian Traditions, and
I am grateful for the constructive criticisms offered by his anonymous
reader. Boris Van Gool at Brill Academic Publishers always offered
timely assistance, as did his production staff. My own fine institution,
The University of Minnesota, Morris (UMM), provided salary supple-
ment during my sabbatical year, as well as funds for travel through
In-State and Out-of-State travel grants. The Graduate School of The
University of Minnesota, Twin Cities (UMTC), provided a Faculty
Summer Research Fellowship, which was matched by the McKnight
Foundation’s Summer Fellowship program. Additional travel funds came
from UMTC’s Office of International Programs.
I owe great thanks to Sandy Kill of the Rodney A. Briggs Library
(UMM) for tireless work in obtaining materials through Inter-Library
Loan and the MINTEX system. Matt Conner and Peter Bremer (both
of Briggs Library, UMM) also rendered timely and cordial help with
research tasks. Amanda Jacobson, Christine Schaerf, Cindy Norberg,
and Matt Kauffmann were my work-study students the past few years
and were able assistants. UMM colleagues Roger Wareham, Pieranna
Garavaso, Janet Erickson, Ken Hodgson, Dwight Purdy, and Jennifred
Nellis were splendid advisors and encouragers—ready at all times with
the right blend of prodding and affirmation.
Colleagues from far beyond Minnesota proved to be welcome friends
along the book’s pilgrimage to completion. Thus, I am indebted to
Randall Zachmann, David Whitford, Brad Gregory, Timothy Maschke,
Kenneth Hagen, Robert Kolb, Austra Reinis, and Franz Posset, Peter
Mack, Craig Kallendorf, Bruce Shields, James Tallmon, Peter Matheson,
Ulrich Bubenheimer, Corey Liknes, Jaconelle Schuffel, Tom Conley,
Claudia Carlos, Beth Manolescu, and Jameela Lares.
I am grateful, as well, to other associations that have helped me grow,
particularly through opportunities to present my work for discussion:
North American Luther Forum, Sixteenth Century Studies Conference,
International Society for the History of Rhetoric, UMM Thursday
xiv acknowledgements

Afternoon Faculty Seminar, the Glacial Ridge Area Lutheran Pastors

(ELCA), St. Johns and Konsvinger Lutheran churches (ELCA) of Don-
nelly, MN, and the Evangelical Free Church of Morris, MN.
Finally, I owe an enormous debt to friends who have counseled, sup-
ported, and withstood me, not only for the seven recent years of book
preparation but also the through some sixteen years prior to that, as I
drew strength from the Lord while He ministered through the listen-
ing ears of others. Some folks I met through Compassionate Friends
or other grief support meetings, some through BeFriender Ministry;
others simply found the time to be of help. In particular, I thank Bruce
Parmenter, Paul Boatman, Jim and Pat Bland, and Mike Sager. Thanks,
most of all, to my family.

Where possible, abbreviations follow The SBL Handbook of Style for

Ancient Near Eastern, Biblical, and Early Christian Studies, edited by Patrick
H. Alexander et al. (Peabody, Mass., 1999) and Siegfried Schwertner,
ed., Internationales Abkürzungsverzeichnis für Theologie und Grenzgebiete (Berlin,

ARG Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte

BHM Bulletin of the History of Medicine
BSac Bibliotheca Sacra
CW Call to Worship
ChrCent Christian Century
CTM Concordia Theological Monthly
CTQ Concordia Theological Quarterly
DS Death Studies
GNT Novum Testamentum Graece (Nestle-Aland, 27th ed. [Münster,
HTR Harvard Theological Review
JBL Journal of Biblical Literature
JETS Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
JPC Journal of Pastoral Care
LB Luther Bible (1534 facsimile, ed. S. Füssel [Cologne, 2003])
LuthFor Lutheran Forum
LuJ Lutherjahrbuch
LQ Lutheran Quarterly
LTSB Lutheran Theological Seminary Bulletin
LW Luther’s Works: American Edition, 55 vols. (ed. J. Pelikan and
H. T. Lehman [St. Louis and Philadelphia, 1955–1986])
LXX Septuagint (ed. C. L. Brenton [Grand Rapids, 1978])
MQR Mennonite Quarterly Review
NEJM New England Journal of Medicine
NT New Testament
OER Oxford Encyclopedia of the Reformation
OT Old Testament
PE Luther’s Works, 6 vols. (ed. A. J. Holman [Philadelphia, 1916–
xvi list of abbreviations

RSQ Rhetoric Society Quarterly

RSV Revised Standard Version
SCES Sixteenth Century Essays and Studies
SCJ Sixteenth Century Journal
SeptBib Luther’s “September Bible” (facsimile, ed. K. A. Strand [Ann
Arbor, 1972])
SHCT Studies in the History of Christian Traditions
SMRT Studies in Medieval and Reformation Traditions
SSM Social Science and Medicine
Tappert Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel, ed. T. G. Tappert (Philadel-
phia, 1955)
ThTo Theology Today
TRE Theologische Realenzykopädie, 17 vols. (Berlin, 1979–2000)
Vulgate Biblia Sacra luxta Vulgatam, 3rd ed., ed. R. Weber (Stuttgart,
WA D. Martin Luthers Werke. Kritische Gesamtausgabe, 67 vols. (Weimar,
WABr D. Martin Luthers Werke. Kritische Gesamtausgabe, Briefwechsel, 15
vols. (Weimar, 1930–1978)
WATr D. Martin Luthers Werke. Kritische Gesamtausgabe, Tischreden, 6
vols. (Weimar, 1912–1921)
WW Word & World
ZVGS Zeitschrift des Vereins für Geschichte Schlesiens

Confusion over death today abounds. In one sense we are fascinated

by it, and in another we avoid all talk of it.1 We watch movies about
it, especially in its fictitious and violent forms,2 and we are inundated
by reports and images of actual deaths (famine, war, plague, natural
disasters, terrorism, etc.) on the news—which, on cable stations, is now
broadcast around the clock.3 In the twentieth century child mortality

“When individuals who are dying or bereaved complain that ‘death is a taboo
subject,’ this does not mean that there are no publicly available languages for talking
about death but that these languages do not make sense of the experiences and feelings
of the individual and his or her friends, family and neighbours. They therefore do not
know what to say or how to say it”; Tony Walter, The Revival of Death (London, 1994),
23f. On p. 2 Walter says, “What we find today is not a taboo but a babel of voices
proclaiming various good deaths. As one clergyman put it to me, ‘There is no such
thing as postmodern death. Just a million and one individual deaths”; see also Allan
Kellehear, “Are We A ‘Death-Denying’ Society? A Sociological Review,” SSM 18 (1984):
713–723, now updated in chapter 5 of his Experiences Near Death (New York, 1996);
Tony Walter, “Modern Death: Taboo or Not Taboo?” Sociology 25 (1991): 293–310.
See also Geoffrey Gorer, “The Pornography of Death,” Encounter 5 (October 1955):
49–52, reprinted in his Death, Grief, and Mourning (Garden City, N.Y., 1965), 192–199;
James J. Farrell, Inventing the American Way of Death, 1830–1920 (Philadelphia, 1980);
Philip A. Mellor and Chris Shilling, “Modernity, Self-Identity and the Sequestration
of Death,” Sociology 27 (1993): 411–431. Joseph Bayly’s book, The View from A Hearse
(Elgin, Ill., 1969), was published in paperback in 1992 under the telling title, The Last
Thing We Talk About (Colorado Springs, Col.). Bayly was a bereaved parent, having
buried three sons, each on separate occasions: the first at 18 days, after surgery; the
second at 5 years, of leukemia; the third at 18 years, following a sledding accident
complicated by mild hemophilia (p. 66).
Ned W. Schultz and Lisa M. Huet, “Sensational! Violent! Popular!: Death in
American Movies,” Omega 42 (2000–2001): 137–149. Bayly, The Last Thing We Talk
About, 23, notes that, “The ready availability of the gun that insulates a killer against
personal contact with those he kills—feeling their flesh—provides a coward’s advan-
tage.” Additionally, observing carnage from the comfort of one’s living room magnifies
the insulation. All that is heightened with violent video games is the feeling of control
over, not accountability for, the killing.
“While our first-hand learning about dying and grieving may be nonexistent, our
second-hand learning is almost too much, too various and often unrelated to our own
lives. We watch thousands of movie deaths in various stylized forms; we watch the
consequences of even more deaths on the news and see people grieving from North-
ern Ireland to South Africa to wherever the latest bomb or earthquake has struck. . . .
We know far too much for our own good about how people die and grieve the world
over, and far too little about how they do so in our own family and our own culture.
If ever there were a state of anomie, or normlessness, this is it”; Tony Walter, The
Revival of Death, 122; Tony Walter, Jane Littlewood, and Michael Pickering, “Death in
xviii introduction

dropped significantly in most industrialized nations of the world4—as

did maternal death from childbirth5—and parents now agree that the
greatest tragedy they can imagine for themselves is the death of a
child, what Joseph Bayly calls a “period placed before the end of the
sentence.”6 Writing about the British Isles but including the USA and
Australasia, Tony Walter reasons that we moderns find death ‘more
galling’ than our predecessors because our technologies permit vast
control over our existence:

the News: The Public Invigilation of Private Emotion,” Sociology 29 (1995): 579–596;
Tony Walter, “Disaster, Modernity, and the Media,” in Death and Religion in a Changing
World, ed. Kathleen Garces-Foley (London, 2006), 265–282.
Charles A. Corr, Clyde M. Nabe, and Donna M. Corr, Death and Dying, Life and
Living, 4th ed. (Belmont, Calif., 2003), 20–25. Of the USA, they say: “Overall death
rates for infants—newborns and children under 1 year of age—were nearly 23 times
higher in 1900 than in 1999: 162.4 versus 7.1 infant deaths per 1,000 live births” (25).
Mortality data is available from the Statistical Abstract of the United States online at:
<http://www.census.gov/prod/2004pubs/04statab/vitstat.pdf> and from the World
Health Organization online at: http://www.who.int/healthinfo/statistics/whostat2005_
mortality_en.pdf. WHO data for 2003, the most recent data, show neonatal mortality
rates for the Region of the Americas and the European Region as nearly identical.
See also Arthur E. Imhof, “From the Old Mortality Pattern to the New: Implications
of A Radical Change From the Sixteenth to the Twentieth Century,” Bulletin of the
History of Medicine 59 (1985): 1–29.
According to Corr, Nabe, and Corr (25), “Maternal death rates of 608 per 100,000
live births in 1915 had been reduced to 7.1 by 1995 (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1998)
but rebounded to 9.9 in 1999 (D. L. Hoyert, et al., “Deaths: Final Data for 1999,”
National Vital Statistics Reports, 49(8) [Hyattsville, Md., 2001]).
Joseph Bayly, The Last Thing We Talk About, 65. Corr, Nabe, and Corr (25):
“[ P ]arents in 1900 were far more likely to be confronted by the death of one of their
children than were parents in the latter half of the century.” As references, they cite
Paul C. Rosenblatt, Bitter, Bitter Tears: Nineteenth-Century Diarists and Twentieth-Century
Grief Theories (Minneapolis, 1983) and P. Uhlenberg, “Death and the Family,” Journal
of Family History 5 (1980): 313–320. As a bereaved parent of a deceased teenager, I
have been told by dozens of parents, over more than 20 years, that they cannot imag-
ine how they would ‘handle’ such a loss. In the mid-1980s a director of a chain of
several small community funeral homes told me that the most tragic death situation
he deals with is the death of an adolescent. Tony Walter argues that another measure
of such ‘premature’ deaths is the number of people—all of whom “assume a stable
and predictable future”—affected by such a death: “[C]hildren assume their teacher
will be there throughout the school year, our massive investment in education assumes
that children will live to adulthood, parents assume their children will outlive them,
sports clubs assume their sport will make them healthier and live longer, the military
suppress thoughts of death and encourage hopes of seeing the world and learning a
trade to set the soldier up once military service is over”; The Revival of Death, 62; Bill
Young and Danai Papadatou, “Childhood Death and Bereavement across Cultures,”
in Death and Bereavement Across Cultures, ed. Colin Murray Parkes, Pittu Laungani and
Bill Young (London, 1997), 191–205.
introduction xix

Whatever else it is, death is the final triumph of nature, the triumph of
inevitable physical decay over our will to stay young and healthy. . . . For
those who can at the flick of a switch turn night into day, winter into
summer, it is puzzling to understand how the light can eventually go
out for good. For people who think every problem has a technological
solution it is disturbing to discover that for some illnesses there is no cure.
For people who are used to taking the car into the garage for service,
knowing they can buy a new model if the news is bad, it is disturbing to
find themselves frightened as they enter the hospital for a checkup.7
Indeed, much evidence for Walter’s thesis can be garnered from my
own culture, particularly when one considers what we spend on health
care, much of which is devoted to extending life.8 Although the search
of Juan Ponce de León (1460–1521) for the fountain of youth was
unsuccessful, the work of Cambridge computer scientist Aubrey de
Grey has drawn the serious, yet skeptical, attention of Yale surgeon
and bioethicist Sherwin Nuland, author of How We Die, winner of the
National Book Award in 1994.9 According to Nuland, de Grey has
“mapped out his proposed course in such detail that he believes it may
be possible for his objective [the theoretical means by which human
beings might live thousands of years] to be achieved within as short a
period as 25 years.”10 Despite the fact that our average life expectancy
at birth has gained more than 50 percent in the last century, the gains
have been due primarily to a decrease in the number of deaths during

Tony Walter, Funerals And How to Improve Them (London, 1990), 41.
On the development of modern medicine and of the contemporary medi-
cal establishment’s commitment to prolonging life, see Darrel W. Amundsen, “The
Physician’s Obligation to Prolong Life: A Medical Duty without Classical Roots,” The
Hastings Center Report 8 (August 1978): 23–30; “Medicine and Faith in Early Christian-
ity,” BHM 56 (1982): 326–350; Gary B. Ferngren, “Early Christianity as A Religion
of Healing,” BHM 66 (1992): 1–15; Joel Shuman, “Desperately Seeking Perfection:
Christian Discipleship and Medical Genetics,” Christian Bioethics 5 (1999): 139–153;
Daniel Callahan, “Death and the Research Imperative,” NEJM 432 (2 March 2000):
546–556; David M. Cutler, Allison B. Rosen, and Sandeep Vijan, “The Value of Medi-
cal Spending in the United States, 1960–2000,” NEJM 355 (2006): 920–927.
Sherwin B. Nuland, How We Die: Reflections on Life’s Final Chapter (New York,
Sherwin Nuland, “Do You Want to Live Forever?” Technology Review 108 (February
2005): 36–45, here at 37. For a criticism of life-extending research involving cloning
and embryonic stem cells, see William P. Cheshire, Jr., “In Search of the Philosopher’s
Clone: Immortality through Replication,” in Aging, Death, and the Quest for Immortality,
ed. C. Ben Mitchell, Robert D. Orr, and Susan A. Salladay (Grand Rapids, 2004),
xx introduction

the early years of life.11 Accordingly, our perception tends to be that

dying is becoming increasingly associated with the elderly.12 One
observer said that today’s youth-centered perspective continues to see
age as “something to be fought, denied, ignored, and avoided at all
However, galling though they be, death and dying have provoked
intense research in several fields in ways other than towards death
avoidance—research that has in turn affected the practice of care for
the sick as well as the dying.14 Since the 1970s students in the USA

In 1900 life expectancy at birth for the average American male was only 48.3 years;
for the average female, 51.1. By the middle of the century these figures had increased
to 66 for males and 71.7 for females. At the end of the century the figures were 75.7
and 82.7, respectively; C. Ben Mitchell, “The Quest for Immortality,” in Mitchell, Orr,
and Salladay, eds., Aging, Death, and the Quest for Immortality, 153–62, here at 155.
Corr, Nabe, and Corr, 28. Compared to previous generations, our dying can now
be a more drawn-out affair: “In only a decade or two we have shifted from a society
in which many members refused to contemplate their mortality or were denied the
opportunity to do so, to one in which a very substantial proportion of the middle-aged
and elderly know that they or close kin have a life-threatening disease which may not
kill them for years but in whose shadow they must in the meantime live. Even those
who do live long healthy lives are likely to know family members who are living with
cancer, heart disease or HIV”; Tony Walter, The Revival of Death, 50. Two recent works
on end-of-life issues are Margaret Pabst Battin, Ending Life: Ethics and the Way We Die
(Oxford, 2005) and Robert H. Blank and Janna C. Merrick, ed., End-of-Life Decision
Making: A Cross-National Study (Cambridge, Mass., 2005).
Gregory Waybright, “Local Church Ministry to and through Older Adults,” in
Aging, Death, and the Quest for Immortality, 107–20, here at 108. Waybright concludes that
Americans need to be better prepared for death and can do so by recognizing that
“the act of growing old is often more difficult than dying” (119).
Paul Ramsey, “The Indignity of ‘Death with Dignity,’ ” Hastings Center Studies 2
(May 1974): 50–62; Robert Jay Lifton, “On Death and the Continuity of Life: A ‘New’
Paradigm,” History of Childhood Quarterly 1 (1974): 681–696; Alasdair MacIntyre, “Patients
as Agents,” in Philosophical Medical Ethics: Its Nature and Significance, ed. S. F. Spicker and
H. T. Engelhardt (Dordrecht, 1977), 197–212; “Medicine Aimed at the Care of Persons
Rather Than What . . .?” in Changing Values in Medicine, ed. Eric J. Cassell and Mark Siegler
(Frederick, Md., 1979), 83–96; Robert L. Sevensky, “Religion and Illness: An Outline
of Their Relationship,” Southern Medical Journal 74 (1981): 745–750; “The Religious
Foundations of Health Care: A Conceptual Approach,” Journal of Medical Ethics 9 (1983):
165–169; David Royse, “The Near-Death Experience: A Survey of Clergy’s Attitudes
and Knowledge,” JPC 39 (March 1985): 331–342; Stanley Hauerwas, “Reflections on
Suffering, Death, and Medicine,” in Suffering Presence (Notre Dame, Ind., 1986), 23–38;
M. Powell Lawton, Miriam Moss, and Allen Glicksman, “The Quality of the Last Year
of Life of Older Persons,” The Milbank Quarterly 68 (1990): 1–28; Gilbert Meilaender,
“Mortality: The Measure of Our Days,” First Things (February 1991): 14–21; idem,
“ ‘Love’s Casuistry’: Paul Ramsey on Caring For the Terminally Ill,” Journal of Religious
Ethics 12 (fall 1991): 133–156; Lindsay Prior and Mick Bloor, “Why People Die: Social
Representations of Death and Its Causes,” Science as Culture 3 (1992): 346–374; Peter
Kreeft, Love Is Stronger Than Death (San Francisco, 1992); Charles Taylor, “Philosophical
introduction xxi

have studied ‘death and dying’ in the classroom,15 yet few teenagers
have experienced a personal encounter with death in their own family
or among close friends.16 Consequently, since death at a young age is

Reflections on Caring Practices,” in The Crisis of Care: Affirming and Restoring Caring Practices
in the Helping Professions, ed. Susan S. Phillips and Patricia Benner (Washington, D.C.,
1994), 174–187; Jeffrey S. Levin, “Religion and Health: Is There an Association, Is It
Valid, and Is It Causal?” SSM 38 (1994): 1475–1482; Mina Mills, Huw T. O. Davies,
and William A. Macrae, “Care of Dying Patients in Hospital,” British Medical Journal
309 (3 September 1994): 583–586; Wendell Berry, “Health Is Membership,” in Another
Turn of the Crank (Washington, D.C., 1995), 86–109; Jack D. McCue, “The Naturalness
of Dying,” JAMA 273 (April 5, 1995): 1039–1043; Alan C. Mermann, “Learning to
Care for the Dying,” Facing Death: Where Culture, Religion, and Medicine Meet, ed. Howard
M. Spiro, Mary G. McCrea Curnen, and Lee Palmer Wandel (New Haven, 1996),
52–59; William J. Bouwsma, “Conclusion: Retrospect and Prospect,” in Facing Death,
189–198; Jeffrey S. Levin, “How Religion Influences Morbidity and Health: Reflections
on Natural History, Salutogenesis and Host Resistance,” SSM 43 (1996): 849–864; Gary
Laderman, The Sacred Remains: American Attitudes Toward Death, 1799–1883 (New Haven,
1996); Anne L. Simmonds, “Pastoral Perspectives in Intensive Care: Experiences of
Doctors and Nurses with Dying Patients,” JPC 51 (1997): 271–281; Christopher G.
Ellison and Jeffrey S. Levin, “The Religion-Health Connection: Evidence, Theory,
and Future Directions,” Health Education & Behavior 25 (1998): 700–720; Harold G.
Koenig and David B. Larson, “Use of Hospital Services, Religious Attendance, and
Religious Affiliation,” Southern Medical Journal 91 (1998): 925–932; Marion Davis et al.,
“Incorporating Palliative Care into Critical Care Education: Principles, Challenges,
and Opportunities,” Critical Care Medicine 27 (1999): 2005–2013; Keith G. Meador
and Shaun C. Henson, “Growing Old in A Therapeutic Culture,” Theology Today 57
(2000): 185–202; Ingolf U. Dalferth, “ ‘I Determine What God Is!’: Theology in the
Age of ‘Cafeteria Religion,” Theology Today 57 (2000): 5–23; Robert H. Albers, “The
Faith Factor in Wholistic Care: A Multidisciplinary Conversation,” WW 21 (2001):
51–60; Robert C. Roberts, “Psychotherapy and Christian Ministry,” WW 21 (2001):
42–50; Mark J. Hanson, “Defining Health and Health-Related Concepts: Conceptual
and Theological Considerations,” WW 21 (2001): 23–31; Archie Smith, Jr., “ ‘Look
and See If There Is Any Sorrow Like My Sorrow?’: Systemic Metaphors for Pastoral
Theology and Care,” WW 21 (2001): 5–15; Harold G. Koenig, Michael E. McCullough,
and David B. Larson, Handbook of Religion and Health (Oxford, 2001); Peter Marshall,
Beliefs and the Dead in Reformation England (Oxford, 2002); Michael A. Milton, “ ‘So What
are You Doing Here?’: The Role of the Minister of the Gospel in Hospital Visitation,
or A Theological Cure for the Crisis in Evangelical Pastoral Care,” JETS 46 (2003):
449–463; Joel James Shuman and Keith G. Meador, Heal Thyself: Spirituality, Medicine,
and the Distortion of Christianity (Oxford, 2003).
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, On Death and Dying (New York, 1969); Peter J. Donaldson,
“Denying Death: A Note Regarding Some Ambiguities in the Current Discussion,”
Omega 3 (1972): 285–290; Robert Jay Lifton and Eric Olson, Living and Dying (New York,
1974); Joseph A. Durlak and Lee Ann Riesenberg, “The Impact of Death Education,”
DS 15 (1991): 39–58; Thomas Attig, How We Grieve: Relearning the World (New York,
1996); David W. Moller, Confronting Death: Values, Institutions, and Human Mortality (New
York, 1996); Corr, Nabe, and Corr, Death and Dying, Life and Living (2003); Clifton D.
Bryant, ed., Handbook of Death and Dying, 2 vols. (Thousand Oaks, Calif., 2003).
A seminary classmate (in the late 1970s) once told me he had never attended a
funeral until he was called upon to preside at one. In the mid-1990s a former dean
of students at my university told me that a significant traumatic experience that many
xxii introduction

such a rarity, an “illusion of invulnerability pretty well defines [the]

resting state” for many young students. Thus, “[o]ne of life’s crueler
ironies is that we’re most vulnerable at those very moments when we
feel in least danger.”17
In addition, more experienced adults who have reckoned with human
mortality—such as family members of terminally ill patients—have
increasingly expressed frustration with what they find to be insensitive
doctors.18 The modern hospice movement is one instrument to which
people who are unfamiliar with death and inexperienced at caring
for the dying turn to try to restore a sense of ‘dignity’ to one’s dying,
through seeking humane care and a social network to the dying expe-
rience.19 However, providing personal companionship or accompani-

college students face is the death of a grandparent—the first such death of a close
relative in their lifetime.
Mary A. Fischer, “Thrills That Kill,” Reader’s Digest, February 2006, 116–122;
Robert Levine, Persuasion: How We’re Bought and Sold (Hoboken, N.J., 2003), 8. Levine (9)
argues that in America today, “Most people are convinced they have a better chance
of living past eighty than the next person. In one study, college students (the mae-
stros of perceived invulnerability—take it from a professor), after being informed the
average age of death in the United States is seventy-five, went on to estimate their
own age of death at, on average, eighty-four years.” The study cited is C. R. Snyder,
“Unique Invulnerability: A Classroom Demonstration in Estimating Personal Mortal-
ity,” Teaching of Psychology 24 (1997): 197–199. Snyder conducted the same study in
two consecutive years. In the second study he told students in advance that they were
predicted to overestimate their age of death. He reports that many students stayed
after class to inform him, some of them vehemently, as to why in their case they
would live longer than statistical averages. Of course, some of them will be correct,
for ‘average’ describes no one in particular. What would be interesting to learn—and
what Snyder did not report in the study—is how many students predict an early death
for themselves.
The vast improvements in health that resulted in most deaths occurring in hospital
have had their trade-offs, according to Tony Walter: “As physical and financial beings
people welcomed this, but as meaning-creating and self-determining individuals many
felt lost. Medical discourse and bureaucratic practices failed to articulate private grief ”;
The Revival of Death, 26; Jane E. Brody, “Facing Up to the Inevitable: In Search of a
Good Death,” New York Times, 30 December 2003, F5; idem, “Doctors Should Keep
Bonds to Dying Patients,” Minneapolis Star-Tribune, 12 August 2004, E10. According to
Walter, The Revival of Death (31), there has been a significant change in recent decades
regarding doctors’ willingness to tell patients they have an incurable disease. In 1961
only 12% of American doctors would tell the patient; in 1979 the figure was 98%. For
a study on the reverse situation, see John Hinton, “Whom Do Dying Patients Tell?”
British Medical Journal 281 (1980): 1328–1330.
Dignity goes hand in hand with control. Tony Walter quotes a hospice doctor:
“There’s a lot of talk of dignity in the wards these days. But there’s no dignity in dying:
you can’t have your bottom wiped with dignity. You can’t either enter or exit this life
in a dignified way, or not at least in a society like ours that doesn’t allow dependence.
Only patients themselves can allow dignity to be conferred and they have to work at
introduction xxiii

ment in dying may not be the entire answer to the fear and attempted
avoidance of death in modern and postmodern society.20 Moreover, the
tendency to ignore or flee death is by no means recent. What resources
are there then for ‘preparation’ for death?
Responding to one observer21 of New York City’s plans to com-
memorate the tragedy of ‘9–11,’ Gerhard Sauter argues that “confusing
Christian freedom with careless and reckless self-determination” was
recognized as a danger long ago by Martin Luther.22 Sauter suggests
that hospice may provide assistance in dying but not necessarily prepa-
ration for death. He avers that Luther sought to help people prepare
for death long before they become ‘terminally ill.’ Luther opened his
Invocavit Sermons of 1522 thus:
The summons of death comes to us all, and no one can die for another.
Everyone must fight his own battle with death by himself, alone. We

it: by humour, by patience, by silence”; The Revival of Death, 140. The hospice move-
ment began in Britain in the 1960s, started by Cicely Saunders, who was driven by a
deep Christian commitment, according to Tony Walter; cf. Cicely Saunders, “The Last
Stages of Life,” American Journal of Nursing 65 (March 1965): 70–75. On hospice, see
L. Paradis and S. Cummings, “The Evolution of Hospice in America Toward Organi-
sational Homogeneity,” Journal of Health and Social Behaviour 27 (1986): 370–386; Clive F.
Seale, “What Happens in Hospices: A Review of Research Evidence,” SSM 28 (1989):
551–559; Sandol Stoddard, “Hospice in the United States: An Overview,” Journal of
Palliative Care 5, no. 3 (1989): 10–19; Nicky James and David Field, “The Routinization
of Hospice: Charisma and Bureaucratization,” SSM 34 (1992): 1363–1375; Corr, Nabe,
and Corr 184–187, 195–199. Scholars considering a Christian perspective on death
and dying have noted the nonreligious orientation that hospice and similar programs
have taken in recent years, particularly in the United States; cf. Tony Walter, “Death
in the New Age,” Religion 23 (1993): 127–145; idem, The Revival of Death, 29, 163; Lucy
Bregman, Beyond Silence and Denial: Death and Dying Reconsidered (Louisville, Ky., 1999);
idem, Death and Dying, Spirituality and Religions: A Study of the Death Awareness Movement.
American University Studies in Theology and Religion 228 (New York, 2003); Tony
Walter, “Hospices and Rituals after Death: A Survey of British Hospice Chaplains,”
International Journal of Palliative Nursing 9, no. 2 (2003): 80–85. For a positive charac-
terization of hospice and, particularly, a strong argument for the holistic concept of
palliative care, see Jackie Cameron, “Palliative Care: Suffering and Healing at the End
of Life,” in Mitchell, Orr, and Salladay, eds., Aging, Death, and the Quest for Immortality,
134–149; cf. Tony Walter, “Developments in Spiritual Care of the Dying,” Religion
26 (1996): 353–363; idem, “The Ideology and Organization of Spiritual Care: Three
Approaches,” Palliative Medicine 11 (1997): 1–10; idem, “Spirituality in Palliative Care:
Opportunity or Burden?” Palliative Medicine 16 (2002): 133–139.
Gerhard Sauter, “How Do ‘I’ Encounter My Own Death?” Theology Today 60
(2004): 497–507, here at 498; Richard G. Dumont and Dennis C. Foss, The American
View of Death: Acceptance or Denial? (Cambridge, Mass., 1972).
Jack Hitt, “The American Way of Death Becomes America’s Way of Life,” New
York Times, 18 August 2002, Week in Review, 1, 6.
Gerhard Sauter, “My Own Death,” 501.
xxiv introduction

can shout into another’s ears, but everyone must himself be prepared
for death, for I will not be with you then, nor you with me. Therefore
everyone must himself know and be armed with the chief things which
concern a Christian (LW 51:70).23
Immersed in Luther’s theology of death, Sauter’s own project strives
to strengthen our ‘theological perception of death.’24 He argues that Luther
challenged his listeners to think about “what it means for a Christian to
be a person;”25 that one’s solitude of complete dedication of one’s ‘self ’
to God is not the loneliness of sheer autonomy that ends in desperate
self-isolation.26 Luther, Sauter maintains, shows that baptism overturns
the sequence of our natural way of thinking about death—that it is
the conclusion of life—offering instead another sequence: Life follows
death.27 Even though we die alone, we are not deserted but have the
communio of all that is available in Christ.28
Sauter finds Luther’s theology of death not only in the Invocavit
Sermons, which he preached from 9–16 March 1522, upon his return
(against the Elector’s orders and at great personal risk) to Wittenberg
from Wartburg castle. In this same article Sauter also quotes from
Luther’s “Sermon on Preparing to Die” (1519), where he insists:
“Christ’s life overcame my death in his death, that his obedience blot-
ted out my sin in his suffering, that his love destroyed my hell in his
forsakenness.”29 Furthermore, in an article originally published four
years earlier,30 Sauter explores Luther’s theology of death by examining
his preaching on the resurrection (1 Cor. 15), which he had done on
17 different Sunday afternoons (11 August 1532 to 27 April 1533).31
As it happens, after delivering the first sermon in that series, Luther
preached two messages for the funeral of Elector John the Steadfast:

Ibid., 501. For an analysis of the Invocavit Sermons, see Neil R. Leroux, Luther’s
Rhetoric: Strategies and Style in the Invocavit Sermons (St. Louis, 2002).
Sauter, “My Own Death,” 497, emphasis Sauter’s.
Ibid., 501, emphasis Sauter’s.
Ibid., 504.
Ibid., 506.
LW 42:109, quoted by Sauter, “My Own Death,” 507.
Gerhard Sauter, “Luther on the Resurrection: The Proclamation of the Risen One
as the Promise of Our Everlasting Life with God,” LQ 15 (2001): 195–216; originally
published as “Die Verkündigung des Auferstandenen als Zusage des Lebens bei Gott”
in Relationen-Studien zum Übergang vom Spätmittelalter zur Reformation: Festschrift zu Ehren von
Prof. Dr. Karl-Heinz zu Mühlen, ed. Athina Lexutt and Wolfgang Matz (Münster, 2000),
WA 36:478–696.
introduction xxv

18 and 22 August, both of which were grounded in 1 Thess. 4:13–18,

and of which I shall say more later.32
Thus Luther had much to say about death, and I have now suggested
two different genres of discourse—preaching and consolation litera-
ture—that he explored to bring comfort to those facing issues pertaining
to death. Since industrialized societies today regard ‘death and taxes’
as two certainties amongst a universe of relativism and uncertainty,
contemporary readers should find what sixteenth-century readers (who
were subject to these same certainties) discovered: that Luther’s remarks
about death are worth hearing. But why are they so?
We fear and try to avoid death—differently than our predecessors
only in degree—because we take it to be what Lloyd Bitzer calls a non-
rhetorical exigence—a necessary imperfection that cannot be modified
by discourse.33 However, Mark Twain observed that we talk constantly
about the weather, yet ‘do’ nothing about it. Both he and Bitzer note
correctly that for both death and the weather we can ‘modify’ neither
through discourse alone. Still, we use discourse aplenty to enable us to
cope with these exigences.34 As with one of Bitzer’s own examples of a
rhetorical situation (the situation generated by the John F. Kennedy assas-
sination in 1963),35 death itself provides several topics embedded within
it that present rhetors and audiences with exigences needing discourse
to address them. Moreover, the resources available to a rhetor—the
material facts of the situation and the linguistic strategies and style—not
only are those the rhetor uses to make the most persuasive discourse
possible; they are also available to us as reader-critics, enabling us to
perceive the appeal (logic and power) the discourse has.
So, by examining Luther’s writings on death and suffering, this book
helps us to consider several important aspects of death.36 And by look-
ing closely at how Luther argues, we can learn the power his discourse
has to convince readers what can be done about death: it cannot be
avoided, but we can face it victoriously. Moreover, scholars have begun

LW 51:231–255; WA 36:237–270.
Lloyd F. Bitzer, “The Rhetorical Situation,” Philosophy and Rhetoric 1 (1968): 1–14,
here at 6.
Bitzer (6f.) lists “death, winter, and some natural disasters, for instance” as exigences
that are not rhetorical. Further, he argues that exigences that cannot be modified, or
can be “modified only by means other than discourse,” are not rhetorical exigences.
Ibid., 9.
Ronald Rittgers, “The Reformation of Suffering,” Crux 38 (December 2002):
15–21; John C. Clark, “Luther’s View of Cross-Bearing,” BSac 163 (2006): 335–347.
xxvi introduction

to discover Luther’s role as a Seelsorger, a healer of souls;37 consequently,

his writings on death are the very discourse for encountering Luther’s
efforts to comfort. This is particularly important if one finds the orien-
tation, scope, and depth of contemporary pastoral care to have drifted
from its historic, biblical moorings.38

August Nebe, Luther as Spiritual Adviser, trans. Charles A. Hay and Charles E. Hay
(Philadelphia, 1894); Helmut Appel, Anfechtung und Trost im Spätmittelalter und bei Luther
(Leipzig, 1938); Johann Simon Schöffel, “Luther als Seelsorger,” Luther 23 (1941): 1–10;
Gerhard Krause, “Luthers Stellung zum Selbstmord: Ein Kapitel seiner Lehre und
Praxis der Seelsorge,” Luther 36 (1965): 50–71; Philip J. Secker, “Martin Luther’s Views
on the State of the Dead,” CTM 38 (1967): 422–435; “Arthur E. Becker, “Luther as
Seelsorger,” in Interpreting Luther’s Legacy: Essays in Honor of Edward C. Fendt, ed. Fred W.
Meuser and Stanley D. Schneider (Minneapolis, 1969), 136–150; Roland H. Bainton,
“Luther: Pastor, Consoler, Preacher,” in Encounters with Luther, Vol. 1, Lectures, Discussions
and Sermons at the Martin Luther Colloquia 1970–74, ed. Eric W. Gritsch (Gettysburg, 1980),
167–180; Yoshiro Ishida, “Luther the Pastor,” in Piety, Politics, and Ethics: Reformation
Studies in Honor of George Wolfgang Forell, ed. Carter Lindberg. SCES 3 (Kirksville, Mo.,
1984), 27–37; Martin Treu, “Trost bei Luther: Ein Anstoß für heutige Seelsorge,”
Pastoraltheologie 73 (March 1984): 91–106; Hans-Martin Barth, “ ‘Pecca fortiter, sed
fortius fide . . .’: Martin Luther als Seelsorger,” Evangelische Theologie 44 (1984): 12–25;
George Kraus, “Luther the Seelsorger,” CTM 48 (1984): 153–163; Klaus-Peter Jörns,
“Luther als Seelsorger,” Wege zum Menschen 37 (1985): 489–498; Martin Treu, “Die
Bedeutung der consolatio für Luthers Seelsorge bis 1525,” LuJ 53 (1986): 7–25; Gerald
Krispin, “The Consolation of the Resurrection in Luther,” Lutheran Theological Review
2 (fall-winter, 1989–1990): 38–51; Gerhard Ebeling, “Der theologische Grundzug der
Seelsorge Luthers,” in Luther als Seelsorger, ed. Joachim Heubach. Veröffentlichungen
der Luther-Akademie e. V. Ratzeburg 18 (Erlangen, 1991), 21–48; Christian Möller,
“Luthers Seelsorge und die neueren Seelsorgekonzepte,” in Luther als Seelsorger, 109–128;
Christian Möller, “Martin Luther,” in Geschichte der Seelsorge in Einzelporträts, vol. 2, ed.
Christian Möller (Göttingen, 1992), 25–44; Gerhard Ebeling, “Luthers Gebrauch der
Wortfamilie ‘Seelsorge,’ ” LuJ 61 (1994): 7–44; Ute Mennecke-Haustein, “Luther als
Seelsorger,” in Martin Luther ungewohnt, ed. Evangelische Akademie Baden (Karlsruhe,
1996), 55–78; Maurice E. Schild, “Luther as Comforter,” in Perspectives on Martin Luther:
Papers from the Luther Symposium held at Luther Seminary Adelaide, South Australia, 22–23 March,
1996, Commemorating the 450th Anniversary of the Reformer’s Death, ed. M. W. Worthing
(North Adelaide, So. Australia, 1996), 9–20; Rudolf Keller, “Luther als Seelsorger,”
Lutherische Kirche in der Welt 44 (1997): 101–118; Gerhard Ebeling, Luthers Seelsorge: Theologie
in der Vielfalt der Lebenssituationen an seinen Briefen dargestellt (Tübingen, 1997); Richard G.
Ballard, “The Pastoral Care of the Sick and Dying and of the Bereaved,” LuthFor 34
(spring 2000): 37–41; Franz Posset, “Lehrer der Seelsorge: Das ökumenische Potential
der Seelsorge-Konzeption des alten Luther,” Luther 72 (2001): 3–17; Herbert Anderson,
“Whatever Happened to Seelsorge?” WW 21 (2001): 32–41; Timothy J. Wengert, “ ‘Peace,
Peace . . . Cross, Cross’: Reflections on How Martin Luther Relates the Theology of the
Cross to Suffering,” Theology Today 59 (2002): 190–205; Reinhard Slenczka, “Luther’s
Care of Souls for Our Times,” CTQ (2003): 33–63.
John T. McNeill, A History of the Cure of Souls (New York, 1951); E. Brooks Holifield,
A History of Pastoral Care in America: From Salvation to Self-Realization (Nashville, 1983);
Eberhard Winkler, “Luther als Seelsorger und Prediger, Leben und Werk Martin Luthers von
1526 bis 1546: Festgabe seinem 500. Geburtstag, ed. Helmar Junghans, Vol. 1 (Göttingen,
introduction xxvii

We have already discussed how one considers one’s own forthcom-

ing death. Chapters One and Two will explore in depth how Luther
addressed this matter. Chapters Three through Six take us deeper into
how the deaths of others bring loss; each chapter addresses matters
and occasions of loss and threat—grieving a loss, expressing grief 39
through mourning, using funerals to make meaning out of loss, offering
comfort to the bereaved, aiding the suffering and dying, and honoring
and burying the dead. As we begin exploring these questions, we shall
analyze some of Luther’s writings, revealing the context and style, thus
accounting for how he used discourse to bring meaning, comfort, and
hope. First, we recall that Luther had occasion in 1519 to write two
different works whose focus is the imminent prospect of a Christian
Chapter One examines Luther’s “Fourteen Consolations,” which is
help in finding comfort for those who may be dying. His counsel to be

1983), 225–240; Thomas C. Oden, Care of Souls in the Classic Tradition (Philadelphia,
1984); Herbert W. Stroup, Jr., “Pastoral Theology: Reformation or Regression?” LTSB
67 (winter 1987): 39–53; Martin Treu, “Zwischen Psychotherapie und Dämonenaus-
treibung: Beobachtungen und Überlegungen zu Luthers Seelsorge für die Gegenwart,”
Luther 58 (1987): 32–45; Rudolf Keller, “Luther als Seelsorger und theologischer Berater
der zerstreuten Gemeinden,” Kirche in der Schule Luthers: Festschrift für D. Joachim Heubach,
ed. Bengt Hägglund and Gerhard Müller (Erlangen, 1995), 58–78; David Cornick,
“The Reformation Crisis in Pastoral Care,” in A History of Pastoral Care, ed. G. R.
Evans (London, 2000), 223–234; Susan R. Boettcher, “The Rhetoric of ‘Seelsorge’
for Miners in the Sermons of Cyriakus Spangenberg,” in Frömmigkeit—Theologie—Fröm-
migkeitstheologie: Contributions to European Church History. Festschrift für Berndt Hamm zum 60.
Geburtstag, ed. Gudrun Litz, Heidrun Munzert, and Roland Liebenberg. SHCT 124
(Leiden, 2005), 453–466.
The scholarly literature on grief in English-speaking countries alone is immense.
Recent studies that trace grief historically as an emotion are Peter N. Stearns, American
Cool: Constructing a Twentieth-Century Emotional Style (New York, 1994) and Peter N. Stearns
and Mark Knapp, “Historical Perspectives on Grief,” in The Emotions: Social, Cultural and
Biological Dimensions, ed. Rom Harré and W. Gerrod Parrott (London, 1996), 134–148;
Donald P. Irish, “Diversity in Universality: Dying, Death and Grief,” in The Unknown
Country: Death in Australia, Britain and the USA, ed. Kathy Charmaz, Glennys Howarth,
and Allan Kellehear (Houndmills, 1997), 242–256. Yet much research has been done
elsewhere: see Tony Walter, “Letting Go and Keeping Hold: A Reply to Stroebe,”
Mortality 2 (1997): 263–266; Margaret Stroebe and Henk Schut, “Culture and Grief,”
Bereavement Care 17 (1998): 7–10; Steven E. Bailley, Michael J. Kral, and Katherine Dun-
ham, “Survivors of Suicide Do Grieve Differently: Empirical Support for a Common
Sense Proposition,” Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior 29 (1999): 256–271; Margaret
Stroebe and Henk Schut, “The Dual Process Model of Coping with Bereavement:
Rationale and Description,” DS 23 (1999): 197–224; Tony Walter, On Bereavement: The
Culture of Grief (Buckingham, 1999); idem, “Emotional Reserve and the English Way of
Grief,” The Unknown Country, 127–140; idem, “Grief Narratives: The Role of Medicine
in the Policing of Grief,” Anthropology and Medicine 7 (2000): 97–114.
xxviii introduction

prepared can be considered by today’s readers who may try instead to

escape.40 Luther wrote this work specifically for Saxon Elector Frederick
the Wise, who was gravely ill and thought to be dying. Early modern
German people often turned to the saints as the ‘primary link’ between
this world and the next,41 and especially to the ‘helper saints,’ praying
to them for assistance.42 To have such helpers ready to aid implies that

LW 42:121–166; WA 6:104–134.
Carol Piper Heming, Protestants and the Cult of the Saints in German-Speaking Europe,
1517–21. SCES (Kirksville, Mo., 2003), 39.
On the fourteen saints, see Georg Schreiber, Die Vierzehn Nothelfer in Volksfrömmigkeit
und Sakralkultur: Symbolkraft und Herrschaftsbereich der Wallfahrtskapelle, vorab in Franken und
Tirol. Schlern-Schriften Veröffentlichungen zur Landeskunde von Südtirol 168 (Inns-
bruck, 1959); David Hugh Farmer, ed., Oxford Dictionary of Saints, 4th ed., (Oxford,
1997), s.v. “Fourteen Holy Helpers”; New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2nd ed., s.v. “Fourteen
Holy Helpers,” by J. Dünninger. On the saints and popular religion, see Max Lack-
mann, “Thesaurus Sanctorum: Ein vergessener Beitrag Luthers zur Hagiologie,” in
Festgabe Joseph Lortz, ed. Erwin Iserloh and Peter Manns, Vol. 1, Reformation, Shicksal und
Auftrag (Baden-Baden, 1958), 135–171; Max Lackmann, Verehrung der Heiligen: Versuch
einer lutherischen Lehre von den Heiligen (Stuttgart, 1958); Père H. Delehaye, The Legends
of the Saints: An Introduction to Hagiography, trans. V. M. Crawford (Notre Dame, 1961);
Bernd Moeller, “Piety in Germany Around 1500,” in The Reformation in Medieval Per-
spective, ed. Steven E. Ozment (Chicago, 1971), 50–75; Natalie Zemon Davis, “Some
Tasks and Themes in the Study of Popular Religion,” in The Pursuit of Holiness in Late
Medieval and Renaissance Religion: Papers From the University of Michigan Conference on Late
Medieval and Renaissance Religion, ed. Charles Trinkaus and Heiko A. Oberman. SMRT
10 (Leiden, 1974), 307–336; John M. McCulloh, “The Cult of Relics in the Letters
and ‘Dialogues’ of Pope Gregory the Great: A Lexicographical Study,” Traditio 32
(1976): 145–184; Diana Webb, “Eloquence and Education: A Humanist Approach to
Hagiography,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 31 (1980): 19–39; Peter Brown, The Cult
of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity. Haskell Lectures on the History of
Religions 2 (Chicago, 1981); R. W. Scribner, “Ritual and Popular Religion in Catholic
Germany at the Time of the Reformation,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 35 (1984):
47–77; Patrick J. Geary, “The Saint and the Shrine: The Pilgrims’ Goal in the Middle
Ages,” in Walfahrt kennt keine Grenzen, ed. Lenz Kriss-Rettenbeck and Gerda Möhler
(Munich, 1984), 265–274; James Michael Weiss, “Hagiography by German Humanists,
1483–1516,” Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 15 (1985): 299–316; Carlos M. N.
Eire, War Against the Idols: The Reformation of Worship from Erasmus to Calvin (Cambridge,
1986), 8–26; H. George Anderson, J. Francis Stafford, and Joseph A. Burgess, ed., The
One Mediator, The Saints, and Mary. Lutherans and Catholics in Dialogue 8 (Minneapo-
lis, 1992); Michael Downey, ed., The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality (Collegeville,
Minn., 1993), s.v., “Saints, Communion of ”; Patrick J. Geary, Living With the Dead in
the Middle Ages (Ithaca, N.Y., 1994); Paul Antony Hayward, “Demystifying the Role of
Sanctity in Western Christendom,” in The Cult of Saints in Late Antiquity and the Middle
Ages: Essays on the Contribution of Peter Brown, ed. James Howard-Johnston and Paul Antony
Hayward (Oxford, 1999), 115–142; Peter Marshall, Beliefs and the Dead. On particular
saints, see O. Clemen, “Zum St. Annenkultus im ausgehenden Mittelalter,” Archiv für
Reformationsgeschichte 21 (1924): 251–253; Gabrielle M. Spiegel, “The Cult of St. Denis
and Capetian Kingship,” in Saints and their Cults: Studies in Religious Sociology, Folklore
and History, ed. Stephen Wilson (Cambridge, 1983), 141–168; Heiko A. Oberman,
“The Virgin Mary in Evangelical Perspective,” Journal of Ecumenical Studies 1 (1964):
introduction xxix

one may avoid life-threatening perils or be protected from their harmful

effects. That such helpers were depicted in works of art suggests that
one can implore them ‘on demand.’ Countering this, Luther argues that
one can at any time assess the strength and comfort available to him
through the resources of Christ. In this work Luther not only proposes
a Christological—rather than hagiographic—approach to consolation;
he also organizes this work (composed originally in Latin, then soon
translated into German) spatially and temporally, as was common in
medieval sermons, meditations, and works of art.43 In so doing, he
implies that his fourteen consolations—consisting in seven ‘evils’ and
seven ‘blessings’—completely replace the fourteen helper saints as a
fixture for contemplation.44 Moreover, Luther’s ‘how much more’ rhe-
torical strategy demonstrates the priority—and superiority—of Christ
over the saints as source of comfort.
Chapter Two analyzes “A Sermon on Preparing to Die,”45 also written
in 1519 but seemingly intended to displace the ubiquitous ars moriendi,
the ‘art of dying (well).’ These books, usually amply illustrated, circulated
widely in the late middle ages and were designed as instructional guides
to help comfort the person having ‘taken to bed’ and facing imminent
death.46 Although people have probably always wanted—if, after all,

271–298; Arthur Carl Piepkorn, “Mary’s Place Within the People of God According
to Non-Roman-Catholics,” Marian Studies 18 (1967): 46–83; David F. Wright, “Mary
in the Reformers,” in Chosen By God: Mary in Evangelical Perspective, ed. David F. Wright
(London, 1989), 161–183; Virginia Nixon, Mary’s Mother: Saint Anne in Late Medieval Europe
(University Park, Pa., 2004); Charles R. Hogg, Jr., “The Ever-Virgin Mary: Athanasius
to Gerhard,” LuthFor (winter 2004): 18–23; “The Ever-Virgin Mary: Gerhard to the
Present,” LuthFor (spring 2005): 36–39. On Luther’s views on the saints, see Lennart
Pinomaa, “Die Heiligen in Luthers Frühtheologie,” Studia Theologica 13 (1959): 1–50;
Peter Newman Brooks, “A Lily Ungilded?: Martin Luther, the Virgin Mary and the
Saints,” Journal of Religious History 13 (1984): 136–149; Beth Kreitzer, “Luther Regarding
the Virgin Mary,” LQ 17 (2003): 249–266; Angelika Dörfler-Dierken, “Luther und die
heilige Anna,” LuJ 64 (1997): 19–46; Gerhard Ludwig Müller, “Communio Sanctorum:
Das Kirchenverständnis Martin Luthers,” Edith-Stein-Jahrbuch 4 (1998): 215–223.
George Tavard, “Luther’s Teaching on Prayer,” LTBS 67 (winter 1987): 3–22,
here at 7f.
That Luther wrote this work lends some support to Carol Piper Heming’s thesis
that the cult of the saints did not die easily in the sixteenth century, even among regions
that accepted the reformation teachings; see her Protestants and the Cult of the Saints; cf.
Peter Brown, The Cult of the Saints.
LW 42:99–115; WA 2:685–697.
Rainer Rudolf, Ars Moriendi: Von der Kunst des Heilsamen Lebens und Sterbens. For-
schung zur Volkskunde 39 (Cologne, 1957); Nancy Lee Beaty, The Craft of Dying: A Study
in the Literary Tradition of the Ars Moriendi in England (New Haven, 1970), 1–53; Rainer
Rudolf, “Ars Moriendi I: Mittelalter,” in TRE 4:143–149; Rudolf Mohr, “Ars Moriendi
xxx introduction

they really must—to die well, one medieval preoccupation was decidedly
different from our own. We moderns wish to have it over with quickly
and painlessly,47 but our predecessors wanted more than mere ‘dignity’
in death; rather, they desired to maintain their rational faculties and
will so they might resist the devil right to the end.48 Moreover, they
hungered for assistance in carrying this out.49 Like “Fourteen Consola-
tions,” Luther’s book was every bit as successful in sales: 17 editions
within two years. Further, in helping the dying person know what to
think about and do in his last hours, Luther discusses not one subject
but three: sin, death, and hell.50 Unlike our own time, which has for-

II: 16.–18. Jahrhundert,” TRE 4:149–154; Robert Kastenbaum, “Ars Moriendi,” in

Encyclopedia of Death, ed, Robert and Beatrice Kastenbaum (Phoenix, Ariz., 1989),
17–19; Markus Wriedt, “Johann von Staupitz,” in Geschichte der Seelsorge in Einzelporträts,
vol. 2, ed. Christian Möller (Göttingen, 1992), 45–64; Jacques Laager, ed., Ars Moriendi:
die Kunst, gut zu leben und gut zu sterben: Texte von Cicero bis Luther (Zürich, 1996); Arthur
E. Imhof, “An Ars Moriendi for Our Time: To Live a Fulfilled Life; to Die a Peaceful
Death,” in Spiro, Curnen, and Wandel, eds., Facing Death, 114–120; E. van der Veer,
“Ars Moriendi bij Luther,” Gereformeerd theologisch tijdschrift 96 (1996): 20–30; Hilmar
M. Pabel, “Humanism and Early Modern Catholicism: Erasmus of Rotterdam’s Ars
Moriendi,” in Early Modern Catholicism: Essays in Honour of John W. O’Malley, S.J., ed.
Kathleen M. Comerford and Hilmar M. Pabel (Toronto, 2001), 26–45.
Tony Walter, The Revival of Death, 31f.; 59f. “He never knew what hit him” was a
popular line from the mid-twentieth century, as when Frank McCloud (Humphrey Bog-
art) in Key Largo ( John Huston, 1948) described—probably fictitiously—the combat death
of her husband George to Nora Templeton (Lauren Bacall). However, the statement
represents only one aspect of a modern preference for the ‘good death.’ According to
Tony Walter, a second aspect has now emerged, whereby the postmodern preference for
a death with a longer trajectory is that one be fully aware of one’s condition, mentally
alert yet pain-free, surrounded by loving family and friends, and have no ‘unfinished
business.’ Freedom from pain is doubtless a trans-cultural and trans-historical desire; cf.
Gen. 3:16 (“To the woman he said, ‘I will greatly multiply your pain in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children’ ”); Rev. 21:4 (“He will wipe away every tear from
their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor
pain any more, for the former things have passed away”).
For a glimpse of medieval popular beliefs about dying and burial custom, see
Erasmus’s dialogue (first printed in Basel, 1526), “The Funeral,” in The Colloquies of
Erasmus, trans. Craig R. Thompson (Chicago, 1965), 359–373; Harold Wagner, “Catho-
lic Theology’s Main Thoughts on Death,” in Spiro, Curnen, and Wandel, eds., Facing
Death, 137–141; Madeline Gray, The Protestant Reformation: Belief, Practice and Tradition
(Brighton, 2003), 165–189. On resisting the devil, see Heiko A. Oberman, “Luther
and the Devil,” LTSB 69 (1989): 4–15.
Albrecht Endriß, “Nachfolgung des willigen Sterbens Christi,” in Kontinuität und
Umbruch: Theologie und Frömmigkeit in Flugschriften und Kleinliteratur an der Wende vom 15. Zum
16. Jahrhundert. Beiträge zum Tübinger Kolloquium des Sonder-forschungbereichs 8,
ed. Josef Nolte, Hella Tompert, and Christof Windhorst (Stuttgart, 1978), 93–141.
Reiner Preul, “Der Tod des ganzen Menschen: Luthers Sermon von der Bereitung
zum Sterben,” in Der ‘ganze Mensch’: Perspektiven lebengeschichtlicher Individualität. Festschrift
introduction xxxi

gotten sin51 and banished hell,52 early modern Christians had no such
delusions.53 In both Chapter One and Chapter Two we find Luther
advocating—as optional sources of comfort—the use of the Sacrament
of the Altar (Eucharist). In Chapter Two he argues the same for both
Eucharist and Extreme Unction.54
Another issue embedded within the topic of death presents, for many,
the opposite of self-preservation—indeed, the patently absurd and surely
abhorrent. I speak of martyrdom—dying for one’s faith, while providing
exemplary testimony to it during one’s trial and execution.55 While not
uncommon in the early centuries A.D., Christian martyrdom waned
in the middle ages, until it revived again in the Reformation.56 Today

für Dietrich Rössler zum siebzigsten Geburtstag, ed. Volker Drehsen, et al. Arbeiten zur
Praktischen Theologie 10 (Berlin, 1997), 111–130.
Karl A. Menninger, Whatever Became of Sin? (New York, 1973).
Tony Walter opines that, “Paradoxically it was the First World War, hell on earth,
that finally killed off hell below—no field chaplain could even so much as hint that
the brave lad he was burying might be going to the wrong place, and thereafter hell
disappeared off the agenda in all but the most conservative of churches. And without
hell, death lost any spiritual risk, and became a medical and psychological affair”; The
Revival of Death, 14; cf. Tony Walter, The Eclipse of Eternity: A Sociology of the Afterlife
(Houndmills, 1996), 1f., 20f. As one born at the end of World War II, I can attest to
having heard preaching about hell as a young boy, but it has virtually disappeared in
my own circles since 1960. Knowing whether the steady decline in belief in hell has
changed will require additional study. A recent survey by Newsweek and Beliefnet of 1,004
Americans 18 and older found that 67% responded to the question, “What happens
when we die?” by answering, “The soul goes to heaven or hell”; see Jerry Adler, “In
Search of the Spiritual,” Newsweek, 5 September 2005, 48–64, here at 49.
Many moderns would no doubt consider their predecessors as the deluded ones;
cf. Jean Delumeau, Sin and Fear: The Emergence of a Western Guilt Culture, 13th –18th
Centuries, trans. Eric Nicholson (New York, 1990). Walter (Eclipse, 2) quotes the Bishop
of Durham in 1993: “There can be no Hell for eternity—our God could not be so
cruel.” In that same year D. A. Carson, “On Distorting the Love of God,” BSac 156
(1993): 3–12, says “the love of God in our culture has been purged of anything the
culture finds uncomfortable. The love of God has been sanitized, democratized, and
above all sentimentalized” (5). On p. 6 he quotes Marsha Witten, All Is Forgiven: The
Secular Message in American Protestantism (Princeton, N.J., 1993), 53: “The transcendent,
majestic, awesome God of Luther and Calvin—whose image informed early Protestant
visions of the relationship between human beings and the divine—has undergone a
softening of demeanor through the American experience of Protestantism, with only
minor exceptions.” See also the International Theological Commission, “Some Current
Questions in Eschatology,” Irish Theological Quarterly 48 (1992): 209–243.
Friedrich Gerke, “Anfechtung und Sakrament in Martin Luthers Sermon von
Sterben,” Theologische Blätter 13 (1934): 193–204.
Rona M. Fields, Martyrdom: The Psychology, Theology, and Politics of Self-Sacrifice
(Westport, Conn., 2004).
Gerald C. Studer, “A History of the Martyrs’ Mirror,” MQR 22 (1948): 163–179;
A. Orley Swartzentruber, “The Piety and Theology of the Anabaptist Martyrs in Van
xxxii introduction

we recoil at every instance of a suicide bomb and are repulsed by such

a notion as dying in a violent action whose primary ‘goals’ are to kill
others, spread fear, and ignite chaos. Yet for one who has come to terms
with her own mortality—and understands how, as a Christian: (1) she
has already died, and her life is “hid with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3);
(2) she has ‘died with Christ’ and will also ‘live with him’ (Rom. 6:8);
and (3) she must “suffer with him in order that [sh]e may also be glori-
fied with him” (Rom. 8:17)—dying for a benevolent cause, particularly
for one’s Christian faith, is not necessarily illogical or strange.57
Consequently, Chapter Three explores Luther’s martyrological lit-
erature, written between 1522 and 1527 and consisting in two forms:
(1) pamphlets that Luther wrote to congregations and other readers
who had been closely touched by the deaths of persecuted believers;
(2) his correspondence to those awaiting execution for their faith. In
the latter documents Luther discusses the actions of the saints to pro-
vide comfort and encouragement to people facing death—especially
execution for their faith—while eschewing the notion that saints should
be intermediaries. Indeed, the Protestant martyrologies became very
popular by the late sixteenth century. However, in the third decade of
the century, Luther’s early pamphlets had no precise generic pattern to
follow. Moreover, in addressing the folks who had been closely touched
by the deaths of persecuted believers, he faced countervailing concerns
as he identified and promoted the martyrs’ stories. The principle of sola
scriptura reaffirmed the esteem for patience, preparation for death, and
devotion to Christ’s passion. Readers knew of the deaths of John the
Baptist, Stephen, and Jesus himself. Yet the saints’ traditional interces-
sory role had to be repudiated, for it was now seen as problematic.58

Braght’s Martyrs’ Mirror I,” MQR 28 (1954): 5–26; A. Orley Swartzentruber, “The Piety
and Theology of the Anabaptist Martyrs in Van Braght’s Martyrs’ Mirror II: The Earliest
Testimonies—1539–46,” MQR 28 (1954): 128–142; Herbert Musurillo, ed. and trans.,
The Acts of the Christian Martyrs (Oxford, 1972); Robert Kolb, For All The Saints: Changing
Perceptions of Martyrdom and Sainthood in the Lutheran Reformation (Macon, Ga., 1987); Ellen
Macek, “The Emergence of a Feminine Spirituality in The Book of Martyrs,” SCJ 19
(1988): 63–80; Brad S. Gregory, “Prescribing and Describing Martyrdom: Menno’s
Troestelijke Vermaninge and Het Offer des Heeren,” MQR 71 (1997): 603–613; David F.
Wright, “The Testimony of Blood: The Charisma of Martyrdom,” BSac 160 (2003):
387–397; Brad S. Gregory, “Martyrs and Saints,” A Companion to the Reformation World,
ed. R. Po-chia Hsia (Malden, Me., 2004), 455–470.
Karl Rahner, “Dimensions of Martyrdom: A Plea for the Broadening of a Clas-
sical Concept,” Concilium 163, no. 3 (1983): 9–11; Lacey Baldwin Smith, Fools, Martyrs,
Traitors: The Story of Martyrdom in the Western World (New York, 1997), 3–20.
Carol Piper Heming, Protestants and the Cult of the Saints, 26.
introduction xxxiii

And certainly there were multiple audiences addressed—not only the

community closest to the martyrs, but also a much wider readership, for
which the propagandistic value of martyrs’ stories was paramount.
As the first of the century’s martyrologists, Luther also began his
career as hymn writer with his first song (1523), a ballad of the story
of the Reformation’s first two martyrs,59 which accompanied an open
letter to Christians in the Netherlands.60 Luther eventually wrote more
than 36 hymns and was the greatest advocate of music among the
major reformers of the sixteenth century.61 Thus, this chapter explores

Otto Brodde, “ ‘Ein neues Lied wir heben an’! Martin Luther als ‘Phonascus,’ ”
Luther 34 (1963): 72–82; Martin Brecht, “Zum Verständnis von Luthers Lied, ‘Ein feste
Burg,’ ” ARG 70 (1979): 106–121; Markus Jenny, “Der Märtyrertod zweier Gesinnungs-
genossen in Brüssel ließ Luther zum Lied als dem besten Medium der Propaganda für
den neuen Glauben greifen,” Martin Luther und die Reformation in Deutschland (Frankfurt,
1983), 296f.; Markus Jenny, Luthers Geistliche Lieder und Kirchengesänge: Vollständige Neuedi-
tion in Ergänzung zu Band 35 der Weimarer Ausgabe (Cologne, 1985), s. v., “Ein neues Lied
wir heben an,” 75–76; Paul F. Casey, “ ‘Start Spreading the News’: Martin Luther’s
First Published Song,” in In Laudem Caroli: Renaissance and Reformation Studies for Charles
G. Nauert, ed. James V. Mehl. SCES 49 (Kirksville, Mo., 1998), 75–94.
Otto Clemen, “Die ersten Märtyrer des evangelischen Glaubens,” Beiträge zur Refor-
mationsgeschichte aus Büchern und Handschriften der zwickauer Ratsschulbibliothek 1 (1900–
1903): 40–52.
Henry Ward Beecher, “Relations of Music to Worship,” Yale Lectures on Preach-
ing 2 (Boston, 1902), 114–145; Walter E. Buszin, “Theology and Church Music as
Bearers and Interpreters of the Verbum Dei,” CTM 32 (1961): 15–27; Kurt Ihlenfeld,
“Die himmlische Kunst Musica: Ein Blick in Luthers Briefe,” Luther 34 (1963): 83–90;
Oskar Söhngen, “Fundamental Considerations for a Theology of Music,” in The
Musical Heritage of the Church, ed. Theodore Hoelty-Nickel (St. Louis, 1963), 6:7–16;
Jan M. Rahmelow, “Das Volkslied als publizistisches Medium und historische Quelle,”
Jahrbuch für Volksliedforschung 14 (1969): 11–26; Joe E. Tarry, “Music in the Educational
Philosophy of Martin Luther,” Journal of Research in Music Education 21 (1973): 355–365;
Walter Blankenburg, “Luther und die Musik,” in Kirche und Musik: Gesammelte Aufsätze zur
Geschichte der Gottesdienstlichen Musik, ed. Walter Blankenburg (Göttingen, 1979), 17–30;
Gerhard Hahn, “Zur Dimension des Neuen an Luthers Kirchenliedern,” Jahrbuch für
Liturgik und Hymnologie 26 (1982): 96–103; Oskar Söhngen, “Music and Theology: A
Systematic Approach,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion Thematic Studies 50, no.
1 (1983): 1–19; Joyce Irwin, “Shifting Alliances: The Struggle for a Lutheran Theol-
ogy of Music,” JAAR Thematic Studies 50, no. 1 (1983): 55–69; Inge Mager, “Lied und
Reformation: Beobachtungen zur reformatorischen Singbewegung in norddeutschen
Städten,” in Das Protestantische Kirchenlied im 16. und 17. Jahrhundert, ed. Alfred Dürr and
Walther Killy. Wolfenbütteler Forschungen 31 (Wiesbaden, 1986), 25–38; Edward Foley,
“Martin Luther: A Model Pastoral Musician,” Currents in Theology & Mission 14 (1987):
405–418; Helen Pietsch, “On Luther’s Understanding of Music,” Lutheran Theological
Journal 26 (1992): 160–168; David W. Music, Hymnology: A Collection of Source Readings.
Studies in Liturgical Musicology 4 (Lanham, Md., 1996), 35–50; Gregory E. Asima-
koupoulos, “The Contribution of Martin Luther to Congregational Singing,” Covenant
Quarterly 56 (1998): 23–33; Dennis Marzolf, “Luther in the Pew: Song and Worship,”
Reformation & Revival 8 (1999): 105–120; 123–133; Daniel Zager, “Popular Music and
xxxiv introduction

martyrological discourse in several genres, including dimensions of

how music makes meaning, promotes feeling,62 and contributed to the
success of the Reformation.63
Chapter Four investigates the issues of grief, bereavement, mourn-
ing, and funerals—topics of great interest today, not only through the
academic and popular renaissance of ‘death and dying’ literature but
also theologically and socially.64 For the role and function of the funeral
rite has become a research interest, as it attempts to account for rapid
and monumental shifts in contemporary funereal practice—in English-
speaking countries—in the rites themselves, including the sermon or
eulogy, and in the disposal of the body.65 The funeral sermon has a

Music for the Church,” LuthFor 36 (fall 2002): 20–27; Gordon A. Beck, “Questions
About Current Lutheran Music Practices,” LuthFor 37 (spring 2003): 52–55; Robert F.
Hull, Jr., “The Myth of Luther’s Barroom Music and A Plea for a Theology of Church
Music,” Christian Standard 128 (4 May 2003): 4–5; Joseph Herl, Worship Wars in Early
Lutheranism: Choir, Congregation, and Three Centuries of Conflict (Oxford, 2005).
Heinz Kohut, “Observations on the Psychological Functions of Music,” Journal
of the American Psychoanalytic Association 5 (1957): 389–407; Frank Howes, “A Critique
of Folk, Popular and ‘Art’ Music,” British Journal of Aesthetics 2 (1962): 239–248; Peter
Stadlen, “The Aesthetics of Popular Music,” British Journal of Aesthetics 2 (1962): 351–361;
Pinchas Noy, “The Psychodynamic Meaning of Music, Part I: A Critical Review of the
Psychoanalytic and Related Literature,” Journal of Music Therapy 3 (1966): 126–134; ,
“The Psychodynamic Meaning of Music, Parts II–V,” Journal of Music Therapy 4 (1967):
7–23, 45–51, 81–94, 128–131; Raymond Durgnat, “Rock, Rhythm and Dance,” British
Journal of Aesthetics 11 (1971): 28–47; John Broeck, “Music of the Fears,” Film Comment
12 (1976): 56–60; Simon Frith, Performing Rites: On the Value of Popular Music (Cambridge,
Mass., 1996), 5–82; Charles P. St-Onge, “Music, Worship, and Martin Luther,” Logia
13, no. 2 (2004): 37–42; Raymond Warren, “Music and Spirituality: A Musician’s
Viewpoint,” Theology 109 (2006): 83–92.
Christopher Boyd Brown, Singing the Gospel: Lutheran Hymns and the Success of the
Reformation (Cambridge, Mass., 2005), 1–25; Claude V. Palisca, Music and Ideas in the
Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries. Studies in the History of Music Theory and Literature
1 (Urbana, 2006), especially chapter 11, “Music and Rhetoric.”
Francine Du Plessix Gray, “At Large and At Small: The Work of Mourning,” The
American Scholar 69 (summer 2000): 7–13.
Alfred C. Rush, Death and Burial in Christian Antiquity (Washington, D.C., 1941);
V. Gordon Childe, “Directional Changes in Funerary Practices During 50,000 Years,”
Man 45 ( January –February 1945): 13–19; Robert L. Fulton, “The Clergyman and the
Funeral Director: A Study in Role Conflict,” Social Forces 39 (1961): 317–323; Jessica
Mitford, The American Way of Death (New York, 1963); Eberhard Jüngel, Death: The
Riddle and the Mystery, trans. Iain and Ute Nicol (Philadelphia, 1975); Geoffrey Rowell,
The Liturgy of Christian Burial: An Introductory Survey of the Historical Development of Christian
Burial Rites (London, 1977); Robert G. Hughes, A Trumpet in Darkness: Preaching to Mourners
(Philadelphia, 1985); Eamon Duffy, “An Apology for Grief, Fear and Anger,” Priests &
People 5 (1991): 397–401; H. P. V. Renner, “A Christian Rite of Burial: An Instrument
of Pastoral Care,” Lutheran Theological Journal 26 (1992): 72–77; Tony Walter, “Dust
Not Ashes: The American Preference for Burial,” Landscape 32, no. 1 (1993): 42–48;
H. Richard Rutherford, “Luther’s ‘Honest Funeral’ Today: An Ecumenical Compari-
introduction xxxv

long history, with roots as a classical genre,66 yet for Luther we have
only four funeral messages he preached. Moreover, these messages
come from just two occasions: the ‘state funerals’ of Saxon Elector
Frederick the Wise (1525)67 and of his brother and successor, John the
Steadfast (1532).68 In all four sermons, Luther preached from Paul’s
eschatological passage in 1 Thess. 4:13–18, and Chapter Four analyzes
Luther’s arguments in the 1532 sermons.69 Given the few extant texts
from that period and the concomitant abundance of texts from a later
emergent genre of the Lutheran funeral sermon,70 what shape did the

son,” Dialog 32 (summer 1993): 178–184; Jessica Mitford, The American Way of Death
Revisited (New York, 1998); Bryan D. Spinks, “Adiaphora: Marriage and Funeral Litur-
gies,” CTQ 62 (1998): 7–23; Paul P. J. Sheppy, Death Liturgy and Ritual, Vol. 2, A Pastoral
and Liturgical Theology (Aldershot, 2003); Thomas Lynch, “HBO’s ‘Six Feet Under’:
Grave Affairs,” ChrCent, 2 November 2004, 18–23; Edward Schiappa, Peter B. Gregg,
and Dean E. Hewes, “Can A Television Series Change Attitudes About Death? A
Study of College Students and Six Feet Under,” DS 28 (2004): 459–474; Thomas G.
Long, “The Unbearable Lightness of Memorial Services,” ibid., 3–8; Thomas E.
Dipko, “The Paradox of the Funeral Order,” ibid., 15–20; Jesse Garfield Truvillion,
“Faith and Integrity At Graveside,” ibid., 21–27; Scott Miller, “Reclaiming the Role
of Lament in the Funeral Rite,” ibid., 34–48.
O. C. Crawford, “Laudatio Funebris,” Classical Journal 37 (1941): 17–27; Sister
Mary Edmond Fern, The Latin Consolatio as A Literary Type (St. Meinrad, Ind., 1941);
Martin R. P. McGuire, “The Christian Funeral Oration,” in Funeral Orations by Saint
Gregory Nazianzen and Saint Ambrose, trans. Leo P. McCauley et al., with an Introduc-
tion by Martin R. P. McGuire. Fathers of the Church 22 (New York, 1953), vii–xxiii;
Martin Elze, “Spätmittelalterliche Predigt im Angesicht des Todes,” in Leben angesichts
des Todes: Beiträge zum theologischen Problem des Todes: Helmut Thielicke zum 60. Geburtstag, ed.
Bernhard Lohse and H. P. Schmidt (Tübingen, 1968), 89–99; John M. McManamon,
“The Ideal Renaissance Pope: Funeral Oratory from the Papal Court,” Archivum His-
toriae Pontificiae 14 (1976): 9–70; Susan Powell and Alan J. Fletcher, “ ‘In die sepulture
seu trigintali’: The Late Medieval Funeral and Memorial Sermon,” Leeds Studies in
English 12 (1981): 195–228; John M. McManamon, Funeral Oratory and the Cultural Ideals
of Italian Humanism (Chapel Hill, 1989); David d’Avray, “The Comparative Study of
Memorial Preaching,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 40 (1990): 25–42; F. M.
Eybl, “Leichenpredigt and Leichenrede,” in Historisches Wörterbuch der Rhetorik, ed. Gert
Ueding (Tübingen, 2001), 5:124–151.
WA 17I:196–227. Frederick died on 5 May 1525, and the funeral sermons were
preached on 10 and 11 May.
LW 51:231–255; WA 36:236–270. John died on 15 August 1532, and the funeral
sermons were preached on 18 and 22 August.
Gerhard Ebeling, “Des Todes Tod: Luthers Theologie der Konfrontation mit
dem Tode,” Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche 84 (1987): 162–194. At 165, note 18,
Ebeling discusses Luther’s preaching schedule and the textual history of the sermons.
At 189–194 Ebeling provides fresh transcription of the text of the sermon from 22
December 1532 (1 Cor. 15:36f.).
Hugo Grün, “Die Leichenrede im Rahmen der kirchlichen Beerdigung im
16. Jahrhundert,” Theologische Studien und Kritiken: Beiträge für Theologie und Religionswis-
senschaft 95/96 (1929): 289–312; Verdun L. Saulnier, “L’Oraison Funèbre au XVIe
xxxvi introduction

funeral sermon take in the early years of the Luther movement? This
chapter analyzes how Luther uses the funeral sermon to comfort an
audience. These two state funeral messages give us a glimpse of how
he offered support for survivors and helped make meaningful sense, in
a public ritual, of a Christian’s death. Our investigation will bring new
perspectives upon such troubling questions facing us today as: (1) What
is a funeral? (2) Whose funeral is it? (3) What meaning does grief have
for the life of a Christian? and (4) What comfort is there for grief, and
from whence does it come?
Chapter Five extends the exploration of bereavement, grief, and mourn-
ing. Grief is defined today as reaction—usually emotional response—
to loss, particularly the loss of a loved one to death.71 Bereavement is

Siècle,” Bibliothèque d’humanisme et Renaissance 10 (1948): 124–157; Eberhard Winkler,

Die Leichenpredigt im deutschen Luthertum bis Spener. Forschungen zur Geschichte und
Lehre des Protestantismus 34 (Munich, 1967); Frederic B. Tromly, “ ‘Accordinge to
sounde religion’: The Elizabethan Controversy Over the Funeral Sermon,” Journal
of Medieval and Renaissance Studies 13 (1983): 293–312; Rudolf Lenz, “Zur Funktion
des Lebenslaufes in Leichenpredigten,” in Wer schreibt meine Lebensgeschichte? Biographie,
Autobiographie, Hagiographie und ihre Entstehungszusammenhänge, ed. Walter Sparn (Güter-
sloh, 1990), 93–104; Cornelia Niekus Moore, “Das erzählte Leben in der lutherischen
Leichenpredigt: Anfang und Entwicklung im 16. Jahrhundert,” Wolfenbütteler Barock-
nachrichten 29 (2002): 3–22.
Corr, Nabe, and Corr, 210; Margaret S. Stroebe, Wolfgang Stroebe, and Robert
O. Hansson, eds., Handbook of Bereavement: Theory, Research, and Intervention (Cambridge,
1993), 5; cf. Lyn H. Lofland, “The Social Shaping of Emotion: The Case of Grief,”
Symbolic Interaction 8 (1985): 171–190. Rosenblatt defines grief as “the blended emotional
and cognitive reactions to a loss (in agreement with the Balinese studied by Wikan
[U. Wikan, Managing Turbulent Hearts (Chicago, 1990)], that feelings and thoughts are
not separable, at least when it comes to reactions to loss). The reactions to a loss that
are most frequently part of grief in the United States include sorrow, anger, depres-
sion, anxiety, fear, unpleasant feelings of confusion, disorientation, and other ‘down’
emotions. But they may also include virtually any ‘up’ emotion, with the obvious ones
being relief that a long and difficult illness has ended and joy at someone’s entry to
heaven. Grief can be seen as typically an amalgam of differing feeling/thought blends,
with the amalgam changing from time to time for any specific person bereaved for a
specific loss”; Paul C. Rosenblatt, “Grief That Does Not End,” in Continuing Bonds: New
Understandings of Grief, ed. Dennis Klass, Phyllis R. Silverman, and Steven L. Nickman
(Washington, D.C., 1996), 45–58, here at 45. In another essay in that volume, Dennis
Klass offers a succinct and technical definition of grief as “the processes by which the
bereaved move from the equilibria in their inner and social worlds before a death to
new equilibria after a death”; Dennis Klass, “The Deceased Child in the Psychic and
Social Worlds of Bereaved Parents During the Resolution of Grief,” in ibid., 199–215,
here at 200; see also Robert E. Goss and Dennis Klass, Dead but Not Lost: Grief Narratives
in Religious Traditions (Walnut Creek, Calif., 2005). For an earlier review of the literature
on grief, see Beth L. Rodgers and Kathleen V. Cowles, “The Concept of Grief: An
Analysis of Classical and Contemporary Thought,” DS 15 (1991): 443–458.
introduction xxxvii

the objective situation of having lost someone significant.72 When we

ask how may Christians (or anyone) express their grief, we are speak-
ing of mourning,73 and we open ourselves fully to matters of how our

Stroebe, Stroebe, and Hansson, Handbook, 5; cf. Corr, Nabe, and Corr, 5.
Stroebe, Stroebe, and Hansson, Handbook, 5; Corr, Nabe, and Corr (217) defines
mourning as “the processes of coping with loss and grief, and thus the attempt to
manage those experiences or learn to live with them by incorporating them into
ongoing living.” For an historical introduction to bereavement research, see Margaret
S. Stroebe, Wolfgang Stroebe, and Robert O. Hansson, “Bereavement Research: An
Historical Introduction,” Journal of Social Issues 44, no. 3 (1988): 1–18. Important
foundational studies began with Sigmund Freud, “On Mourning and Melancholia,”
The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (London, 1959;
originally published 1917), 14:237–258. The psychoanalytic tradition continues, how-
ever. See, for example, Therese Benedek, “Parenthood as A Developmental Phase: A
Contribution to the Libido Theory,” Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association 7
(1959): 389–419; George Hagman, “Death of a Selfobject: Toward a Self Psychol-
ogy of the Mourning Process,” Progress in Self-Psychology 11 (1995): 189–205; idem,
“Mourning: A Review and Reconsideration,” International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 76
(1995): 909–925; idem, “Bereavement and Neurosis,” Journal of the American Academy
of Psychoanalysis 23 (1995): 635–653; idem, “The Role of the Other in Mourning,”
Psychoanalytic Quarterly 65 (1996): 327–352; Ester R. Shapiro, “Grief in Freud’s Life:
Reconceptualizing Bereavement in Psychoanalytic Theory,” Psychoanalytic Psychology 13
(1996): 547–566; Robert Gaines, “Detachment and Continuity: The Two Tasks of
Mourning,” Contemporary Psychoanalysis 33 (1997): 549–571; George Hagman, “Beyond
Decathexis: Toward A New Psychoanalytic Understanding and Treatment of Mourn-
ing,” in Meaning Reconstruction and the Experience of Loss, ed. Robert A. Neimeyer (Washing-
ton, D.C., 2001), 13–31; and Jerry Adler, “Freud in Our Midst,” Newsweek, 27 March
2006, 43–49. Other groundbreaking work on grief: Eric Lindemann, “Symptomatology
and Management of Acute Grief,” American Journal of Psychiatry 101 (1944): 141–148;
John Bowlby, “Processes of Mourning,” International Journal of Psycho-Analysis 42 (1961):
317–340; Robert S. Weiss, “Loss and Recovery,” Journal of Social Issues 44, no. 3 (1988):
37–52; Colin Murray Parkes, “Bereavement as a Psychosocial Transition: Processes
of Adaptation to Change,” Journal of Social Issues 44, no. 3 (1988): 53–65 [reprinted
in Stroebe, Stroebe, and Hansson, Handbook, 91–101]. Much bereavement, grief, and
mourning research presents a model of stages, phases, or tasks, involving a process of
adjustment to loss through ‘grief work.’ For a different view, see Margaret Stroebe and
Wolfgang Stroebe, “Does ‘Grief Work’ Work?” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology
59 (1991): 479–482; Margaret Stroebe, “Coping With Bereavement: A Review of the
Grief Work Hypothesis,” Omega 26 (1992–1993): 19–42; Tony Walter, “A New Model
of Grief: Bereavement and Biography,” Mortality 1 (1996): 7–25. Efforts to put these
issues into social, cultural, and historical contexts can be found in George R. Krupp
and Bernard Kligfeld, “The Bereavement Reaction: A Cross-Cultural Evaluation,”
Journal of Religion and Health 1 (1962): 222–246; Gerard J. Gruman, “Ethics of Death
and Dying: Historical Perspective,” Omega 9 (1978–1979): 203–237; Julie Ann Wambach,
“The Grief Process as A Social Construct,” Omega 16 (1985–1986): 201–211; Margaret
Stroebe, et al, “Broken Hearts or Broken Bonds: Love and Death in Historical Perspec-
tive,” American Psychologist 47 (October 1992): 1205–1212; Paul C. Rosenblatt, “Grief:
The Social Context of Private Feelings,” in Stroebe, Stroebe, and Hansson, Handbook,
102–111. Studies of death from a theological, sociological, or anthropological view are
Virginia Moore, Ho for Heaven! Man’s Changing Attitude Toward Dying (New York, 1946);
Robert Blauner, “Death and Social Structure,” Psychiatry 29 (1966): 378–394; Philippe
xxxviii introduction

suffering and loss relate to the bonds we feel toward loved ones—of
family, community, and church. Here is where death’s impact comes to
us as loss of valued persons. People have always tried to console and
comfort the grieving, and their attempts come through social exchange
and through discursive practices. Moreover, efforts to comfort are shaped
in part by—and come to be appreciated for: (1) the losses comforters
themselves have had from death and suffering; (2) the relationship of
the comforter to the bereaved, and to the deceased.
The genre of the consolatory letter has a long classical and Christian
tradition.74 What can be learned from Luther’s consolatory letters? A
sampling of his consolatory correspondence, written over two decades
(1524–1545) to grieving spouses and parents, informs us not only as to
how he used Christian topoi; we also learn how Luther drew from his
own life experiences in the composition of these letters. We recall that in
1524 he was a celibate friar whose parents were still living, yet even by
then three or four of his own siblings had already died.75 Within a year
he married, and in the next six years this family man and his wife had
three children. He had also endured plagues, temptations, the deaths of
close friends, and several episodes of chronic illnesses; further, he had

Ariès, Western Attitudes Toward Death: From the Middle Ages to the Present, trans. Patricia M.
Ranum (Baltimore, 1974); Gary S. Gerson, “The Psychology of Grief and Mourning
in Judaism,” Journal of Religion and Health 16 (1977): 260–274; Bartholomew J. Collopy,
“Theology and the Darkness of Death,” Theological Studies 39 (1978): 22–54; Richard
Huntington and Peter Metcalf, Celebrations of Death: The Anthropology of Mortuary Ritual
(Cambridge, 1979); Philippe Ariès, The Hour of Our Death, trans. Helen Weaver (New
York, 1981); Philip Gill, “Death in The Christian Community: Theology, Funeral Ritual
and Pastoral Care From the Perspective of Victor Turner’s Ritual Process Model,”
Modern Believing 35, no. 2 (1994): 17–24; Tony Walter, “Natural Death and the Noble
Savage,” Omega 30 (1994–1995): 237–248; James P. Gubbins, “Grief ’s Lesson in Moral
Epistemology: A Phenomenological Investigation,” The Annual of the Society of Christian
Ethics 17 (1997): 145–165; Catherine Bell, “Ritual Tensions: Tribal and Catholic,”
Studia Liturgica 32 (2002): 15–28.
Jane F. Mitchell, “Consolatory Letters in Basil and Gregory Nazianzen,” Hermes
96 (1968): 299–318; H. G. Haile, “Luther as Renaissance Writer,” in The Renaissance
and Reformation Germany: An Introduction, ed. Gerhart Hoffmeister (New York, 1977),
141–156; Ute Menneck-Haustein, Luthers Trostbriefe. Quellen und Forschungen zur
Reformationsgeschichte 56 (Gütersloh, 1989); Warren Boutcher, “Literature, Thought
or Fact? Past and Present Directions in the Study of the Early Modern Letter,” in
Self-Presentation and Social Identification: The Rhetoric and Pragmatics of Letter Writing in Early
Modern Times, ed. Toon Van Houdt, et al. Supplementa Humanistica Lovaniensia 18
(Leuven, 2002), 137–163; Judith Rice Henderson, “Humanist Letter Writing: Private
Conversation or Public Forum?” Self-Presentation and Social Identification, 17–38.
Martin Brecht, Martin Luther, 1:7, says that one sister and two or three brothers died.
Two of the brothers died from plague in 1505, the year Martin entered the Augustin-
ian monastery at Erfurt; ibid., 9; cf. Lewis W. Spitz, “Psychohistory and History: The
Case of Young Man Luther,” Soundings 56 (1973): 182–209, here at 194.
introduction xxxix

also buried an infant (Elizabeth, d. 1528) and both of his parents.76 In

the decade that followed, however, came the most shattering personal
death, when in 1542 the Luthers buried their daughter Magdalena (at
age 13). Several letters contain personal references to Luther’s own
losses, and he wrote most of them upon request.77 Such invitations
came because he was a close friend of the bereaved, was professor
(and thus was in loco parentis) to a now-deceased university student, or
because his reputation as compassionate theologian was thought appro-
priate to address the difficult circumstances facing the bereaved.78 To
us, portions of Luther’s letters may seem harsh, for he advised people

Ernst Kroker, Katharina von Bora, Martin Luthers Frau: Ein Lebens- und Charakterbild.
Biographien bedeutender Frauen 6 (Leipzig, 1906); Ian D. K. Siggins, “Luther’s Mother
Margarete,” HTR 71 (1978): 125–150; Lyndal Roper, “Luther: Sex, Marriage and
Motherhood,” History Today 33 (December 1983): 33–38; Steven Ozment, “Luther and
the Family,” Harvard Library Bulletin 32 (1984): 36–55.
A sizable body of modern research exists on studying particular grief situations,
especially—grief of spouses (which I am omitting), of parents (in great depth) and,
to some extent, siblings: Howard Becker, “The Sorrow of Bereavement,” Journal of
Abnormal and Social Psychology 27 (1933): 391–410; Paul C. Rosenblatt, Douglas A. Jack-
son, and Rose P. Walsh, “Coping with Anger and Aggression in Mourning,” Omega 3
(1972): 271–284; Grief and Mourning in Cross-Cultural Perspective (n.c., 1976); Catherine M.
Sanders, “A Comparison of Adult Bereavement in the Death of A Spouse, Child, and
Parent,” Omega 10 (1979–1980): 303–322; Lynn Videka-Sherman, “Coping with the
Death of A Child: A Study Over Time,” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry 52 (1982):
688–698; Dennis Klass, “Self-help Groups for the Bereaved: Theory, Theology, and
Practice,” Journal of Religion and Health 21 (1982): 307–324; Atle Dyregrov and Stig Berge
Matthiesen, “Similarities and Differences in Mothers’ and Fathers’ Grief Following the
Death of an Infant,” Scandinavian Journal of Psychology 28 (1987): 1–15; John W. James
and Frank Cherry, The Grief Recovery Handbook (New York, 1988); C. Martel Bryant,
“Commentary: Fathers Grieve, Too,” Journal of Perinatology 9 (1989): 437–441; David E.
Balk, “The Self-Concepts of Bereaved Adolescents: Sibling Death and Its Aftermath,”
Journal of Adolescent Research 5 ( January 1990): 112–132; “Sibling Death, Adolescent
Bereavement, and Religion,” DS 15 (1991): 1–20; Charles W. Brice, “Paradoxes of
Maternal Mourning,” Psychiatry 54 (February 1991): 1–12; Jane L. Littlewood, et al,
“Gender Differences in Parental Coping Following Their Child’s Death,” British Jour-
nal of Guidance & Counselling 19 (1991): 139–147; Reiko Schwab, “Effects of A Child’s
Death on the Marital Relationship: A Preliminary Study,” DS 16 (1992): 141–154;
Simon Shimshon Rubin, “The Death of A Child is Forever: The Life Course Impact
of Child Loss,” in Stroebe, Stroebe, and Hansson, Handbook, 285–299; Jeffrey Kauff-
man, “Dissociative Functions in the Normal Mourning Process,” Omega 28 (1993–94):
31–38; Gordon Riches and Pamela Dawson, “ ‘An Intimate Loneliness’: Evaluating
the Impact of A Child’s Death on Parental Self-Identity and Marital Relationships,”
Journal of Family Therapy 16 (1996): 1–22; idem, “Communities of Feeling: The Culture
of Bereaved Parents,” Mortality 1 (1996): 143–161; Dennis Klass, The Spiritual Lives of
Bereaved Parents (Philadelphia, 1999).
Steven Ozment, Flesh and Spirit: Private Life in Early Modern Germany (New York,
1999), 262–265; Lewis Spitz, “Luther’s Social Concern for Students,” in The Social
History of the Reformation, ed. Lawrence P. Buck and Jonathon W. Zophy (Columbus,
1972), 249–270.
xl introduction

to moderate their grief. However, empathy also emerges as a tool of

comfort, yet this empathy is grounded in the gospel and barely resembles
the approach of Western contemporary grief therapies.79 So we must
account for the social and theological context of the sixteenth century
and compare it with (and contrast it to) our own. Understanding the
cultural background and the theology Luther held enables us to put
these strategies of harshness and empathy into perspective.
Chapter Six explores another genre of discourse that challenges
our modern child-centered families and our health-conscious and fit-
ness-preoccupied culture.80 It holds particular promise for people who
have a sobering awareness of the prospect of infectious disease or
biological agents that might be used in international terrorism, in this
post-11 September 2001 world.81 This chapter analyzes Luther’s open
letter written to offer advice requested on what to do in the face of
mortal danger from infectious disease that threatened German cities
(“On Whether One May Flee From A Deadly Plague” [1527]).82 In
this document Luther tackles the ethical and theological dilemmas that

Considerable research effort has gone into the question of whether grief is normal
or diseased (pathological): Edmund H. Volkart, “Bereavement and Mental Health,”
in Explorations in Social Psychiatry, ed. Alexander H. Leighton, John A. Clausen, and
Robert N. Wilson (New York, 1957), 281–307; George L. Engel, “Is Grief a Disease?”
Psychosomatic Medicine 23 (1961): 19–22; E. K. Rynearson, “Psychotherapy of Pathologic
Grief: Revisions and Limitations,” Psychiatric Clinics of North America 10 (1987): 487–499;
Loretta M. Kopelman, “Normal Grief: Good or Bad? Health or Disease?” Philosophy,
Psychiatry, & Psychology 1 (1994): 209–220; Stephen Wilkinson, “Is ‘Normal Grief ’ A
Mental Disorder?” Philosophical Quarterly 50 (2000): 289–304.
Linda A. Pollock, Forgotten Children: Parent-Child Relations from 1500–1900 (Cambridge,
1983), 1. Dennis Klass observes: “In the contemporary developed world, as civic dis-
course has transformed into opinion polls and as work has moved into bureaucracies,
home and children have become the basis of personal identity and the constellation
of meanings by which important decisions can be made”; “The Deceased Child,” in
Klass, Silverman, and Nickman, eds., Continuing Bonds, 200, note 1; Klass cites R. F.
Baumeister, Meanings of Life (New York, 1991) and S. Coontz, The Way We Never Were:
American Families and the Nostalgia Trap (New York, 1992).
Wolfgang Böhmer, “Martin Luther und das Wittenberger Medizinalwesen zu
seiner Zeit,” Die Zeichen der Zeit 37 (1983): 107–116; Arthur E. Imhof, “From the Old
Mortality Pattern to the New” (1985); Heinrich Dornmeier, “Religiös motiviertes
Verhalten von Laien und Klerikern in Grenz- und Krisensituationen: die Pest als
‘Testfall wahrer Frömmigkeit,’ ” in Laienfrömmigkeit im späten Mittelalter: Formen, Funktionen,
politisch-soziale Zusammenhänge, ed. Klaus Schreiner. Schriften des Historischen Kollegs,
Kolloquien 20 (Munich, 1992), 331–397; Jürgen Helm, “Wittenberger Medizin im 16.
Jahrhundert,” Martin Luther und seiner Universität: Vorträge analßlich des 450. Todestages des
Reformators, in Auftrag der Stiftung Leucorea an der Martin-Luther-Universität-Halle-Wittenberg
(Cologne, 1998), 95–115.
LW 43:119–138; WA 23:339–379.
introduction xli

persons—especially parents and community leaders—face when wide-

spread serious illness and death are likely to strike, something startlingly
relevant today. Analysis of this work reveals Luther’s reasoning and argu-
mentation as he helps readers sort through their responsibilities to self,
to loved ones, and to persons in their charge. He grapples with notions
of God’s providence and human responsibility, and how these realms
dictate care for the sick and dying. Luther also offers instruction and
advice about the burial of the dead, for not unlike today, his generation
debated the issues surrounding extramural burial.83 Moreover, Luther
shared strongly held views on respect for the dead and the awareness
of one’s own finitude before God. In this chapter we see that Luther
anticipated the burial debates of some German cities by a decade or
more, attempting to balance the dignity with which humans ought to
be buried84 with the need to abstain from what reformers considered
a misguided preoccupation with the bodies of the dead.85 Thus, this

Craig M. Koslofsky, The Reformation of the Dead: Death and Ritual in Early Modern
Germany, 1450–1700 (London, 2000), 41–46. See also his “Death and Ritual in Refor-
mation Germany” (Unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, U. of Michigan, 1994), 56–132,
and Susan C. Karant-Nunn, The Reformation of Ritual: An Interpretation of Early Modern
Germany (London, 1997), 178–186. See also Hugo Grün, “Das kirchliche Begräbniswe-
sen im ausgehenden Mittelalter,” Theologische Studien und Kritiken 102 (1930): 341–381;
Herbert Derwein, Geschichte des Christlichen Friedhofs in Deutschland (Frankfurt, 1931);
Fritz Schnelbögl, “Friedhofverlegungen im 16. Jahrhundert,” Jahrbuch für frankische
Landesforschung 34/35 (1974–75): 109–120; Elisabeth Blum, “Tod und Begräbnis
in evangelischen Kirchenliedern aus dem 16. Jahrhundert,” in Studien zur Thematik
des Todes im 16. Jahrhundert. Wolfenbütteler Forschungen 22, ed. Paul Richard Blum
(Wolfenbüttel, 1983), 97–110; Craig Koslofsky, “Die Trennung der Lebenden von
den Toten: Friedhofverlegungen und die Reformation in Leipzig, 1536,” in Memoria
als Kultur. Veröffentlichungen des Max-Planck-Instituts für Geschichte 121, ed. Otto
Gerhard Oexle (Göttingen, 1995), 335–385; idem, “Controlling the Body of the
Suicide in Saxony,” in From Sin to Insanity: Suicide in Early Modern Europe, ed. Jeffrey R.
Watt (Ithaca, 2004), 48–63; Philip Bachelor, Sorrow & Solace: The Social World of the
Cemetery (Amityville, N.Y., 2004). Bachelor’s work is comprehensive and unique in that
it includes not only discussion of grief and bereavement literature but also presents
both qualitative and quantitative studies of visitors to cemeteries in Australia—who
they are, why they come, how they feel, what they do, etc. Besides a treasure trove of
the most recent data (and statements from mourners) on practically every aspect of
death, grief, and burial, he includes a glossary of approximately 350 terms associated
with death, funerals, beliefs, cemeteries, and mourning.
Susan C. Karant-Nunn, “ ‘Not Like the Unreasoning Beasts’: Rhetorical Efforts to
Separate Humans and Animals in Early Modern Germany,” in Cultures of Communication
from Reformation to Enlightenment: Constructing Publics in the Early Modern German Lands, ed.
James Van Horn Melton (Aldershot, 2002), 225–238, here at 234.
Frederick S. Paxton, Christianizing Death: The Creation of a Ritual Process in Early
Medieval Europe (Ithaca, 1990); Joachim Whaley, “Symbolism for the Survivors: The
Disposal of the Dead in Hamburg in the Late Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries,”
xlii introduction

chapter brings together one’s regard for death and how personal safety
and personal duty to the living and dead interact, showing us: (1) how
similar or dissimilar are the dangers we worry about, in comparison
to those of our predecessors; and (2) how our resources—of technol-
ogy, wisdom, and divine assistance—compare to those to which Luther
To be sure, when it comes to life experiences that threaten to chal-
lenge one’s faith—that God alone is to be worshiped and that Christ’s
atoning death and resurrection are sufficient—nothing in comparison
rivals death, grief, and all that goes with them. The death of loved
ones is “one of the most frequent and painful of afflictions attendant
upon the divinely ordained ordering of human life in community and
family.”86 Our confusion about death makes it “difficult to empathize
with the terminally ill person and, after his death, with his survivors.”87
Death and grief can give rise to feelings of futility or the desire to
venerate the memory of deceased loved ones in idolatrous ways. So
the chapters in this book analyze many important works of Luther on
death and suffering, works that should prove interesting and relevant
to contemporary readers, particularly Christians.
The works analyzed here will show how untenable is the thesis of
Richard Marius, Martin Luther: The Christian between God and Death (1999).88

in Mirrors of Mortality: Studies in the Social History of Death, ed. Joachim Whaley (New
York, 1981), 80–105; Vanessa Harding, “Burial Choice and Burial Location in Later
Medieval London,” in Death in Towns: Urban Responses to the Dying and the Dead, 100–1600,
ed. Steven Bassett (London, 1992), 119–135; Eric T. Myers, “The Burial Rites of John
Calvin?” CW 38, no. 3 (2004–2005): 28–33. On burial in Judaism and Early Chris-
tianity see Elizabeth M. Bloch-Smith, “The Cult of the Dead in Judah: Interpreting
the Material Remains,” JBL 111 (1992): 213–224; Jodi Magness, “Ossuaries and the
Burials of Jesus and James,” JBL 124 (2005): 121–154.
Jane E. Strohl, “Luther and the Word of Consolation,” LTSB 67 (winter 1987):
23–34, here at 27.
Joseph Bayly, The Last Thing We Talk About, 20.
For published reviews, see Heiko A. Oberman, “Varieties of Protest,” New Republic,
16 August 1999, 40–45; idem, “Review of Marius, Martin Luther: The Christian between God
and Death,” The Historian 62 (2000): 926–927; Russell C. Kleckley, in Journal of Religion
81 (2001): 643–644; Mark U. Edwards, in ChrCent, 17 November 1999; Eamon Duffy
in Commonweal, 10 September 1999; Scott H. Hendrix in Theology Today 56 (October
1999); Robert Benne, in Review of Politics 62 (2000): 188–191; James D. Tracy, in Catholic
Historical Review 86 (2000): 324–326; Graham Tomlin, in Journal of Ecclesiastical History
51 (2000): 409; Martin Brecht, in Church History 69 (2000): 143–147 (with Rejoinder
by Marius, 147–149); D. Lyle Dabney, in Theological Studies 61 (2000): 156–158; Tom
Scott, in English Historical Review 114 (1999): 1301–1302; Gerald Strauss, in History 28
(1999): 27–28; Carter Lindberg in LQ 13 (1999): 359–362. Marius’s examination of
Luther’s writings essentially ends at 1526. Of the writings I have analyzed here in this
introduction xliii

Marius set out to show that Luther’s fundamental questions were, “Can
I believe that God has the power to raise us from the dead?” and “How
does the Christian deal with the terror that death evokes while reaching
for a faith that the triumph over death is possible?” Moreover, Marius’s
book holds that Luther’s theology arose from those two elemental que-
ries and that his ‘furious defense’ of his own doctrines stemming from
those questions is evidence that they are essentially tenuous dogmas,
on shaky biblical grounds. However, as several of my chapters will
show, Luther’s “greatest terror, . . . the fear of death—death in itself ” is
dwarfed by the superlative confidence the Christian can have in Christ
and his resurrection.89
Finally, by employing a method of rhetorical analysis that, of course,
takes seriously these writings’ content and context, but which also scru-
tinizes carefully the style of the writings—the way Luther argues—we
will see the power of language to do its most profound tasks. For Luther
puts words to work in order to invite a reader’s attention—so as to
explore the most profound (the Scriptures), speak about the unspeakable
(death), evoke the deepest feelings (grief), praise the most lofty (Christ),
confound the worst fears (of sin and the devil), refute the enemy’s great-
est temptations (doubt and unbelief), and promote the most important
actions (preparation for eternity).

book, Marius comments only briefly on the “Sermon On Preparing to Die,” the “Let-
ter to the Christians in the Netherlands,” and a few of the consoling letters. However,
he does offer a few pages of substantive comment on the 1525 funeral sermons for
Frederick the Wise.
Richard Marius, Martin Luther: The Christian between God and Death (Cambridge,
Mass., 1999), xiiif.



Self-help books of various sorts—on diets, herbal remedies, exercise,

meditation, ‘life strategies,’ etc.—claim to provide today’s afflicted
Christian abundant prospects for health and recovery.1 In early modern
Europe people often turned to the saints for assistance and comfort.
Luther’s “Fourteen Consolations” requires instead that readers turn
to Christ.

I. Orientation to Luther’s Document

This is the longest of Luther’s writings that we are examining. More-

over, it puts death into a larger context of suffering and its place in the
providence and provision of God. In order to approach Luther’s book
properly, one needs to be informed about its reception and intention.
Consequently, I consider here the production aspects of the book and
then take note of its preliminary parts (Preface, Letter of Dedication,
and Introduction). Only the last item was included in the original print-
ings; Luther added the first two items in 1536.
Originally written to comfort a gravely ill Frederick the Wise (1463,
1486–1525), Luther’s “Fourteen Consolations” was eagerly received by
readers of Latin and German. He finished the document in August
1519, and it was first printed in 1520 in Wittenberg.2 In addition, that
same year four more Latin editions were published in Leipzig, Augsburg,

“The good choice is no longer the choice that is right according to external
authority, but simply the choice that I have made: it is authenticated simply by me,
the chooser. . . . Discovering needs thus becomes the project of the individual, ensuing
in a never-ending quest for the self, with seekers devouring therapies and self-help
psychology books and meditative techniques without end. If once the priest told me
how to live, now the therapist helps me to find my own way”; Tony Walter, The Revival
of Death, 27.
Wittenberg: Johann Rhau-Grunenberg; Josef Benzing, Lutherbibliographie: Verzeichnis
der Gedruckten Schriften Martin Luthers bis zu dessen Tod. Bibliotheca Bibliographica Aureliana
10 (Baden-Baden, 1965), Nr. 591, designated ‘A’ in WA 6:101.
2 chapter one

Cologne, and Zwolle.3 In 1521 a Latin edition from Basel was released.4
Also in 1520 Georg Spalatin (1484–1545) prepared a German transla-
tion at Luther’s request, and five editions in all (at Wittenberg, Leipzig,
and Augsburg) were printed, with two additional printings in 1522 and
1525.5 There were also translations into Dutch (1521), French (1534),
and English (1538).6
Luther himself oversaw a ‘revised’ Latin edition in 1536, in which
he claims to have restored the sense of his original (which he felt
had been mutilated by the many subsequent editions).7 He refused to
update anything, so as to preserve the document’s historical meaning.
Luther claimed in the 1536 Preface that the thought contained in the
present edition reflected his thoughts at that earlier time (1519) and,
when viewed nearly two decades later, would thus provide “proof of
my progress and also please my adversaries by giving them something
on which they can vent their malice” (WA 6:104.12–13).8
Also omitted until 1536 in the Latin printings, but included in all
the German editions, is the Letter of Dedication (LW 42:121–124; WA
6:104–106). While not originally included (and therefore not available
to Frederick), Luther’s piece provides us a glimpse of his theology of
caregiving. We read arguments from Scripture about what believers are
to do when they discover people in need, this information coming to
us in the context of Luther’s relationship with, and responsibility to,
his prince. An outline of the dedication’s organization can be seen as
a series of five steps: (1) Christ commanded us to minister to others,
and in the incarnation he also set an example of ministering to others;
(2) Christ himself suffers when anyone—especially a Christian—is sick;
so fulfilling our duty by ministering to a sick brother is ministering to
Christ; (3) The significant role of Frederick as head of state means
his fate is to be shared by his subjects, of whom Luther is one; (4) All
subjects have a duty not only to suffer along with their head, but also

Benzing Nr. 592–95 (‘B’–‘D’ in WA 6:101).
Benzing Nr. 596 (‘E’ in WA 6:101).
Benzing Nr. 598–604 (‘a’–‘g’ in WA 6:102f.). I have examined a modern German
version, Vierzehn Trostmittel für Mühlselige und Beladene, edited by G. Kawerau, in Luthers
Werke für das christliche haus, ed. G. Buchwald et al., vol. 7, Erbauliche Schriften (Braun-
schweig, 1891), 5–60.
Benzing Nr. 605–608.
Wittenberg: Josef Klug; Benzing Nr. 597 (‘F’ in WA 6:101).
“. . . testimonium ostendere mei profectus et gratificari Antilogistis, ut habeant quo
suam malitiam exerceant.”
luther’s “fourteen consolations” (1519) 3

to pray for his health; this book is a special consolation to that end; (5)
Luther explains the book’s structure, with its parallels to (and contrasts
with) the ‘fourteen saints.’ As it happens, Luther’s manner of arguing in
the Preface (and also in the Introduction) provides a preview of some
of his style in the body of the document—in other words, nearly two
decades later much of his style still persists: in his use of superlatives,
crafted dialogue, and a ‘how much more’ strategy.
In the first two steps Luther sets a pattern begun in the Preface and
salutation:9 he speaks in a language of superlatives, for which he finds
sanction in his topic and in Scripture. He writes for the ‘most excellent
[ad optimum]’ prince, citing the ‘brightest example [illustrissimum exem-
plum]’ of Jesus in descending from the bosom of the Father, taking on
our ‘most wretched [calamitosissimam]’ life. However, the power of Jesus’
‘illustrious example [illustre exemplum]’ resides not only in its pattern fit
for a leader of Frederick’s stature; all Christians have been given a com-
mandment (mandatum; later, ‘divine commandment [divini mandati]’) to
perform ‘humanitarian services [officia humanitatis]’ or ‘works of mercy
[misericordiae]’ for those ‘afflicted and in a state of calamity [afflictis et
calamitosis]’ (WA 104.21–105.6). Luther’s use of superlatives plays a
strong role at various points throughout the entire document, and it
seems consistent here with the high style of a letter of dedication.
Moreover, this language also helps do justice to the urgency of the
topic, and Luther’s agenda—at least here in the Letter of Dedica-
tion—can be seen in his attempt to capture the thrust of Matt. 25:41–45,
where, following his quote of v. 41a (“Depart from me, you cursed ones,
into everlasting fire”) and 43b (“I was sick, and you did not visit me”),
he elaborates on his own: “With gross ingratitude [extreme ingratus] for
the supreme blessings [summis benefitiis] bestowed by me upon you and
the whole world, you have not by even the smallest service [levissimis]
come to aid your brethren—no, me—Christ, your God and Savior,
in the brethren” (WA 6:105.7–11). Luther’s warrant for—i.e., major
premise—authorizing the command to serve the sick comes from the

DOMINO SVO CLEMENTISSIMO” (104.16–19). Luther uses ‘Most Illustrious
Prince’ [Illustrissime Princeps] once more, as direct address, in the letter of dedication
(105.12). He uses ‘your Lordship’ [tua dominatus, etc., often abbreviated tua D. or TD]
in indirect speech roughly 15 times in the letter of dedication.
4 chapter one

Scriptures, namely the Matt. 25 passage, but also from Luke 6:36.10
There Jesus names them (Luther uses vocat) works of mercy (misericordiae)
that he commands others to perform, precisely because the Father in
heaven is merciful (misericors). In Isa. 43:24, the only text Luther actu-
ally cites, we find more of the strong language that inspired him to
attribute the urgency of superlatives to this matter of one’s obligation
to the sick (morbo), the captives (captives), the neighbor ( proximo): “You
have burdened me with your sins, and you have wearied me with your
iniquities” (WA 6:105.3f.).11 Luther found the ‘infinite love [immensum
amorem]’ that Christ had for all people (genus humanum) to be a fact that
merited all the linguistic resources he could muster in its explication
and defense.
Luther takes seriously the ‘grave illness [ gravi morbo]’ of Frederick,
which is accompanied by Christ’s sickness (aegrotare). Using crafted
dialogue, Luther argues that Christians do not bear ( patitur) such evils
that others suffer but that Christ himself bears them: “I cannot pretend
that I do not hear the voice of Christ as it cries out to me out of your
Lordship’s body and flesh, saying, ‘Look, I am sick [Ecce infirmor hic]’ ”
(WA 6:105.15f.). Since Christians live in Christ, ‘we’ have a duty to visit
and console (visitemus et consolemur) those who are afflicted with sickness
(adversa), especially to the ‘household of faith [domesticis fidei ].’ Thus,
Luther has cogently explicated the logic in Matt. 25 (to minister to
Christ’s own is to minister to Him, since they are in Him). Quoting Matt.
25:40 (‘unto the least [minimo] of mine’) and citing Paul at Gal. 6:10,
Luther argues that because Christians are obligated to “those bound to
us by intimate ties [necessitudine nobiscum coniunctos],” he has a duty (offitii)
to produce this ‘little writing [aliquo scripto]’ (WA 6:105.17–23).
Steps three and four find Luther acknowledging ‘other reasons [alias . . .
rationes]’ for writing this book; the focal object shifts from Christ to
Frederick. Unlike his lateral relationship with—and responsibility
to—other believers, Luther’s role as his prince’s subject prompts him
to see Frederick as a God-appointed national protector. Seeing himself
and his prince as a ‘member with its head [membrum cum capite],’ Luther
argues that he himself shares with all subjects the blessings of “all our

LW 42:122 cites Luke 6:36, whereas WA 6:104 cites both Luke 6:36 and Matt.
“In peccatis tuis fecisti me laborare et in iniquitatitibus tuis mihi fecisti negotium
&c.” It is clear from the ‘&c.’ that Luther had the entire context in mind; despite
Israel’s sin, God came to save them.
luther’s “fourteen consolations” (1519) 5

fortunes, all our safety and happiness [omnes nostrae fortunae, omnis incolu-
mitas et foelicitas nostra]” and that they ‘suffer with you [quasi aegrotare]’
(WA 6:105.26–28). Whether this is the flattering style of the letter of
dedication or the sincere assessment due the times, Luther declares the
special position that Frederick holds for his subjects. He suggests to his
prince that he holds a responsibility to his country not only to protect but
also to lead, by obeying God. Luther claims that this duty is to ‘much
more [multo magis]’ than offering consolation and of making Frederick’s
condition ‘our own [ familiariter]’ (WA 6:105.34–38). Apparently Luther
counts people’s prayers as more effectual than their ability to console
their prince. But as a writer, he can do something more, explaining
his duty to render ‘special service [singulari aliquo].’ Acknowledging the
request by Spalatin, one of Frederick’s chaplins (a sacris), to present a
‘spiritual consolation [consolationem aliquam spiritualem],’ Luther accepts
this ‘friendly counsel [amici consilio].’ He trusts (spero) that the book will
be a great help (maxime fore utilem) to “uplift and strengthen the pious
heart [mens pia erigenda ac confirmanda est].” He offers it for “diligent
reading and contemplation [diligenti lectione et consideratione],” in order to
bring ‘some comfort [nonnihil acquiescat],’ closing with the signature of
‘your subject, Martin Luther, Doctor’ (WA 6:106.1–19).12
Step five of the Letter of Dedication, obviously, precedes the closing
signature, and is Luther’s account of the book’s purpose and structure.
Since this material is an expansion of what he had put into the Intro-
duction in 1519, I will simply state Luther’s directions here; when they
occur again in the Introduction, I shall analyze both Luther’s directions
and the deviations from his plan.
In a few short lines he explains how he has composed fourteen chap-
ters (quatuordecim capita) ‘after the fashion of an altar screen [in tabula
digesta].’ He names the chapters Fourteen Consolations (tessaradecados).
Such a designation is interesting, especially when one hears Luther out.
For tessaradecados (accusative plural) is from Greek denoting ‘fourteen,’
but tessara (Greek, ‘four’) also may trigger associations with tessera (Latin,
a ‘token,’ ‘sign,’ or even ‘mosaic’). By using the term Tessaradecas (nomi-
native plural), as he does here and in his title, Luther may be calling
attention, not only to the number (fourteen) but also to the ‘sign’ nature
of his book, its visual function as a mnemonic, meditative device. As he

Luther’s signature on the title page (‘Martin Luther, Augustinian at Wittenberg’)
reflects the broader audience in view.
6 chapter one

continues, Luther calls his structure a spiritual screen (spiritualis tabula),

not one of silver (argentea), as would hang above the altar. Indeed, a
limewood panel of 84 cm by 127 cm (33 inches by 50 inches) depicting
the Fourteen Holy Helpers (Vierzehnheiligen)—dating from ca. 1505 and
painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553)—still hangs above the
altar in the Marienkirche at Torgau, Frederick’s electoral residence.13
The physical screen is meant merely ‘to adorn the walls of churches
[templorum parietes ornandi].’ As he says, Luther would have his ‘fourteen
chapters’ (which he elaborates in his book’s title, Tessaradecas consolatoria
pro laborantibus et oneratis)14 “replace [loco] the fourteen saints [Divorum]
whom our superstition has invented [ fecit] and called ‘The Defenders
Against All Evils’ [omnium malorum depulsores]” (WA 6:106.6–9). Luther
wants his book to perform a function different from (and superior to)
the false function of the altar screen and its tradition of ‘auxiliary’ or
‘helper in need [Nothelfer]’ saints, who supposedly could help ‘drive away
[depulsores]’ evils. In order to facilitate such a dramatic and fundamental
shift in how Christians should approach their troubles, Luther dismantles
the fourteen-saints structure and replaces it with a two-part arrange-
ment to his book: the first part deals with ‘seven images of evil [septem
imagines malorum],’ a contemplation of which “will make the troubles

Max J. Friedländer and Jakob Rosenberg, The Paintings of Lucas Cranach, rev. ed.
(Ithaca, 1978), 18–19, 68–70; Werner Schade, Cranach: A Family of Master Painters, transl.
Helen Serba (New York, 1980), plate 37. The painting depicts the saints surrounding
the Christ child. Anonymous woodcuts, ca. 1500, depict the saints, surrounding Christ
on the cross; Brad S. Gregory, Salvation at Stake: Christian Martyrdom in Early Modern Europe
(Cambridge, Mass., 1999), 36. Each saint was invoked for protection from (or during)
a particular situation—i.e., emergency, disease, or condition. Three were bishops:
Denis of Paris (invoked against headache and rabies), Blaise (invoked against throat
troubles), Erasmus, called Elmo (invoked against colic and cramp). Three were virgins:
Barbara (invoked against lightning, fire, explosion, sudden death), Margaret (invoked
against possession and by pregnant women), Catherine of Alexandria (invoked by
philosophers, students, wheelers, etc.). Three were knightly patrons: George (protec-
tor of soldiers), Achatius and Eustace (invoked by hunters). The physician Pantaleon
(invoked against tuberculosis); the monk Giles (invoked against epilepsy, insanity, and
sterility); the deacon Cyriac (invoked against demonic possession); the martyr Vitus
(invoked against epilepsy and ‘Vitus dance’); and the giant Christopher (invoked by
travelers in difficulties). For a discussion of the history of the ‘Fourteen Holy Helpers’
(feast, 8 August) and its cult, see New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2nd ed. (2003), s.v. “Fourteen
Holy Helpers,” by J. Dünninger; cf. Bernd Moeller, “Religious Life in Germany on the
Eve of the Reformation,” in Religion and Society in Early Modern Europe 1500–1800, ed.
Kaspar von Greyerz (London, 1984), 13–42. For important background on Luther’s
document, see R. Guy Erwin, “Flesh Made Words: Luther’s Reform of Piety,” North
American Luther Forum, Luther Seminary, St. Paul, MN, 28–30 April 2006.
“[ F ]or those who labor and are heavy laden” (Matt. 11:28).
luther’s “fourteen consolations” (1519) 7

of the present lighter [ praesentia incommoda mitigantur]”; the second part’s

seven images are images of blessings (bonorum), “gathered together for the
same purpose [ad eundem usum collectas]” (WA 6:106.8–14). This structure
is then explained more thoroughly in the Introduction.
In a brief Introduction (Praefatio; LW 42:124f.; WA 6:106f.) Luther
lays out a rationale and authority for consolation. In the Letter of
Dedication he had argued that the mandate for consoling others in
their need comes from the command of Scripture and the example
of Christ. Here Luther explains what consolation is and from whence
it originates. Using just two scriptural texts, he argues that one must
use the mind to help one turn attention from the thing (rem) to the
Word (verbo). The authority of our consolation—that is, its source—is
the Scriptures. Citing and quoting Paul at Rom. 15:4, Luther adds the
vocative ‘Brothers [Fratres]’ to his verbatim quotation that stipulates
that “whatever was written was written for our instruction [doctrinam],
so that through patience and comfort [ patientiam et consolationem] of the
Scriptures we might have hope [spem],” and he interprets that text to
mean that it plainly teaches (aperte docet) that consolations (solatia) are ‘to
be drawn from [ petenda]’ Holy Scriptures (WA 6:106.21–24).
The rationale for comfort (consolationis), or consolation (solatia)—Luther
seems not to distinguish them here—derives from his exegesis of Ecclus.
11. Here he found the two-fold structure of evils and blessings15 pre-
sented by the ‘wise Preacher [Ecclesiasticus sapiens]’:16 “In the day of evil
be mindful of the good, and in the day of the good be mindful of
the evil”: In die malorum [a] memor esto bonorum [b] et in die bonorum [b]
memor esto malorum [a]” (WA 6:106.27f.). In this statement Luther has
reworked the biblical text of v. 25 (“In the day of prosperity, adversity
is forgotten, and in the day of adversity, prosperity is not remembered”),
while retaining its structure as chiasmus: (1) he changes observations of
negative behavior into commands of positive actions; (2) he reverses
the order of ideas, probably because his topic is ‘evils’ and the biblical
text begins with ‘prosperity.’ Luther will later employ this same chiastic
structure when he summarizes his point.
Meanwhile, he proceeds to interpret the important rationale he finds
here, arguing that a thing (rem) has only the value and meaning (qualis

Probably following the order in Ecclus. 11:25 (LXX), LW 42:124 erroneously
reads ‘blessings and evils.’
LW 42:124 omits ‘wise.’
8 chapter one

et quanta) that the mind in its thoughts (opinio) assigns. He illustrates this
cognitive power in one direction only: the mind’s ability to reduce in
magnitude life’s powerful experiences: “Whatever he regards [ducitur] as
trivial and of no value [vile et nihili] will affect him only slightly, whether
it be love [amore] when it comes to him or pain [dolore] when it goes
away” (WA 6:106.19–21). This ability to neutralize that which moves
(afficit) us is best effected ( potissimum fiat) through the Word, turning our
thoughts from debilitating experiences in the present onto that which
is “either absent or does not move us at the moment [absens est vel non
afficit praesens].” Therefore, Luther concludes, consolation comes only
from the Scriptures (non nisi per scripturarum).17
Luther then concisely explicates his organizational structure for the
book: two series of pictures or images (spectra et imagines), each divided
into seven parts ( partes). He then enumerates the first part (or image
[imago]), which deals with the evils: All of the evils appear to be spatially
oriented: within [intra], before [ante], behind [ post], left [sinistro], right
[dextro], beneath [infra], above [supra] (WA 6:107.1–3). In actuality, the
second (before) and third (behind) are temporally ordered. Moreover,
the apparent physical directions are only for visualization and concen-
tration, and after the first three images Luther even deviates from his
stated plan. He moves the evil beneath from sixth to fourth position.
Thus, he previews one order (within, before, behind, left, right, beneath,
above) yet follows another order (within, before, behind, beneath, left,
right, above).
However, the discrepancy between stated plan and followed plan
should not bother any reader, for the immediate connections and
transitions are more naturally followed than the synchrony between
a plan stated on one page and a deviation from it many pages later.
Moreover, the rationale for the deviation can be discerned. The logical
components Luther has chosen are not cryptic, for he uses three pairs
of orientation points along three axes or dimensions. We can envision
two pairs as horizontal (before/behind, left/right), and a third as vertical

Notice the chiasmus again, from Ecclus. 11:25, and in the indicative: “It is thus
very true that we shall find consolation only through the Scriptures, which in the days
of evil [a: die malorum] call us to the contemplation of our blessings [b: spectanda bona],
either present or to come, and in the days of blessing [b1: die bonorum], point us to the
contemplation of the evils [a1: spectanda mala]” (WA 6:106.34–37). The verb is the same
(avocat, ‘call’ or ‘point’) in both ‘a’ and ‘b’ elements of the chiasmus. Luther argues that
this diversionary power of the Word is necessary, or we would simply be thinking about
and being affected (opinio et affectu) by the experiences or things (rerum) themselves, thus
held captive by them and not by the Word of God, finding no consolation.
luther’s “fourteen consolations” (1519) 9

(below/above), plus a fourth single point (within). But whether he will

proceed from one axial pole to its opposite, or whether he finds other
connections, from one axial pole to a different axial pole, is not self-
evident. In fact, for both parts—evils and blessings—he starts at ‘within’
and ends with ‘above.’ So we know what is first and last (seventh). Thus,
the first important transition is from ‘within’ to ‘before’ (meaning the
future). From before (future) he proceeds to behind (past). Then, the
next important transition is which axis to take up next; Luther moves
to his ‘vertical’ axis (beneath/above), taking up ‘beneath’ (infernal evil),
and then proceeding to the other horizontal axis (left/right), seeing an
important connection between ‘beneath’ and ‘left.’ Next, he goes from
left to right, and now he can end with ‘above’ as seventh.
By considering these three bipolar axes, we can also understand why,
perhaps, Luther’s parallel language—doublets and chiasms—seems
fitting. Some figures are oppositional (‘present or to come’; ‘evils and
blessings’; ‘day of evil/day of good’; ‘whether love . . . or pain’), others
are synonymous or incremental (‘value and meaning’; ‘trivial and of
no value’; ‘absent or does not move us at the moment’; ‘pictures or
images’; ‘thinking about . . . being affected by’). When we reckon with
the decisions Luther had to make about the order in which to explicate
the seven images, we recall that he claimed that the Scriptures present
to our view (videlicet) both evils and blessings wholesomely intermingled
(saluberrima temperie mixtas). And when we recall his strong conclusion
that the Scriptures are the necessary and sufficient source of comfort,
his use of just one superlative (‘best effected’) and an epithet of the
‘wise’ preacher functions to persuade the reader of this unique insight
into consolation, which all people long to find.

II. Analysis of “Fourteen Consolations”

A. The First Image: The Evil Within Us [malum internum]

With just his first sentence of this chapter (LW 42:125–127; WA 6:107f.),
Luther makes clear why he has begun with the internal position, as well
as why he ends with the ‘above’ position: he proceeds from worst to
best.18 To Frederick (and anyone else gravely ill), Luther offers perspec-
tive on one’s illness: “[I]t is most certain and true [ratum est et verissimum]

Later, in chapter four of part two (see p. 33), we discover quite clearly another
reason for this organization.
10 chapter one

that no torture [cruciatum] can compare with the worst [ pessimum] of

all evils, namely, the evil within man [in ipso] himself. The evils within
him are more numerous and far greater [longe plura et maiora] than any
which he feels [sentit]” (WA 6:107.6–8). Luther’s strategy in this chapter
is to argue that: (A) The worst evils are spiritual and within, and God
shields us from most of these; (B) When understood, this situation itself
can be turned into consolation; (C) Yet evils, both physical and mental,
are real and vexing, so whether we ‘feel’ them or not, our minds must
understand them as sent by God.
Luther’s authorities in these arguments (in step A) are scriptural:
‘the prophet’ (= psalmist), ‘the Apostle’ (= author of Hebrews epistle),
‘the Preacher’ (= author of Ecclus.), Job, David, and, of course, God.
Luther’s stylistic resources are varied: (1) to drive home the claim that
the evil within man—what he cannot feel—is the worst, Luther advances
a progression, twice using ‘feel [sentiret],’ twice using ‘hell [infernum],’
the latter a striking rhyme with internum; (2) Luther turns to ratiocinatio
(a short question and its answers), quoting portions of Ps. 116:11 (=
115:11 Vulgate) and Ps. 39:6 in such a way as to craft a chiasmus, only
apparent by altering the translation;19 (3) following that, Luther employs
sorites (a progression formed by a series of enthymemes or truncated
syllogisms having a suppressed major premise). His chain of doublets
is linked by repeated copulas (to be [esse]);20 (4) in summarizing God’s
parental, disciplinary action, Luther uses six imperatives in succession,
three for each of the two contemplations he invites.21
Luther’s second, brief move (B) in this chapter is to try to illustrate
and apply the truth he argued previously, transforming the evil into
consolation (consolatoria). He does this all in third person singular, using
more language of comparison and contrast (superlatives and compara-

“Every man [a] is a liar [ b] . . . Nothing but vanity [b1] is every living man [a1]”
[Omnis homo mendax . . . Universa vanitas omnis homo vivens] (WA 6:107.10f.).
“[ T ]o be a liar and a vanity [mendacem et vanum] is to be without truth and real-
ity [vacuum veritate et re]. And to be without truth and reality [sine veritate et re] is to be
without God and to be nothing [sine deo et nihil]. This condition in turn is to be in hell
and to be damned [in inferno et damnatum]” (WA 6:107.11–13).
“Therefore, in the day of evils remember the day of blessings [memor esto bonorum]
(Ecclus. 11:25). Just see [Vide] what a great good it is not to know the whole of our
evil. Be mindful of this good [esto boni memor], and the evil that you feel will torment
you less. On the other hand [Ita rursus], in the day of good be mindful of the evil
[memor esto malorum]. That is to say, while you do not feel [indolens] the true evils, be
grateful [ gratus esto] that you do not feel, but keep [memorare] the true evils in mind”
(WA 6:107.28–32).
luther’s “fourteen consolations” (1519) 11

tives, doublets), adding a feature we have not yet fully seen since the
Letter of Dedication—dialogue, the invented soliloquy of those who
understand God’s strategy. Thus, the dialogue models how Luther
would have Christians respond to his teaching:
‘Not yet, O man, do you feel [sentis] your evil. Be glad and grateful [ gaude
et gratius age] that you do not have to feel [sentire] it.’ When compared
[comparatione] with the greatest [maximi ] evil, the small evil [malum par-
vum] thus becomes light [leve]. It is this that others mean when they say,
‘I have deserved something far worse [longe peiora], even hell itself ’—a
thing so easy [ facile] to say, but horrible [intolerabile] to endure [sensu]’
(WA 6:108.3–7).

B. The Second Image: The Future Evil or the Evil Before Us [ante se]
In this chapter (LW 42:127–130; WA 6:108–110) Luther argues that
much evil (meaning harm and misfortune) awaits us in this life but that
God protects us from much of this; accordingly, the greatest evil—
death—is the most fearsome. Yet even death has a way of reminding
us of God’s goodness. Luther argues these claims in four steps, the first
two of which address evils; the latter two speak of death: (A) the future
of us all—particularly for those of social stature—holds great dangers;
(B) when we are spared all or part of these future evils we should count
it as gain; (C) the greatest future evil is death, yet properly fearing it
can provide comfort from God; (D) We should adopt God’s hatred of
sin—the cause of evils—and not fear death.
The purpose behind Luther’s argument (A) is his striking claim that
turning the mind (vertas animum) toward the future will “lighten your
present evil in no small degree [Non parum levabit praesens quodcumque
malum].” However, it is clear that Luther is not doing what so many of
us today attempt: to divert attention from present difficulties by think-
ing about a brighter future! For he continues with the relative pronoun
quae, referring to understood future evils (mala), which will be greater
than what one now faces (malum)!22 Indeed, Luther then provides a
definition of fear (‘the emotion that is caused by a future evil’) from an
unknown (incertius) authority. His objective is to urge that one should

LW 42:127 includes the understood noun (‘evils’) in its translation. To express how
much worse they will be, Luther uses a rhyming, polysyndetic, progressive triplet: ‘so
numerous, so varied, and so great [tot et talia et tanta],’ and to describe their outcome of
fear (timor), he uses a doublet epithet: ‘one of the great and principal emotions [magnus
ille et unus principalium affectuum].’
12 chapter one

soberly consider these ineluctable problems, and he quotes Paul precisely

at Rom. 11:20b: “Be not proud, but rather fear [Noli altum sapere, sed
time].” This concise antithesis makes sense, given what Luther provides
next—a common saying (Vulgateo quoque proverbium) that “No age is proof
against the itch [Non est ulla aetas scabiei etiam superior].” Luther’s verbs
make evident how susceptible all humans are to both physical and
emotional torment (‘misery, shame, and all indignity [inopia, ignominia et
omnia indigna]’). As he had argued in the previous chapter, Luther urges
his reader Frederick (and others to whom it may apply) that for those
of higher dignity and rank (maior . . . dignior status), the potential losses
are much greater. Thus, Luther’s strategy in this first point has been
to move from the inevitable, but lesser, maladies to the catastrophic
(WA 6:108.31–109.13).
Luther’s second move (B) in this chapter is to argue that such evils,
should they somehow not befall us,23 should give us no small comfort
(non parvo solatio). This bit of meiosis (understatement)—that comple-
ments Luther’s use of several superlatives later in this chapter—precedes
three Scripture texts (from Jeremiah, Luke, and Job) that he employs
to establish that God’s intervening protection shields us from Satan’s
fury. With minimalist language—only a single doublet captures Satan’s
actions—Luther suggests we invoke Jeremiah’s declaration, “It is of the
Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed [misericordiae domini, quod non
sumus consumpti],” a nearly verbatim quote of Lam. 3:22. Luther then
slides to Job, as he understands both Luke’s and Job’s comments to be
from God: “To this place shall you come and here shall your proud
waves be stayed [huc pervenient et confrigentur tuamentes fluctus tui ]” ( Job
38:11). Now it is clear to us that Luther’s earlier embellished reference in
chapter one (the first evil) to ‘the sea of this world,’ had Job 38:11, with
God’s protective hedge about Job, clearly in mind (WA 109.14–24).
In Luther’s third step (C) of this chapter (LW 42:129f.; WA 6:109.25–
110.14), he considers death, and in so doing he lays some groundwork
that he will build upon later, in the fourth chapter—on the infernal
evil. Since he considers God, whether permitting evil or protecting from
it, to be providing just what his people need, Luther uses a variety of
tactics to establish death’s formidability. Even if one is spared all harm,
death is ‘the greatest of all terrors [omnium terribilium maximum]’ certain
to come and, as Luther argues, always at an uncertain time.

Twice in WA 6:109.14f. Luther uses verb forms of accido (acciderit, accidit).
luther’s “fourteen consolations” (1519) 13

Thus, to this point in the book Luther has joined this chorus of
‘consoling’ literature, and as he promises to argue later (ut videbimus
infra), says that divine mercy (misericordia divina) is most concerned about
comforting faint hearts (curarit pusillanimes confortare) in their fear of and
preparation for death. Lastly, in this step, Luther cites Cyprian, the
first African martyr (d. 258), suggesting that he and others have argued
that because these evils pose such a threat to our spiritual well being,
we should do whatever is necessary to protect ourselves, even to seek
death as a quick means of escape (volocem ad evadenda).24 In interpreting
and summarizing not only Cyprian but also other ‘highminded men
[bonicordes hii homines],’ Luther declares the two reasons for desiring to
die and be delivered: (1) to escape the evil of the sins in which they
are now held (malo peccatorum, in quo sunt); and (2) to avoid the evil of
the sins into which they are still able to fall (quod cadere possunt) (WA
6:110.10–14).25 Thus he has covered both chapters one and two.
Luther’s brief fourth and concluding step (D) in this chapter is to
summarize how evils and death are threats and to offer sound advice
for facing them. His conclusion is that we should follow the example of
Paul (Rom. 7:24f.) and the desire and grace of God. Clearly death ends
sin’s grip on a person’s life, but death is also ‘the minister of life and
righteousness [ministra vitae ac iustitiae].’ To explain fully and demonstrate
this last claim, Luther defers until later (infra), which is not taken up in
the next but instead in the fourth chapter, the evil below (infra).

C. The Third Image: The Past [ preteritum] Evil or the Evil Behind Us
[ post nos]
In this chapter (LW 42:130–132; WA 6:110–112) Luther turns much
more strongly to contemplation and praising God for his wonderful

In its twenty-six chapters, Cyprian’s On Mortality argues that death, especially
martyrdom, should be welcomed and highly prized. Chapter 26 begins: “We should con-
sider, dearly loved brethren—we should ever and anon reflect that we have renounced
the world, and are in the meantime living here as guests and strangers. Let us greet
the day which assigns each of us to his own home, which snatches us hence, and sets
us free from the snares of the world, and restores us to paradise and the kingdom”;
John Brubaker and Gary Bogart, “Internet Christian Library,” <http://www.ewtn.
com/library/SOURCES/MORTAL.TXT> (accessed 25 September 2006).
Clearly Luther understood—and argued—what Cyprian was advocating; a simi-
lar thought comes recently from Joseph Bayly: “And death, not healing, is the great
deliverance from all pain and suffering. Death delivers God’s people from the hands of
persecuting governments, from the ravages of disease, and from every evil affliction”;
The Last Thing We Talk About, 87.
14 chapter one

protection in the past, claiming that in this image (In hoc eximie) God
the Father’s sweet mercy (dulcis misericordia) shines more brightly than
in any other chapter (so far). In fact, three times in the opening two
sentences he emphasizes this superiority: (a) ‘shines more brightly than
in the others [ prae caeteris lucet]’; (b) ‘able to comfort us in every dis-
tress [ potens nos consolari in omni angustia nostra]’; (c) “Never does a man
feel . . . more closely than [Neque enim . . . quilibet sentit].” In addition to his
own assertions, Luther quotes Augustine’s Confessions for evidence that
reliving one’s past life, with its great dangers and evils (tanta et pericula et
mala), would be worse than dying.26 Following this introduction, Luther’s
overall strategy in this chapter unfolds in five steps: (A) God’s hand of
protection has operated despite our ignorance of it; (B) our awareness of
God’s protection should make us grateful; (C) gratitude to God compels
us to trust Him to continue this protection; (D) Prolepsis (anticipating
and refuting a potential objection): God’s permission of our trials is to
show His goodness; (E) our trust should take comfort, not anxiety, in
trials, and we should ponder God’s works (= care for us).
In his initial step (A) Luther first expounds upon our ignorance of
how God was protecting us in the past and how we had no hand in this
protection; it was all God’s doing. He uses soliloquy and two Scriptures
to document this; to emphasize man’s inaction Luther uses doublets
(sometimes with anaphora, the use of repeated initial words) and trip-
lets in exploring all possibilities. His quotation of Prov. 16:9 alters the
Vulgate enough to make an even more strikingly concise, antithetical

Confessions 10.28.39: “When I shall with my whole self cleave to Thee, I shall
nowhere have sorrow or labour; and my life shall wholly live, as wholly full of Thee.
But now since whom Thou fillest, Thou liftest up, because I am not full of Thee I am
a burden to myself. Lamentable joys strive with joyous sorrows: and on which side is
the victory, I know not. Woe is me! Lord, have pity on me. My evil sorrows strive with
my good joys; and on which side is the victory, I know not. Woe is me! Lord, have pity
on me. Woe is me! I hide not my wounds; Thou art the Physician, I the sick; Thou
merciful, I miserable. Is not the life of man upon earth all trial? [ Job 7:1]. Who wishes for
troubles and difficulties? Thou commandest them to be endured, not to be loved. No man loves what
he endures, though he love to endure. For though he rejoices that he endures, he had rather there were
nothing for him to endure. In adversity I long for prosperity, in prosperity I fear adversity. What middle
place is there betwixt these two, where the life of man is not all trial? Woe to the prosperities of
the world, once and again, through fear of adversity, and corruption of joy! Woe to
the adversities of the world, once and again, and the third time, from the longing for
prosperity, and because adversity itself is a hard thing, and lest it shatter endurance. Is
not the life of man upon earth all trial: without any interval?” transl. E. B. Pusey, <http://
ccat.sas. upenn.edu/jod/Englishconfessions.html> (Accessed 22 August 2006); italics
are mine. Augustine (354–430) is thus far the first authority that Luther has designated
as ‘Blessed’ [ B = Beatus]; text ‘F’ (1535) reads ‘S. Augustinus’ [= Sanctus].
luther’s “fourteen consolations” (1519) 15

statement: “Man proposes, but God disposes [Homo proponit, deus autem
disponit].” Luther is probably quoting from Thomas à Kempis’ Imitatio
Christi (1.9), which uses the concise form.27
What I have called Luther’s second (B) step (WA 6:111.9–14) is virtu-
ally an extension—into feeling—of the claim he has just argued. That is,
by continuing with the intimate first person plural, Luther amplifies the
emotion that should be elicited when we realize the extent and goodness
of God’s protection and care; our own past lives, he says, are sufficient
testimony to this care. Luther executes this amplification through sev-
eral doublets (including two superlatives) and a rich paraphrase from
Deuteronomy. Recalling again the role of consoling literature—to
which Luther is now making a contribution—we see him argue that
even if there were no ‘books or sermons [libri neque sermones],’ our very
lives (ipsa nostra vita) and their many ‘evils and dangers [mala et pericula]’
commend to us the ‘ever present and most tender [ praesentissimam et
suavissimam]’ goodness of God that exceeds ‘our thought and feeling
[consilium et sensum nostrum]’ and has carried us in his bosom. Next, he
paraphrases Moses in Deut. 32:10f.: “The Lord kept [custodivit] him as
the apple of his eye [ pupillam oculi sui], and led him about [circumduxit],
and carried him on his shoulders.”28
Luther’s third step (C) in this chapter takes his readers a step farther
along the path of finding comfort. He builds this comfort-taking action
from four scriptural paraphrases and a dialogue series of rhetorical
questions. The first three quotes, given in quick succession, come from
the Psalms. The three quotes are all anaphoric in their initial phrases:
‘I remember [Memor fui ]. . . .’ (Ps. 143:5 = 142:5 Vulgate); ‘Surely I
shall remember [Memor ero] . . .’ (Ps. 77:11 = 76:12 Vulgate); ‘I have
remembered [Memor fui] . . .’ (Ps. 119:52 = 118:52 Vulgate). These ver-
bal phrases also have parallel objects (‘days of old’; ‘all your works’;
‘the work of your hands’; ‘your wonders of old’; ‘your judgments’).

Thomas à Kempis (c. 1380–1471) is the presumed author of this work, which
was the most popular devotional book of the late Middle Ages. The proverb, “Man
proposes, but God disposes,” appears in a book of John Bartlett (1820–1905), Familiar
Quotations, 10th ed., 1919, noting: “This expression is of much greater antiquity. It
appears in the Chronicle of Battel Abbey, p. 27 (Lower’s translation), and in The Vision of
Piers Ploughman, line 13994, ed. 1550. A man’s heart deviseth his way; but the Lord
directeth his steps—Proverbs xvi. 9.”
While ‘carried’ is not part of v. 10 or 11, the motif of protection certainly is, for
vv. 10 –11 describe God’s care as that of an eagle for her young, and in humeris suis (‘on
his shoulders’) is identical to v.11, translated ‘on its pinions’ in RSV.
16 chapter one

Further, in its second and third clauses, the first quoted Scripture is
chiastic.29 These references to God’s works will again proliferate in the
final paragraph of this chapter.
In his fourth (D) step (WA 6:111.31–40) Luther fully addresses, pro-
leptically, this little matter of God’s leaving us to ourselves only ‘rarely’
or ‘for a brief moment.’ This is important to Frederick or any reader
who would naturally see one’s self at the time as forsaken, or at least
tested, by God. Luther stays in the inclusive, first person plural, arguing
that when God does indeed leave us to our own care (nostro consilio), it
is only briefly, for little things, and that when he does so his purpose is
to test (tentet) us to see if we are willing to trust (credere) in his care and
compare the difference between His care and ours. Luther’s evidence
that the trials are slight: we cannot even heal a “small pain in the leg
[unicum dolorem cruris] for even the shortest span of time [ parvissimo
tempore],” as he himself had learned first hand in 1503.30
Luther’s fifth (E) and final step (WA 6:111.40–112.6) in this chapter
returns—in first person plural—to the notion of God’s works, argu-
ing that the testing He permits should elicit comfort, not anxiety; it
ends—in third person plural—with sober warnings against failing to
trust him. Thus Luther closes with the emphasis on God’s care, which
is His work, and with the comparative abundance of it alongside our
own paltry and ineffective efforts to look after ourselves.

D. The Fourth Image: The Infernal Evil or the Evil Beneath Us [infra nos]
In this chapter (LW 42:133f.; WA 6:112f.) Luther is now at the midpoint
of the seven evils, so he takes time to summarize his perspective on the
three evils covered thus far, and how such a perspective lends comfort.
In covering the material of this chapter—death and hell—he spends
equal time on each, and his summary conclusion is consistent with his
summary thus far: when looking to the evils we suffer, they are nothing
compared to those (even death and hell) from which God protects us.

“I meditate on all your works, and in all your hands have wrought I muse” [medi-
tatus sum (a) in omnibus tuis (b) et in factis manuum tuarum (b1) meditabar (a1)].”
LW 42:132, note 12, reports the incident near Erfurt. In LW 54:14f. (WATr 1, #119;
cf. WATr 5, #6428), Luther recalls that the severed artery bled profusely and a surgeon
was needed. The wound even reopened during the night, and Luther recounts, telling
the story in 1531, that his cries to Mary for help were to no avail; cf. Brecht, Martin
Luther, 1:46f.; John Wilkinson, “The Medical History of Martin Luther,” Proceedings of
the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh 26 (1996): 115–134, here at 120.
luther’s “fourteen consolations” (1519) 17

Yet such an optimistic outcome emerges from an extremely sobering

context, for this chapter is frighteningly humbling. The strategy is: (A)
introductory summary of the evils thus far surveyed (WA 6:112.9–17);
(B) Death: we usually get off easier than we deserve, since God’s justice
contains mercy (WA 6:112.18–113.2); (C) Hell: all are condemned, in
keeping with God’s mercy and grace (WA 6:113.3–24); (D) summary
(WA 6:113.24–26).
Luther’s introductory (A) summary (WA 6:112.9–17) continues the
inclusive style of first person plural and is fairly concise, yet it intro-
duces a stylistic device seldom used thus far, but which will become
more prominent later: anthypophora—asking questions, then answer-
ing them; this device is particularly suited to render strong agreement
to the summary, something necessary for a summary and absolutely
crucial to this one. Luther’s first new (B) topic (WA 6:112.18–113.2) in
the chapter is death,31 which he has addressed to some extent in chap-
ter two, where he called it the omnium terribilium maximum and where he
assured his readers that here was the matter of God’s greatest concern
for comforting faint hearts ( pusillanimes confortare).32 In the second new
(C) topic (WA 6:113.3–24) of the chapter (hell), which Luther has not
previously addressed, his strategy is the same as with the previous
topic (death). He first enumerates categories of sinners for readers to
compare themselves to (Luther’s first two sentences are in first plural),
expecting that they will feel guilt for still surviving while those others,
more righteous, languish in ‘true hell and eternal damnation [inferno vero
et aeterna damnatione]’ (note the chiasmus).33 Luther’s concise summary
(D), in first plural again, turns to praise and love (laudis et amoris) that
“we owe our gracious God in every evil of this life [debeamus optimo deo
nostro in quocunque malo huius vitae],” since each evil is scarcely a drop
(stilla una) of what we deserved (WA 6:113.25f.).

Prior to beginning his exposition of death, and unlike any of the other thirteen
chapters in this work, Luther here provides a one-sentence distributio, set off as a
distinct paragraph in WA 6:112.18f.: “Of the evils beneath us the first is death and
the other is hell” (LW 42:133). He precisely places the two topics in final position
(Primum . . . mors, alterum infernus).
Confortare might better be translated ‘strengthening’ or ‘encouraging’; cf. Leo F.
Stelten, Dictionary of Ecclesiastical Latin (Peabody, Mass., 1995).
LW 42:133 omits ‘true’ before ‘hell.’
18 chapter one

E. The Fifth Image: The Unfavorable [sinistrum] Evil on Our Left Hand
In this chapter (LW 42:134–137; WA 6:113–115) Luther turns straight-
forwardly to the plight of the wicked; that is, not to their future out-
comes—death and hell—as with chapters two and four, but to the
people themselves, the vast multitude of ‘adversaries and wicked men
[adversariorum et malorum hominum].’ Having twice already pointed out
to readers (especially Frederick) that leaders often experience greater
‘evils,’ Luther’s argument here about one’s enemies has a powerful irony
to it, in that he aims to persuade his readers to feel pity (compatiamur)
for those enemies. With little introduction he embarks on a four-step
strategy, then summarizes: (A) Many enemies are out there, but they are
hindered by God from seriously harming us; (B) Their evil sufferings
are worse than ours, and that should elicit our pity; (C) Taking Christ’s
examples, we should pray for our enemies; (D) The evils of the wicked
are terrible; (E) Summary. Luther quotes one Scripture each for steps B
and C, two in step D, and in the summary he alludes to three others.
There is no dialogue and only one small anaphora; the primary stylistic
tactics are doublets and triplets. Nearly all the argumentation, except
for use of scriptural material, is in first person plural.
Luther’s concluding summary is signaled (Breviter) and provides
not only clear conclusions as to what to believe about, how to feel
about, and how to act in regards to the wicked but also supplies three
biblical authorities (Moses, Paul, Christ)—with allusions to their scrip-
tural sources—as examples.34 He does all this through parallel verbs,
anaphora, doublets, and two triplets. All the evils of the wicked (mala
malorum omnia)—numerous and both physical and spiritual, when viewed
(videret) rightly (digno affectu)—will make a man forget (oblivisceretur) his own
evil, and it will even seem (videretur) like one is not suffering at all.

F. The Sixth Image: The Favorable Evil [malum dextrum]35 on Our Right
[dextram] Hand
This chapter (LW 42:137–140; WA 6:115–117) is the longest of the
seven chapters of evils, and with good reason, for here Luther tackles
directly the cult of the saints. While he used saints (sancti) only once

Exod. 32:32 and Rom. 9:3.
LW 42:137 does not translate the adjective dextrum.
luther’s “fourteen consolations” (1519) 19

each in chapters two and five, in his attempt here to distinguish (from
superstition) their proper role, Luther uses the term eleven times.36 He
draws a powerful example of undeserved suffering and death from one
saint ( John the Baptist), to argue that, from this example Christians
can learn a willingness to suffer. Accordingly, there is no mention of
special assistance for avoiding or relieving suffering; nothing is said
about Mary or patron saints and their intercession. At the same time,
however, one can still find traces of merit theology here. Luther’s
organizational plan is as follows: (A) Thesis: The Proper Function
of the Cult of the Saints; (B) The Improper Function of the Cult of
the Saints; (C) Scriptural Teaching Supporting the Proper Use of the
Cult of the Saints; (D) Specific Saints’ Suffering Testified in Scripture;
(E) Prolepsis: About Suffering for Sin; and (F) Conclusion.
Luther begins (A) by identifying the ‘favorable’ evil on the right hand
as that of our friends (amici nostri), which he says makes our own evil
lighter (mitigari) and is taught in 1 Peter 5:9, which he then quotes.37 In
his claim that the church’s prayers petition (orat) and urge ( provocati) us,
by the example of the saints, to imitate (imitemur) the virtue of their suf-
ferings, it is clear that by ‘saints’ Luther is using the term in its orthodox
sense of those Christians who have died, for he distinguishes ‘saints’ from
‘the church.’ In attaining the martyr’s palm, these who were already
saints—according to New Testament usage38—have something special
to offer those still living here below, according to an antiphon in the
Roman breviary that Luther quotes. So the sufferings and torments of
martyrs offer example and encouragement (WA 6:115.20–29).
In what I call step B, The Improper Function of the Cult of the
Saints (WA 6:115.29–31), Luther provides a bit of commentary on the
‘superstition’ he has just mentioned. He observes that many manage
to miss the evil that the ‘example and memory [exemplo et memoria]’
of the saints teach us should be borne ( ferendum docent): “They thus

In the Letter of Dedication Luther refers to the ‘fourteen saints’ [quatuordecim
Divorum], who he says were invented by superstition and which he is replacing with
these tessaradecados (WA 6:106.8).
“Resist the devil in firm faith [Resistite diabolo fortes in fide], knowing that the same
sufferings [easdem passiones] are inflicted [ fieri ] on your brethren [ fraternitati ] in the
The vast majority of usages of ‘saints’ [sancti, ἅγιοι] in the New Testament,
especially by Paul, refers to the living Christians of the church on earth. Of the 60
NT usages, 40 are Pauline, 5 are in Gospels-Acts, 17 are in Hebrews-Revelation. In
Matt. 27:52 the author qualifies ‘saints’ by the addition of the phrase ‘who had fallen
asleep’; in Rev. 17:6 ‘saints’ and ‘martyrs’ are separately named.
20 chapter one

become unlike those whose feasts they celebrate to become like them
[ ferant fiantque dissimiles eis, quorum festa habent ut similes fierent].” This
warning should be sobering—yet hopefully not off-putting—to those,
like Frederick, who invest such belief, time, energy, and money in the
cult and its relics (in 1493 he made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land,
and by 1520 his collection was one of the most well known in the
Holy Roman Empire, numbering 19,013 items).39 Therein, Luther
has argued that one ought look to the saints in order to embrace, not
avoid, one’s suffering.
The next two steps (C and D) both offer biblical evidence of the
role of suffering as chastisement (disciplina). That Luther has turned to
Scripture rather than tradition is a fundamental component of his argu-
ment. Step C (WA 6:115.32–116.19) begins with a lengthy quotation
from Hebrews 12 [:4–11]. We cannot escape the fact that Luther’s text
contains such an assortment of disciplinary terms and that it contrasts
temporary pain with enduring reward; the antithetical doublet ‘not for
our pleasure but to our sorrow’ captures the contrast.40 We can also see
that Luther has skipped v. 7a and v. 10; in the latter omission he has
streamlined the direct comparison between our fathers in the flesh ( patres
quidem carnis nostrae) and the Father of spirits ( patri spiritum), a comparison
of multo magis—‘even more,’ or better, ‘how much more’—the kind of
comparison the Hebrew exegetes call ‘qal wachomer.’41
Luther’s fourth (D) step (WA 6:116.19–117.5) turns to specific exam-
ples of deceased saints suffering, the chief of which is blessed John the
Baptist (B. Iohannes Baptista). To add authority to his own argument about
one of the chief saints, John the Baptist, Luther quotes Jeremiah 49:12
exactly, where the Lord is making the qal wachomer argument, which
He does chiastically.42 Then, with much detail, Luther elaborates upon

OER, s.v. “Frederick III of Saxony,” by Ingetraut Ludolphy; s.v. “Saints: Saint-
hood,” by Franz Courth, who counts Frederick’s collection as one of the most famous.
Martin Brecht, Martin Luther, 1:117, says that the relic collection in Halle was twenty
times larger than Frederick’s.
Luther’s syntax, forming the antithetical doublet, follows GNT but not Vulgate.
Verse 6 also presents a series of verbs, whose relationship is chiastic: [a] loves (diligit),
[b] chastens (castigat): [b1] scourges ( flagellat), [a1] receives (recipit).
The first exegetical rule of Rabbi Hillel (light to heavy), πόσῳ μᾶλλον in Greek,
translated ‘how much more’ by KJV and RSV in Matt. 7:11; 10:25; Luke 11:13; 12:24,
28; Rom. 11:12, 24; Heb. 9:14; cf. Richard N. Longenecker, Biblical Exegesis in the Apostolic
Period (Grand Rapids, 1975), 68f. Hillel flourished in the 1st Century C.E.
“Look . . . if those whose judgment was (a) not to drink the cup [non erat iuidicum, ut
biberent calcem] did (b) drink it [bibentes bibent], will you then (c) be free to go unpunished
luther’s “fourteen consolations” (1519) 21

aspects of John s character and his death; the purpose is to show how
undeserving John was of such suffering and that this example puts to
shame any tendency to find merit in our own suffering.43
Step E (WA 6:117.6–17) is a prolepsis that reckons with the potential
objection that some suffering Christians endure is deserved punishment
for their sins. Indeed, we observed that Luther has just acknowledged
both the Lord’s chastening (disciplina domini) and the persecutions of
the devil, the latter of which we understand him to mean especially
in the context and example of John the Baptist, whose sufferings evoke
the superlative gravissimas are undeserved, and distinct from the former.
But, when in the midst of suffering, one cannot always be so confident
of the type of suffering she is experiencing. However, Luther argues
here that identifying which type of suffering one experiences is not
important; what matters is that one bears the suffering patiently and
that one confess one’s sins. To advance this argument, Luther articulates
the objection with invented dialogue, stating the comparison with the
suffering of the saints that bothers our objector: I am a sinner [peccator
sum] and do not deserve [dignus] to be compared with them. They suf-
fered for their innocence [innocentia sua], but I suffer for my sins. As he
begins to argue his rebuttal, Luther makes use of rhetorical questions
with his responses containing biblical examples, and doublets; hence,
anthypophora. Both examples are extreme and thus drive the objector
to reconsider; thus, Luther’s response to the question is concise: You are
not (Non es) a sinner like them if you have patience (si patiens fueris).
Luther’s conclusion (WA 6:117.17–25) to the chapter begins with a
concluding argument of the prolepsis, an explanation of how suffer-
ing pro peccatis can cleanse. All that remains now is to summarize and
conclude the entire chapter, showing how the suffering of the saints is
a consolation, not a condemnation. Here he uses saints three times in a
progression of benefits, capping them off with asyndeton, a series lack-
ing conjunctions, and anaphora; together they assist one in unleashing
a list that gives readers a stronger impression of a singular idea with
several facets (WA 6:117.23–25). Thus Luther has ended on a strong

[et tu innocens relinqueris]? (c) You shall not go unpunished, but (b) shall surely drink of
it [non relinqueris innocens, sed bibens bibes].”
The commemoration of John’s beheading (29 August) was being observed (recor-
damur) on the day Luther was writing this section, so a rhetorical question expecting
an affirmative answer (Nam . . . nonne) is quite appropriate for suggesting that his death
should “shame and amaze us all [none stupore nos omnes confundit].”
22 chapter one

note about the unifying and exemplary role of properly imitating the
suffering of the saints. Further, in the apparatus criticus of WA 6:117
we can observe Luther’s attempt in 1535–36 to fix some of this merit
theology by inserting faith at important places in the text.

G. The Seventh Image: The Supernal Evil, or the Evil Above Us [supra nos]
In this chapter (LW 42:141–144; WA 6:117–119) Luther turns to Christ
as the sole epitome of suffering, and thus of healing through suffer-
ing.44 He returns, in the opening section, to the Wisdom literature for
authoritative texts and allusions. The style of this chapter is elevated
from all previous ones, for in his execution of qal wachomer strategy
Luther incorporates ubiquitous doublets and larger series, anaphora,
rhetorical questions and anthypophora, and several superlatives. The
plan of the chapter is: (A) Introduction and Thesis (WA 6:117.28–35):
Christ alone is the supreme example of suffering and the source of
consolation; (B) Scripture teaches Christ’s sweetening passion (WA
6:117.35–118.7); (C) His passion sweetens by having transformed all
suffering into joy (WA 6:118.8–26); (D) The paradoxical reality of
Christ’s victory is analogous to Moses’ bronze serpent (WA 6:26–37);
(E) Application and Exhortation (WA 6:118.38–119.6): Christ’s superior
transforming power is greater than the relics and thus banishes them;
(F) The Challenge (WA 6:119.13–16): To keep Christ’s passion before
us; (G) Summary of the seventh, and of all, evils; preview of part 2,
the seven blessings (WA 6:119.17–32).
In (A) the Introduction and Thesis (WA 6:117.28–35), Luther incor-
porates language from five different Old Testament texts, three of which
come from Song of Solomon (Canticles). Using the imagery of bride
and lamb, he blends much alliteration and repetition as he applies
doublets and a series to argue that Jesus is the goal of all contemplation
for consolation in suffering. In order to accomplish this, Luther must
establish the superiority of Jesus, whose beauty and majesty even reflects
upon his bride. This seventh chapter indeed is the capstone—seven
representing completion in Scripture—for Luther begins with ‘Finally

Joseph Bayly comments on the well-known text in James 5:15 (“and the prayer
of faith will save the sick man”). Speaking of a friend, Bayly adds that his friend, who
did not recover from cancer, nevertheless believes his prayer was answered: “I prayed
for healing, and God healed me. He didn’t heal my body, but He healed my mind and
my spirit. He healed me of fear, of resentment, of bitterness, of worry for my family.
This is God’s answer to my prayer”; The Last Thing We Talk About, 87.
luther’s “fourteen consolations” (1519) 23

[Ultimo],’ a superlative that can mean not only ‘last,’ but also ‘ultimate.’45
Having thus attempted to weave a chain of key signs of royalty and
supremacy—the most unique sign being the epithet, the ‘blood of the
lamb’—Luther has set the groundwork for identifying Christ as the
royal lamb, the bridegroom to whom the bride is sealed—subservient,
yet wedded—the superb, sweetening substance that nullifies the worst
suffering. Luther will now expand this material.
Luther’s task in the second (B) step (WA 6:117.35–118.7) of this
chapter is to establish the consoling power of the bridegroom. To
do so, he returns to his most basic tools for describing an entity of
uniqueness—superlatives, doublets, and a quadruplet series—supply-
ing to these forms lavish images from an allegorical interpretation of
Song of Sol. 5:13b. A new argumentative feature Luther uses here is a
form of clarification by negation—that is, expanding a claim by then
denying a putative exception.
In the third (C) step (WA 6:118.8–26) of this chapter, Luther attempts
to explain how Christ’s sweetening power works. He uses an abundance
of doublets and series, anaphora, and one New Testament text in this
argument. He employs anthypophora, some use of the second person
singular for intimacy or confrontation, and a new tactic—oxymoronic
terms. Moreover, Luther has not exhausted his attempt to amplify the
capacity of Christ and to exhort his readers to apply it to themselves.
Notice the emphasis, through repetition, on the terms all and every as
Luther enumerates the manner in which, and extent to which, Christ
has made available his power; he makes, once again, the qal wachomer
argument: For if Christ by the touch (Si enim tactu) of his most innocent
flesh (suae mundissimae carnis) has hallowed “all waters [omnes aquas], yes,
even all creation [immo omnem creaturam]” through baptism, “how much
more has he by the same touch [quanto magis tactu]” of his most innocent
flesh and blood (mundissimae carnis et sanguinis) sanctified “every form of
death [omnem mortem], all suffering [omnes passiones], all loss [omnes iniurias],
every curse [omnia maledicta], every shame [omnem ignominiam]” for the
baptism of the Spirit or the baptism of blood (WA 6:118.16–20).

See George Tavard, “Luther’s Teaching on Prayer,” LTSB 67 (winter 1987): 3–22,
here at 8, for comments on the use of a golden number in constructing meditative
writings: Such models were often featured in medieval sermons. They were all the more
effective aids to meditation as they were commonly seen in the gothic architecture and
ornamentation of churches, in which everything fell into place, in uneven symmetry,
around a golden number.
24 chapter one

In Luther’s fourth (D) step (WA 6:118.25–37) of this chapter, he

introduces the bronze serpent of Moses (Num. 21:8f.), which, at God’s
order, was built to allow the Israelites to gaze upon—and thereby survive
the otherwise fatal bites of—the fiery serpents God had sent as punish-
ment for Israel’s speaking against Him and Moses. Using the analogy
of the bronze serpent, Luther shifts his style, dropping the heavy use
of doublets and resorting to other devices for stressing the appear-
ance/reality pair. For if death and suffering really are blessings for the
Christian, readers need instructive tactics for appreciating them. The
bronze serpent and Luther’s assortment of expressions distinguishing
between the real and the apparent provides the rationale, while three
other Scriptures (Wisd. of Sol. 3; John 8; Ps. 139:12b [= 138:12b Vul-
gate]) provide the authority.
In step E (WA 6:118.38–119.16) Luther makes an application of the
truth that Christ’s power is superior to suffering and death, transforming
them into victory and life. He exhorts his reader to transfer one’s attach-
ment to relics over to the sufferings of this life and their concomitant
transforming power in Christ. The exhortation, however, is not strongly
explicit—although it is all in second person singular—for no overt
instructions or commands are given. The persuasive power is rather in
the compelling nature of the comparison, with Luther’s abundant use
of series for making comparisons (including superlative language) that
serve the qal wachomer strategy. With a rhetorical question designed to
force deep contemplation, even shame, Luther addresses his readers’
tendencies (‘If you [Proinde si ]’)46 to revere relics—Frederick being a
master relic collector—by first naming the objects (type of relic) and
then specifying their actions toward them. Next he argues that they
should even more apply these actions to the sufferings of this world.
Thus, in Luther’s German syntax four sets of lists form an antithetical
chiasmus—[a] inferior objects, identified according to association with
Christ, [b] improper actions toward those objects: [b1] proper objects,
[a1] superior actions):
If you kiss, caress, embrace [exoscularis, diligis, amplecteris] as sweetest relics
the robe of Christ, the vessels, water jugs, and anything Christ [tunicam
Christi, vasa, hydrias et quaecunque tandem Christus] touched or used or hallowed
by his touch [tetiget et quibus usus . . . tanquam suo tactu consecratis] [dulcissimus

Better translated, ‘Just as if . . .’; the presumption is that readers do revere the
luther’s “fourteen consolations” (1519) 25

reliquiis], why will you not much more rather [Cur non multo magis] love,
embrace, kiss [diligis, amplecteris, oscularis] the pain, evils of this world, the
disgrace and death47 [poenas, mala mundi, ignominiam et mortem] which He
not only [non solum] hallowed by his touch [tactu consecrata] but also [sed
etiam] sprinkled and blessed [tincta et benedicta] with his most holy [puris-
simo] blood, yes, even embraced [amplexata] with a willing heart and a
supreme constraining love [voluntate cordis et summa coartante charitate]? (WA
In the sixth (F) step of the chapter Luther breaks off suddenly in a
display of emotion as he continues this implicit exhortation—a type of
modeling before his reader of the kind of feeling and action one ought
to have in keeping Christ’s passion ever before him, especially when one
is suffering. Luther uses abundant doublets. Finally (G), Luther sum-
marizes this seventh evil and all the preceding ones, mildly exhorting
his reader—in the subjunctive—to heed the lessons, especially of this
final evil, whose power derives from the suffering Christ. Using many
doublets and one quadruplet series, Luther does all this in first person
plural. The key to application, he argues, is to have learned from the
preceding images, ‘those beneath and near us [infra et iuxta],’ and to
bear evils with patience.
Prior to beginning the second part of the book (seven blessings),
Luther provides a succinct preview, of which I summarize as follows:
The second part also contains seven images, opposite to the seven in
the first part. First is the internal blessing; second is the future blessing;
third is the past; fourth, the infernal; fifth, the left hand; sixth, the right
hand; seventh, the supernal.

H. The First Image: The Blessing Within [bonum internum]

In analyzing the First Blessing, I must consider the possibility that
Luther’s inventio—the discovery of arguments and appeals—reaches not
only into Scripture but also draws from classical sources of consolation.
This is pertinent in part because Luther turns to pagan evidence but
especially due to the very nature of that evidence. On first glance, it
appears that Luther’s arguments resemble the stock Epicurean topics
of avocatio (turning one’s mind away from what is painful) and revocatio
(dwelling upon what is pleasant). Cicero discusses these topics in book

LW 42:142 wrongly translates the doublet ignominiam et mortem as ‘disgrace and
26 chapter one

3 of the Tusculan Disputations (3.13.28–22.52).48 We shall note Luther’s

use of pagan proverbs, and when concluding our analysis of the docu-
ment we shall assess to what extent Luther may be following classical
In this chapter (LW 42:144–147; WA 6:119–122) Luther explores the
blessings one has within his own self, and then he argues that all these
far exceed the suffering one occasionally endures. He takes inventory of
gifts material and spiritual, physical and intellectual, while for the most
part considering only the individual believer; family and other external
blessings are only briefly mentioned.49 This chapter is longer than any
of those on the evils, and it is second longest of this part on blessings;
in both parts, the second chapter (future evils and future blessings) is
the longest. Luther turns to a vast array of Scripture for authority, but
he first cites several cultural proverbs. The organization of the chapter
is as follows: (A) Introduction (WA 6:119.34–120.6): physical blessings
far outweigh a few short evils; (B) Material abundance and influence
far outweigh small evils (WA 6.120.7–14); (C) Blessings of character and
intellect are properly distributed by God (WA 6:120.15–18); (D) All these
blessings are more enjoyable when commingled with occasional troubles
(WA 6:120.19–32); (E) Exhortation (WA 6:120.33–121.23): God’s word
teaches us to praise Him for these blessings; (F) The Christian has an
even greater blessing (WA 6:121.24–32): Faith in Christ; (G) Prolepsis:
We are not able to comprehend the fullness of these blessings (WA
In introducing this (A) chapter (WA 6:119.34–120.6) Luther pro-
ceeds by anthypophora. He begins with a question and ends with an
affirmation; both questions and responses are loaded with language
that denotes: (1) gifts of abundance; (2) slight experiences of trouble.
Luther is writing with Frederick in mind, and he makes clear that he
is addressing male readers, for these bodily gifts thus enable men (in
masculo), who are superior (nobilissimus sexus), in many things, ‘both in
private and public life [tum privates tum publicis],’ as well as other things
that are excluded (aliena) to a woman. He is then able to quote two
German proverbs (‘a saying current among scoundrels [Nebulones prover-
bio]’) that capture this observation: “It is merely a matter of one bad

Paul A. Holloway, “Bona Cogitare: An Epicurean Consolation in Phil 4:8–9,” HTR
91 (1998): 89–96.
Frederick was unmarried, yet he had three children by his mistress Anna Weller
of Molsdorf; cf. Brecht, Martin Luther, 1:111.
luther’s “fourteen consolations” (1519) 27

hour” and “One good hour makes up for a bad one.”50 With more
anthypophora, Luther then concludes his introductory thesis on the
comparative abundance of God’s goodness.
In step B (WA 6:120.7–14) of this chapter Luther pursues a form
of qal wachomer strategy, building upon what he has established in the
introduction; he will build upon it even more in step C. He has tried
to emphasize how brief and slight are one’s struggles, when set against
all the gifts of God. He even offers an admonition to his wealthier
readers—of which his fellow bachelor Frederick certainly was one
(and Luther was not)—with the rationale that it is not as comforting
to have “great wealth as [it is to have] a cheerful mind [multae divitiae
quam iucundus animus]”; however, in his sovereign plan God provides
both. In step C (WA 6:120.15–18) of this chapter Luther continues his
grammar of values, arguing that character, what he calls the blessings
of the mind (Animi bona; in first position), are truly more excellent than
all the preceding blessings. These include—and seem not to be ordered:
‘reason, knowledge, judgment, eloquence, prudence [ingenium, scientia,
iudicium, facundia, prudentia].’51
In step D (WA 6:120.19–31) of this chapter Luther returns to prover-
bial wisdom and doublets—he uses no Scripture—as he summarizes the
attitude he wants his readers to have toward their inventory of internal
blessings as they stack up against infrequent suffering. Accordingly, the
way he juxtaposes blessing and bitterness, one may form an impression
that Luther is advising a Stoic resignation; he even interjects a personal
reflection, which in this book is unusual. However, his recommendation
is not resignation, as is apparent from the relative imbalance of good
over bad that he has been stressing, and a couple of key statements in
this step make that clear. In the steps that follow it is overwhelmingly
plain. He reasons that all meats taste better with salt, and that every
palatable dish has a certain bitter taste (acerbiore quopiam sapore)—which
he means as a positive trait. These kinds of proverbs consolidate rea-
soning into compact wisdom.52
In step E (WA 6:120.32–121.23) of this chapter—by far the longest
step—Luther returns to Scripture as his storehouse of authority and
wisdom, as he crafts an exhortation that is more of teaching than

“Es ist umb ein bose stund zuthun”; “Ein gutt stund ist eyner posen werdt.”
LW 42:145 wrongly reverses items two and three in the list.
H. G. Haile, “Luther and Literacy,” Publications of the Modern Language Association
91 (1976): 816–828, here at 820.
28 chapter one

of urging. Using doublets and eleven quotations—all from the Old

Testament53—Luther returns to his use of anthypophora to converse
with his readers about God’s rich blessings, which can only be properly
understood and appreciated when one recognizes the value of His
chastisement. So, through numerous Scriptures, he has argued in this
step—and strongly implied that one should thank God—that God’s
blessings far outweigh the sorrows he permits, yet we must thank Him
for both and must recognize both as blessings for our good. Step F (WA
6:121.23–26) of this chapter is a very short interpretation, whereby
Luther clarifies the difference between the bodily blessings—which he
has been discussing—and Christian faith. The former, he argues, are
given to all, while the latter is superior, for a Christian has ‘other and
far better [aliis longe melioribus]’ blessings within. The superiority of this
faith is verified (dictum) for Luther in Psalm 45:13 (= 44:14 Vulgate),
which he paraphrases.54
The final (G) step (WA 6:121.26–122.6) is a type of prolepsis that
Luther uses to explain further how the Christian’s greatest internal
blessings are not always apparent. This argument likens the situation
to that of the first evil, claiming that the body’s limitations prevent
us from perceiving the full extent of what is nevertheless now within,
albeit in potentiality.

I. The Second Image: The Future Blessing [bonum futurum] Before us

[ante se]
In this chapter (LW 42:148–152; WA 6:122–124)—easily the longest55
of the book—Luther reflects upon what happens in the future, for
both Christian and nonChristian. His emphasis, of course, is on the
blessings awaiting Christians, which are, for the most part, wrapped up
not only in their future death but also in their present deadness to the
world and to sin. In this chapter Luther uses 22 Scriptures, the most
of any chapter in the entire book; twice as many come from the Old

Wisd. of Sol. 8:1; Deut. 32:10; Ps. 33:5b (= 32:5b Vulgate); Ps. 104:24b (= 103:24b
Vulgate); Hab. 3:3c; Ps. 92:4 (= 91:5 Vulgate); Isa. 6:3b; Gen. 1:31; Psalm 106:24a
(= 105:24a Vulgate); Job 2:9–10.
“The king’s daughter is all glorious within; her clothing is of wrought gold [Omnis
gloria eius filiae regis ab intus in fimbriis aureis circumdata varietate].” The syntax of this verse
suggests a chiastic form to the content, whereby the center pair (within/without [=
clothing]) is surrounded by the outer pair (all glorious/wrought gold).
At 107 lines in WA 6, this chapter is 16 lines longer than the one before it—which
is the next longest—and 23 lines longer than the longest chapter of part I.
luther’s “fourteen consolations” (1519) 29

Testament as from the New.56 The stylistic features he uses most often
are doublets, superlatives, and a couple of series. The organization
of the chapter is as follows: (A) Introduction (WA 6:122.9–18): The
nonChristian is deceived in desiring material goods and not realizing
his uncertainty before God; (B) NonChristians have a two-fold bless-
ing of realizing that evils will pass and good things will come (WA
6:122.19–26); (C) A Christian’s greatest future blessing is that death
will end all suffering—the evils of the body (WA 6:122.27–123.26);
(D) For the Christian, death ends all sin and vice—the evils of the
soul (WA 6:123.27–124.4); (E) Thus, we should love death, which God
provided for our good, as many Scriptures teach (WA 6:124.5–36); (F)
Conclusion: Exhortation to meditate on Christ’s power and grace and
how our meditation can defeat the effects of stress (WA 6:124.37–39).
In (A) Luther’s introduction (WA 6:122.9–18) to this chapter he pre-
pares his Christian reader to realize his blessings, yet—quite unusual
for this book—the entire introduction of this chapter, as well as all of
the second and well into the third step, is written in third person.57
Luther uses forms of ‘hope,’ but both uses clearly connect it with a
vain quest. Jesus’ comment in Luke 18:21 dictates the meaning to be
appropriated: “So is he who lays up treasures [thezaurisat] and is not
rich toward God” (WA 6:122.9–18). In step B (WA 6:122.19–26) of this
chapter Luther stays with the third person; in addition to two Scrip-
tures (Rom. 2:4; Isa. 46:8), he uses frequent antithetical or progressive
doublets—several of which contain intervening terms or phrases—to
argue that nonChristians, the sons of men, have not been forsaken
(reliquerit) but rather are comforted (soletur) by God. He provides them
with what Luther later calls a ‘twofold blessing’—namely, a hope (affectu)
that “evils will pass and that good things shall come.” Thus, in both of
these first two steps, Luther has tried to show God’s generosity (donum
dei) and grace in permitting all people a comforting hope that, although
anything but certain, can still lead them to a more sure hope, through
their leaning on God alone.
In C, a much longer step (WA 6:122.27–123.26) of this chapter,
Luther turns to the blessings of Christians, which exceed even those

Luke 12:18–21; Rom. 2:4; Isa. 46:8; Ps.116:15 (= 115:15 Vulgate); Ps. 4:8; Wisd.
of Sol. 4:7; Ps. 34:21 (= 33:22 Vulgate); Ps. 140:11 (= 139:12 Vulgate); Phil. 1:21; Rom.
14:8; Ps. 23:3 (= 22:4 Vulgate); Nu. 21:8f.; Wisd. of Sol. 4:10–14a; Gen. 3:19; Matt.
6:10; Ps. 30:5 (= 29:5 Vulgate); 1 Sam. 17:51.
Twice Luther uses ‘we’ in the introduction, but it is strictly editorial.
30 chapter one

blessings of all men previously discussed—for at death all suffering will

end. He engages the language of comparison—superlatives and qal
wachomer. Moreover, at the beginning he continues in the third person,
until he reaches his Scripture quotations, which are many; most of the
first few, however, are from the Old Testament (Psalms and Wisd. of
Sol.) and themselves in third person. It is not until he reaches the Pauline
quotations and Psalm 23 that Luther begins to celebrate, in first person
plural, the blessings of Christians. In step D (WA 6:123.27–124.4) of
this chapter Luther renames succinctly the first blessing of death: it puts
an end to the evils of this life’s punishments or what he also called ‘the
whole tragedy of this world’s ills’; then he turns to the other blessing of
death. Contrary to what some people today consider the two so-called
blessings of death (heaven and the end of suffering), Luther calls this
second blessing even more excellent ( praestantius), for it puts an end to
all ‘vices and sins.’58
In step E (WA 6:124.5–39) of this chapter, Luther concisely summa-
rizes how death has been defanged for the Christian. Then he develops
a lengthy argument that Christians should therefore love death, which
God provided for our good. The argument is sustained chiefly through
metaphor, doublets, scriptural allusions, quotes, and examples, the chief
of which is the story of the Fall (Gen. 3). To support this argument,
he invokes the Edenic story, placing the initiative in God’s hands: God
appointed (ordinarit) death to destroy death, in that he imposed death on
Adam immediately after his sin. He elaborates on how sin is destroyed,
“not by that of another, but by its own work [non alieno sed suo proprio
opere],” how it is stabbed (iugulatur) with its own sword, “as Goliath
is beheaded by his own sword.” Completing the allegorical exegesis,
Luther plainly applies the text of 1 Sam. 17:51 to Christ, finishing with
a progressive triplet of verbs:
Goliath also was a kind of sin [ figura fuit peccati], a giant terrifying [terribilis
gygas] to all except the young boy David, that is, to Christ [id est Christo],
who singlehandedly laid him low [qui solus eum prostravit et], beheaded him
with his own sword [absciso capite proprio illius gladio], and in 1 Samuel 21
[:9] said that there was no better sword than the sword of Goliath [iam
meliorem non esse gladium dicit quam Goliath. I. Reg. xxi.] (WA 6:124.20–36).
In F, his last step (WA 6:124.37–39) of this chapter, Luther concludes—
concisely and creatively, with a single rhetorical question, in first person

LW 42:150 erroneously reverses the last doublet.
luther’s “fourteen consolations” (1519) 31

plural—that we should meditate on “joys of the power of Christ and

the gifts of his grace.” If we thus meditate, Luther says, how can any
small evil distress (torquebit) us when in the great evil to come [i.e., death]
we see such great blessings? As written by Luther, and as translated by
Martin Bertram, the sentence forms a chiasmus of comparison: (a) joys
and gifts; (b) small evil: (b1) great evil; (a1) great blessings.59 Therefore,
in this chapter, especially with the fourth step, Luther has anticipated
the substance of John Donne’s Death Be Not Proud, particularly its final
line: “Death, thou shalt die.”

J. The Third Image: The Past Blessing [bonum praeteritum] Behind Us

[ post se]
This chapter (LW 42:152–155; WA 6:125f.) is a contrast (contrario) to
its corresponding chapter, the evil of the past ( praeterito malo). Luther
claims that consideration of this image should be easy, but that he will
help (iuvemus)60 with the consideration. Indeed, help he does, for not
only does he advance many of the same type of arguments—namely,
look at all God has done for us, especially as seen in our weakest state:
birth and infancy. But in exploring God’s blessings in one’s past, Luther
goes farther in his appeals to guilt and shame than he did in the cor-
responding chapter on all of God’s previous protections from dangers.
He uses approximately a dozen Scripture texts, two-thirds from the Old
Testament, especially the Psalms. As he did with the past evils, Luther
cites Augustine’s Confessions and also his Commentary on the Psalms.
The chapter is organized in the following way: (A) Introduction/The-
sis (WA 6:125.3–13): All our blessings, as we reflect on our past, were
ordered by God for our good; (B) Our experience teaches us that God
continues to care for us, so why don’t we trust him to do that? (WA
6:125.14–31); (C) When we doubt God’s providence, Scripture and
our own reason correct us (WA 6:125.32–126.28); (D) Prolepsis (WA
6:126.28–37): Failure to trust in and depend on God will create misery;
(E) Conclusion (WA 6:126.37–40).

The final phrase (magna bona videmus) makes clear that—contrary to LW 42:152,
which translates magna bona as a singular—Luther had both blessings in view here:
(2) alterum, the end of sin and (1) primum, the end of suffering and the rectifying of
wrong. Steinhaeuser (PE 1:151) correctly translates the term as plural, though his
translation of the entire last sentence disrupts Luther’s chiasmus.
Luther uses the first person plural (iuvemus) here editorially.
32 chapter one

In introducing this chapter (A), Luther turns immediately to ‘Blessed

Augustine,’ praising him as an excellent master (eximius est artifex) who,
in the Confessions (1.6) speaks so beautifully ( pulcherrime recitat) about
God’s provision in infancy (ab utero matris suae). However, Luther’s praise
is not toward Augustine per se but for God—the benefits of God and
the goodness of God—for he spends much more time paraphrasing
(and citing) Psalm 139 (= 138:1ff. Vulgate) and commenting on the text
through his own interpretative dialogue. In step B (WA 6:125.14–31)
of this chapter, Luther uses three Scriptures (Wisd. of Sol. 7:16; 1 Cor.
12:6; Ps. 40:17a [= 39:17a Vulgate]) and Augustine’s commentary on
Psalm 40 to argue that our own experience teaches us that we have
been under God’s providential care in the past, and that this is for our
good. Luther is not lauding the trustworthiness of experience so much
as our solidarity with Augustine—that his experience is also ours. With
strong language—containing rhetorical questions and doublets—Luther
admonishes his reader to feel shame for not realizing God’s care and
not trusting him during difficult times.
Luther’s step C (WA 6:125.32–126.27) in this chapter is to build a
scriptural case for showing how faulty human ‘wisdom and judgment’
really are. He says those faculties blind (obstant) us to God’s providence,
wherein, by chance, frequent circumstances develop (evenerint) in accor-
dance with our plans. Luther uses a flurry of doublets to heap more
shame and guilt, as he prepares his reader for more Scripture, this time
from 1 Peter. He seems to be pitting Scripture against failed human
reason, in order to show the superiority of the latter, when looked at
humbly and responsibly. The argument is still the same: that one should
depend on God for everything (= claim/conclusion of policy), because
God cares—past, present, future—for us (= datum/minor premise),
given that whomever God cares for is well cared for, and we desire to
be well cared for (= implicit motivational warrant/major premise).
In step D (WA 6:126.28–37) of this chapter, Luther launches a pro-
lepsis that does not test—in the sense of object to—his argument, as
much as it presents outcomes and consequences of failing to heed his
argument—that is, failing to depend fully on God. Luther describes a
scenario that would presumably be objectionable to his reader, for the
reader is not recalcitrant but cautious—that is, wanting to depend on
God, but finding it difficult. Luther then invokes the entire book of
Ecclesiastes for its treatment (loquitur) of his subject, arguing that its
author himself experienced the life of trying out (tentaverit) many things,
only to discover (invenerit) them all to be only ‘toil, vanity, and afflic-
luther’s “fourteen consolations” (1519) 33

tion of the spirit.’ Luther concludes (E) this chapter (WA 6:126.37–40)
very succinctly with a rich expression: Therefore, “we ought to have
no other care for ourselves” than this—namely, we should not care for
ourselves or rob God of his care for us. Then, for further contemplation
he—again (ut dixi)—refers his reader back to the corresponding image
(spectro contrario) of evil—part one, chapter three—and he still recom-
mends introspection into one’s past life (recordatione totius vitae praeteritae).
For Luther has been implying that one’s judgment is clouded in the
present; but in later reflection on the past, especially when viewing life
through scriptural lenses, one more readily sees God’s providential care
and the futility of our own fussing.

K. The Fourth Image: The Infernal Blessing [bonum infernum]

Beneath Us [infra nos]
In this chapter (LW 42:155–157; WA 6:127f.) Luther argues that what
God is doing with the dead and damned offers a strange but power-
ful blessing, when one considers His justice and mercy toward them
and us. In broadening the scope of one’s affliction, Luther opens the
consideration of the unrighteous and the role they, and their outcome,
play for the righteous. As the chapter closes Luther twice mentions
the ‘saints,’ once speaking of their goodness and the other of their
injuries. He uses several Scriptures, all from the Old Testament, and
one sententia from Gregory the Great (540, 590–604). In this rather
sobering examination of God’s punishment of the wicked, one finds
Luther concluding this chapter with a strategy he seldom uses in this
book: extended exhortation in the second person singular; he seems
to be offering Frederick a lesson in humility and gratitude. Normally
in this work, Luther exhorts in the first person plural, and he does so
without heavy-handed confrontation or forceful urging. Perhaps here
he seeks to incorporate a greater measure of the admonitory to blend
well with the comforting.61 The chapter is organized as follows: (A)
Recapitulation of blessings already—and yet to be—considered and

An instructive text in Scripture is Acts 9:31, which summarizes the effect upon
the early church that resulted from, among other things, the early activities of the
newly converted Saul of Tarsus. It shows a healthy blend of fear and comfort, as
though they are complementary, not antithetical: “So the church throughout all Judea
and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was built up [aedificabatur]; and walking in
the fear [timore] of the Lord and in the comfort [consolatione] of the Holy Spirit it was
multiplied [replebatur].”
34 chapter one

Thesis for this (infernal ) blessing (WA 6:127.3–7); (B) A comparison

of our lot to that of the damned should cause us to rejoice and be
instructed (WA 6:127.7–31); (C) A comparison of what the damned
receive to what they justly deserve motivates us to celebrate God’s judg-
ment (WA 6:127.32–128.17); (D) Concluding exhortation: Rejoice at
God’s righteous punishment of our enemies, both without and within
(WA 6:128.17–29). In our closer scrutiny below, we will not examine
every step.
In step B (WA 6:127.7–31) of this chapter Luther explains how a
comparison of our lot with that of the damned should bring grati-
tude and sober warning. The language of comparison, invoking qal
wachomer reasoning, includes superlatives, doublets, triplets, chiasmus, an
extended Scripture quotation, a pithy sententia from Gregory, and—
in the recapitulation and first half of this step—a high frequency of
seeing terms, seven of them in the first 13 lines of this chapter. In step
C (WA 6:127.32–128.17) of this chapter Luther attempts to bolster
the case for how God’s judgment of sinners becomes a blessing—and
hence, also a subject for thanksgiving and praise—for his Christian
reader. Luther does not speak in such a way as to signal this section
as prolepsis, but it does serve that function somewhat. The argument
compares the treatment described in Isa. 65 with Luther’s attributions
of God’s character. He uses repetition of terms for justice, righteous-
ness, mercy, etc., several doublets, a triplet, superlatives, chiasmus, and
turns to more Scriptures (Ps. 58:10 [= 57:11 Vulgate]; 1 Sam. 16:1;
2 Sam. 19:6). Luther’s last (D) step (WA 6:128.18–29) in this chapter is
a concluding exhortation in second person singular; 23 times in 12 lines
‘you’ is found, either as pronoun or as included in the verb form.62 Here
he continues what he had begun earlier in first plural—the invocation
to rejoice at God’s justice for all, and to guard against resisting it—by
using numerous doublets, rhetorical question, antithesis, superlatives,
and a quotation of 2 Sam. 19:6 a second time. In his final sentence
Luther returns to the inclusive first person plural.

Five expressions that signal conclusion-drawing are present in these lines: ‘Thus
you see’ [Atque ita vides]; ‘What wonder, therefore’ [Quid ergo mirum]; ‘Therefore, you
should be rejoicing’ [immo gaudendum tibi ]; ‘Therefore . . . you ought’ [Sicut ergo . . . debes];
‘Thus you see’ [Vides itaque].
luther’s “fourteen consolations” (1519) 35

L. The Fifth Image: The Adverse Blessing on Our Left Hand

[bonum sinistrum seu ad sinistram]
In this chapter (LW 42:157–160; WA 6:128–130), Luther completes
his discussion of his reader’s adversarii, having already covered—in the
previous chapter—those who are “already damned and given over to
the devils.” His present subject is those adversaries still living, and in
them Luther offers a twofold blessing,63 if his reader will consider his
living adversaries with other feelings (alio affectu intueri ). By that, we
presume he means other than with negative feelings only. While this
chapter is virtually equal in length to the previous one, here Luther will
use double the number of Scriptures; they come in equal proportions
from both testaments. The argument is chiefly one of qal wachomer and,
after the initial introductory sentences that I have already explained, its
structure is simple: (A) The First Blessing (WA 6:128.34–129.19): The
abundance of our adversaries helps us see our greater blessings; (B) The
Second Blessing (WA 6:129.20–37): Trials make us stronger; (C) Persecu-
tion is strong, but it too turns into our blessing (WA 6:129.37–130.14);
(D) Conclusion: God works all things for our good (WA 6:130.15–23).
The First Blessing (A) begins not simply with the obvious observation
that the ungodly abound in temporal goods. Rather, Luther takes his
remark to its natural telos: even the prophets are almost envious ( prope
commoti sint ad invidiam). We note here that—unlike his typical strategy
of announcing the blessing or evil fully in advance—Luther lures his
reader into agreement with the problem, with little hint of its solution;
hence, the argument here is somewhat inductive. That is, without rhe-
torical question or anthypophora, Luther delays revealing the blessing
until later. In step B (WA 6:129.20–130.15) Luther takes up the second
blessing, which he says is even more marvelous (multo mirabilius). This
blessing is but an extension of the first, wherein the prior step begins
where the reader—or anyone, including ‘the prophets’—presently
remains: namely, that in the prosperity of his enemies and in their
escaping of trials one does not recognize his own blessings, but that
is what God is doing, nonetheless. Here Luther takes his examination
farther and deeper, no longer exploring others’ blessings but our trials,

The twofold blessing actually turns into threefold, although Luther does not make
this very clear, for midway through the second blessings he turns from the temptations
and trials of the world to its persecution.
36 chapter one

which often originate with our enemies, arguing that—in the providence
of God (deo sic nos curante)—trials make us strong.
At WA 6:129.38, Luther makes a third step (C), which takes up
another side of the world’s evils, namely adversitas, by which he means
persecution. Here he spends the first half of his time describing the
ferocity of persecution and the second half focusing on how it is turned
into blessing. He supplies two historical examples, the first being Blessed
Augustine’s comment on the innocents murdered by Herod (Matt.
2:16–18), to the effect that Herod accomplished more good with his
hatred (odio) than with his favor (obsequio). The second example is Blessed
Agatha,64 who Luther says commented to her captors, ‘pleading in this
manner.’ Her remarks (quoted below) epitomize the claim that persecu-
tion can result in great blessing, provided one recognizes and cooperates
with this fact. To the religious conservative Frederick, the dialogue that
Luther puts into Agatha’s mouth should be very meaningful:
Unless you cause my body [corpus] to be broken [contrectari] by your execu-
tioners [carnificibus], my soul [anima] will not be able to enter paradise
bearing the Victor’s palm, even as a grain of wheat, unless it is stripped
of its husk and harshly beaten on the threshing floor and is gathered into
the barn [non reponitur in horreum] (WA 6:130.10–14).65

Reportedly martyred during the persecution under Decius (250–253); the feast
day is February 5.
These remarks are likely from the account of St. Agatha in Jacobus de Voragine,
The Golden Legend: Readings on the Saints, 2 vols., trans. William Granger Ryan (Princeton,
1993), 1:155: “And Agatha said: ‘These pains are my delight! It’s as if I were hearing
some good news, or seeing someone I had long wished to see, or had found a great
treasure. The wheat cannot be stored in the barn unless it has been thoroughly threshed
and separated from the chaff: so my soul cannot enter paradise . . . unless you make
the headsmen give my body harsh treatment’ ” [dixitque Agatha: ego in his poenis ita
delector, sicut qui bonum nuntium audit aut qui videt, quem diu desideravit, aut qui
multos thesaurus invenit. Non enim potest triticum in horreum poni, nisi thcca fuerit
fortiter conculcata et in paleis redacta. Sic anima mea non potest intrare in paradisum
cum palma martirii, nisi diligenter feceris corpus meum a carnificibus attrectari]. I have
placed an ellipsis to indicate a phrase (‘with the martyr’s palm’ [cum palma martirii])
omitted by Ryan’s translation but included in The Golden Legend of Jacobus de Voragine,
trans. William Granger Ryan and Helmut Ripperger (New York, 1941; reprint ed., New
York, 1969), 159, and in the critical edition, from which I have quoted above: Jacobi
a Voragine, Legenda Aurea: Vulgateo Historia Lombardica Dicta, 3rd. ed., ed. Th. Graesse
(Leipzig, 1890; reprint, Melle, 2003), 171. For background on this important medieval
work, see Sherry L. Reames, The Legenda aurea: A Reexamination of Its Paradoxical His-
tory (Madison, 1985). The Legenda was compiled by the Dominican friar Jacobus de
Voragine (ca. 1229–1298). It was a bestseller in many languages throughout England
and the Continent, until its publication came to a virtual stop in 1613. Ryan (1:xiii) says
some one thousand manuscripts have survived, and he reports that “it has been said
that in the late Middle Ages the only book more widely read was the Bible.” Legenda
luther’s “fourteen consolations” (1519) 37

The final (D) step (WA 6:130.15–23) of the chapter is Luther’s conclu-
sion, where he argues that additional evidence is unnecessary: Why
waste words (modica loquimur), he says, when we see that members of
the following triplet all agree: (1) All of Scripture; (2) The writings and
statements of all the fathers; (3) The lives and deeds of all the saints.
Judging by what Luther has been practicing in this book, we must say
that the triplet of witnesses is in descending order of authority.

M. The Sixth Image: Favorable Blessings on Our Right Hand

[ bonum dextrum seu ad dextram]
In this chapter (LW 42:160–163; WA 6:130–132) Luther engages the
topic of this chapter’s correlative—part one, chapter six, the evil on our
right hand—where he addressed the cult of the saints—almost exclu-
sively their suffering—and argued against a superstitious attachment
to them and their relics. However, here the blessing on the right hand
is the church of the saints (Ecclesia sanctorum), for the two are brought
together powerfully. So, in an important sense, this is another look at
the saints (the term in the plural appears nine times), often in connec-
tion with the church—but a look more at the blessings they enjoy, and
in which we can share, than at their sufferings, which was the focus in
part one. Here, when Luther speaks of the saints’ suffering, he stresses
its mutuality with—and benefits to—living Christians. His style is more
elevated, too, for—almost always in first person plural—Luther employs
nearly every one of his strategies found earlier in this book. Particularly

is “almost universally regarded as a kind of summa hagiographiae, a book presenting the

essence of what medieval people knew, or thought they knew, about the saints. And
its spectacular fall from esteem during the Renaissance has been explained in effect
as a mistake, the result of critics’ prejudices or reformers’ zeal” (Reames, 5). Reames
seeks to discover the “real story behind the rise, reign, and fall of the Legenda.” We
have evidence from as early as 1516 that Luther was familiar with the Golden Legend.
In a letter (24 August 1516) to Georg Spalatin Luther says, “I am quite annoyed with
the nonsense and the lies to be found in the Catalogue and The Golden Legend” (WABr
1:50); ‘Catalogue’ refers to Catalogue of the Saints by Peter Natalibus (Lyons, 1508); see
Franz Posset, Pater Bernhardus: Martin Luther and Bernard of Clairvaux. Cistercian Studies
168 (Kalamazoo, Mich., 1999), 74. Yet here, with Agatha, we find Luther using favor-
ably material he might well have gotten from the Legend. The same is true of stories
about Bernard of Clairvaux (1090–1153); cf. Posset, Pater Bernhardus 74f., 313f.; “St.
Bernard’s Influence on Two Reformers: John von Staupitz and Martin Luther,” Cister-
cian Studies Quarterly 25 (1990): 175–187; “Divus Bernhardus: Saint Bernard as Spiritual
and Theological Mentor of the Reformer Martin Luther,” in Bernardus Magister: Papers
Presented at the Nonacentenary Celebration of the Birth of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Kalamazoo,
Michigan, ed. John R. Sommerfeldt (Kalamazoo, 1992), 517–532.
38 chapter one

in its manner of engaging the reader through questions and answers,

the chapter has more of a sermonic feel to it—even to the point of
ending with ‘Amen.’ The organization of the chapter is as follows: (A)
Introduction and Thesis (WA 6:130.26–131.4): The Church is a blessing,
and the first blessings are visible; (B) The best blessings come through
the communal relationship one has in the church (WA 6:131.4–132.10);
(C) Applying the reality of the communion (WA 6:132.11–24).
In step A (WA 6:130.26–131.4) Luther identifies the subject of the
chapter and narrows his focus in this step to the visible, material bless-
ings of the church; early on there is an optical emphasis. In identifying
his subject, Luther uses doublets, an asyndetic triplet, and anaphora.
He is speaking of “the church of the saints, the new creation of God,
our brothers and our friends.” Luther’s step B (WA 6:131.3–132.24)
is not clearly signaled, since he has already been comparing material
to nonmaterial blessings. So I pick up his summary of the material
blessings, in which he uses doublets and an asyndetic series to wrap
up one form of blessing and move on to the next, providing an expla-
nation for how these blessings to others can be a comfort to us. The
purpose of God’s giving (Dat, in first position in the sentence) worldly
wealth—in whatever form—to his people is that He wants to ‘comfort
them and others.’ However, these are not true ( propria) blessings but
only ‘shadows and signs [umbra et signa]’ of the real blessings which are
‘faith, hope, love, and other graces and gifts,’66 which are shared with
all through love.
In the last step (C) in this chapter (WA 6:132.8–24), Luther returns
to the communal first person plural, using doublets and triplets, with
anaphora, to exhort his reader to partake of the consoling resources
of ‘Christ and the church.’ As his journey language turns into more
lively metaphor, Luther leads his reader into Scripture—the story
of Elisha (2 Kings 6). The writer’s goal in using this text (notice the
Scripture speaks directly, in second person and third person singular)
is to assist the reader in transferring his own fear into the resourceful
hands of the church, for Luther begins: “Actually, the church bears
it more bravely [ fortius] than we do. Thus truthfully we can apply to
ourselves the words Elisha in 2 Kings 667 spoke to his fearful servants”

LW 42:161 mistakenly reverses the final pair in the series.
While citing the Scripture text in their notes, both LW 42:163 and PE 1:167
neglect to translate iiij. Reg. vi. (WA 6:132.16) in their translation.
luther’s “fourteen consolations” (1519) 39

(WA 6:132.11–16). Luther’s quote of v. 16f. is nearly exact and begins

with an imperative (WA 6:132.17–20).68
Luther’s closing exhortation, which—as is typical in this book—does
not use imperatives, makes a direct application (in first person plural)
of the Elisha text to the current situation: the need for consolation in
the face of overwhelming need. The journey language and the visual
motif will become even more prominent in the following, final chapter,
where it turns into lively metaphor.

N. The Seventh Image: The Supernal Blessing Above Us

[ bonum supernum seu super nos]
The final chapter (LW 42:163–165; WA 6:132–134) is the shortest of
all the blessings chapters and the third shortest of the entire book.
The subject is not the future heaven but the Christ—past, present, and
future—especially his righteousness (11 occurences of iustitia). Nearly all
the Scripture texts Luther uses (7 of 9) come from the New Testament,
and all are Pauline—from Romans or 1 Corinthians. He emphasizes
the blessings to the individual Christian, even though the speaker stance
is predominantly communual, using first person plural, for the tone
of this chapter is highly celebratory—to the extent that there are not
one but two ‘Amen’s here. In this chapter Luther uses the image of
the ‘wagons’ Joseph took to Canaan in order to bring back his father
Jacob and all his family to Egypt (Gen. 45); he applies the image to
Christ’s redemption and blessings. The wagon metaphor may also derive
from the ‘Fuhrwagen’ illustration of Luther’s Wittenberg colleague,
Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt (1486–1541), which depicted two
wagons leading to heaven and hell respectively. As with the limewood
panel of the Vierzehnheiligen above the altar at Torgau, drawn by Lucas
Cranach the Elder, in advance of the Leipzig Debate, Karlstadt was
characterizing the triumph of the Gospel at Leipzig, soon after which
Luther wrote this book.69 In Karlstadt’s ‘two-frame cartoon,’ the top

The style of this text, with its syntactic, coordinating conjunctions (Cumque . . .
et . . . et . . . Et), preserves the Hebrew style and its waw consecutive; hence, a chain of
events is strung together in order to convey a sense of inevitability—not an ineluctable
fatalism that resists understanding or supplication, but rather God’s great power that is
responsive to the ‘effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man’ ( Jas. 5:16).
Martin Brecht, Martin Luther, 1:354; Ulrich Bubenheimer, “Andreas Rudolff
Bodenstein von Karlstadt: Sein Leben, seine Herkunft und seine inner Entwicklung,”
in Andreas Bodenstein von Karlstadt, 500-Jahr-Feier: Festschrift der Stadt Karlstadt zum Jubi-
läumsjahr 1980, ed. Wolfgang Merklein (Karlstadt, 1980), 19–28. The more common
40 chapter one

frame presents the wagon of an Evangelical moving ‘in God’s name’

toward Christ, in spite of the demon attempting to brake the wheels.
The bottom frame depicts the wagon of the scholastics proceeding
to hell, its wheels greased by the theology of ‘doing one’s best.’70 In
his culminating chapter here, however, Luther makes use of only the
former image. The chapter is organized as follows: (A) Introduction
(WA 6:132.27–37): Declaration of what this blessing is; (B) Resurrec-
tion blessings (WA 6:133.1–29); (C) Summary of Resurrection blessings
and Righteousness of Christ, our resting place (WA 6:133.30–134.4);
(D) Conclusion (WA 6:134.5–9).
In his introduction (WA 6:132.27–37) to the subject of supernal bless-
ings, Luther first clarifies what his subject is and then proceeds to char-
acterize and praise it through several stylistic devices—doublet, triplet,
anaphora, superlatives, metaphor, and two Scripture quotations. He
begins by stipulating that his subject is not the ‘eternal and heavenly’
blessings enjoyed by the blessed (beati) in the perfect vision of God.71 In
the main argument of the chapter—step B (WA 6:133.1–29)—Luther
articulates the resurrection blessings, showing the transporting upward
by Christ’s righteousness. In this step he introduces the ‘wagon’ meta-
phor, turning to Scripture for an example of such incredulity and find-
ing it in Jacob (Gen. 45). Luther’s recounting of the story’s highlights
emphasizes how hard it is to believe (non credebat is in first position)
and the convincing evidence that was sent (missa a Ioseph is in final
position). Jacob was one who heard it told—by his own sons, though
Luther does not mention it—that Joseph ruled Egypt, yet he seemed
(quasi) to be awakening from a deep sleep and did not believe. Despite
repeated tellings in Joseph’s words, it took the sight of the wagons
( plaustra) sent by Joseph to convince Jacob. Luther then explicitly likens
Jacob’s dilemma-turned-joyful-outcome to his (and his reader’s) situa-
tion, and also to that of Christ’s disciples. For those of us who truly

designator in German of Karlstadt’s drawing is Der ‘Himmel- und Höllenwagen.’

On 24 June 1519 the Wittenberg party arrived in Leipzig, the lead wagon (Fuhrwagen)
bearing Karlstadt and his many books, while the second carried Luther, Melanchthon,
Duke Barnim of Pomerania, and the rector of the University of Wittenberg. To the
delight of Johann Eck (1486–1543) and his supporters, Karlstadt’s wagon crashed at
the city gate, flinging him into the muck and injuring him to the point of his needing
medical attention; cf. Ernst Schwiebert, Luther and His Times: The Reformation from a New
Perspective (St. Louis, 1950), 391.
Carter Lindberg, The European Reformations (Oxford, 1996), 84–88.
For visione clara dei LW 42:163 reads ‘perfect wisdom of God’; PE 1:168 reads
‘perfect vision of God,’ but has different mistakes—probably errors of copy editing—in
the sentence.
luther’s “fourteen consolations” (1519) 41

find it hard to believe (credere) that in Christ such great blessings have
been bestowed on ‘us unworthy creatures [nobis indignis],’72 we have,
Luther argues, been taught by Christ through ‘many words, and by
the evidence of our own experiences,’73 whereas Christ’s disciples had
his many appearances.
Luther likens our instruction to the wagons Joseph sent. More pre-
cisely, however, Luther characterizes our wagon (Plaustrum, in first posi-
tion) as certainly the most precious wagon (sane suavissimum plaustrum), one
made by God ‘for our righteousness, sanctification, redemption, wisdom’
(1 Cor. 1:30b). This section may very well serve a proleptic function,
given how hard it is to believe—as Luther has already noted—that
Christ would come for us. Note the locomotive verbs, the juxtaposed
predications assigned to ‘I’ and ‘his,’ and how ‘I’ is totally passive, for
Christ ‘does the driving for us,’ so to speak:
I am a sinner, but I am borne by his righteousness, which is given to me.
I am unclean, but his holiness is my sanctification, in which I ride gently
[vehor suaviter]. I am an ignorant fool, but his wisdom carries me forward
[vehit me]. I deserve condemnation, but I am set free by his redemption
[libertas eius], which is a safe wagon for me [ plaustrum securissimum] (WA
To finish this step, Luther turns to Paul’s confident taunt in 1 Cor.
15:55–57. First he claims the verse for every reader: “Say, therefore,
Christian, in full confidence [Dicat ergo Christianus cum fiducia].”74 As
I quote the remainder of Luther’s argumentation, notice the paral-
lelism: in clauses, each ending with a present participle; in homoi-
optoton—three verbs in final position, all with similar case endings
(habemus . . . implemus . . . superamus). Notice also the doublets, the closing
triplet, the frequent ‘his’ juxtaposed with ‘our’:
No, but it was Jesus Christ, from the dead rising [a morte resurgens], sin and
death condemning [ peccatum et mortem damnans], his righteousness to us
imparting [suam iustitiam nobis impartiens], his merits on us bestowing [sua
merita nobis donans], his hand over us holding [suam manum super nos ponens].
And now all is well with us and the law we fulfil [et bene habemus et legem
implemus], and the sin and death we vanquish [et peccatum mortemque supera-
mus]. For all of this let there be honor, praise, and thanksgiving [honor, laus,
et gratiarumactio] to God for ever and ever. Amen (WA 6:133.25–29).

LW 42:164 fails to include indignis in its translation, as PE 1:169 correctly does.
Translation by A. T. W. Steinhaeuser at PE 1:169.
PE 1:169 also translates properly the imperative and vocative as singulars.
42 chapter one

Besides all else we observed above, we also notice the terms Luther
uses that connote—some even denote—pictures of verticality, power,
and protection. Luther’s step C (WA 6:133.30–134.4) summarizes the
resurrection blessings and argues that the righteousness of Christ is
our resting place.
In his conclusion (WA 6:134.5–9) to this chapter—and in a way, to
the entire book—Luther returns to the prospect of ‘firmly believing,’
which preceded the warning above. With doublets, a flurry of first
person plural pronouns, and qal wachomer reasoning—and without resort-
ing to imperative—Luther exhorts his reader to be instructed (erudiat).
He begins by designating this one image by itself as sufficient to fill
us with such comfort—if considered ‘properly and with an attentive
heart’—that “not only over our evils should we not grieve, but even
should we glory in our tribulations.” Further, Luther argues that these
tribulations—“for the joy that we have in Christ”—we should scarcely
feel. He closes with a doxological benediction: “In which glorying may
Christ Himself instruct us, our Lord and God, blessed forevermore.
Amen” (WA:134.5–9).75

Luther ends76 the book with a personal message to the Elector (WA
6:134.11–20). The message takes on the customary deferential stance
toward an addressee of royalty and thus is somewhat parallel to the
Letter of Dedication, where the use of superlatives and epithets of
distinction are abundant. However, here Luther’s only superlatives are
the three instances of acknowledging his “Most Illustrious Prince” in
the first and fourth lines, and the closing signature, “Your Most Illus-
trious Lordship” (Illustrissimae D.T.). The stance Luther takes mostly is
reflexive, where he calls attention to his own role (officium) of service,
signing off as his prince’s “Intercessor [Orator]. Brother [Frater] Martin
Luther, Augustinian at Wittenberg.” Luther’s final remark expresses
concisely the argument he has sustained throughout the book—that is,
without any explicit mention of blessings or evils, that the Christian is
ever safe in God’s hands.

The final sentence follows the translation of Steinhaeuser at PE 1:170.
Following the ‘Amen’ and prior to the postscript (which is untitled), Luther adds
the Greek word Τέλος, which is printed in WA 6:134.10 without final sigma. In addi-
tion to ‘end’ or ‘conclusion,’ Τέλος can mean ‘goal’ or ‘completion’ and is thus a more
fitting epithet for this book of Luther’s than the traditional finis.
luther’s fourteen “consolations” (1519) 43

III. Conclusion

Using abundant scriptural quotations and constructed dialogue, Luther

creates a strong presence for each image (spectrum), both of evil and
blessing. In contrast to many of his vernacular texts, Luther’s argumen-
tation in Latin employs a few more stylistic devices. With ample use of
these devices, including a strong reliance on comparatives, superlatives,
and anthypophora, Luther follows a ‘how much more’ (qal wachomer)
argumentative strategy.
What authorities drive Luther’s consolation? While he has used
profane proverbs, and cited or alluded to classical texts (Dyonisius,
Homer) and patristic sources (Cyprian, Augustine, Jerome, Gregory)
only sparingly, Luther has used most often the Word of God to argue
that Christ’s resources are sufficient for consolation. In 480 lines of
text he used Scripture 167 times (99 from OT, 68 from NT). Of those
OT texts, 52 come from the Wisdom Literature ( Job, Psalms, Proverbs,
Ecclesiastes, Ecclesiasticus, and Wisdom of Solomon). While Luther has
not shrunk from employing the rationale of human reason, his sources
are older than most of Cicero’s authorities. He advocates turning away
from pain and suffering only after closely examining it to identify what
can be celebrated therein. As he argues in the Introduction, a thing
has only the value and meaning (qualis et quanta) that the mind in its
thoughts assigns: “Whatever he regards as trivial and of no value [vile
et nihili] will affect him only slightly, whether it be love when it comes
to him or pain when it goes away” (WA 6:106.19–21). Luther claims
this ability to neutralize that which moves us is best effected through
the Word, turning our thoughts from debilitating experiences in the
present onto that which is “either absent or does not move us at the
moment.” Therefore, Luther concludes, consolation comes only from
the Scriptures. Christian duty (to comfort ourselves and others) is
empowered by the Word of God, through the Comforter, the Holy
Spirit. As George Tavard points out, Luther strategically used formal
patterns to organize his own efforts to channel the Spirit’s consoling
thoughts to suffering people and to help people “find a structure for
their prayer of meditation.”77

George Tavard, 8. Besides “Fourteen Consolations,” Luther used formal patterns
(LW 43:202) in the “Letter to Peter Beskendorf: A Simple Way to Pray” (1535); Eine
einfältige Weise zu beten für einen guten Freund (WA 38:358–75).



Despite the fact that Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s On Death and Dying (1969)
has sold over a million copies, and that her five stages of dying are
manifest in all nursing textbooks,1 today there are virtually no contempo-
rary books on how to die that are written for the dying.2 For caregivers

Tony Walter, The Revival of Death, 70–76. For critiques of the limitations and influ-
ence of the stage theory of dying by Kübler-Ross, see the work of Dennis Klass, who
worked with her in Chicago: “Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and the Tradition of the Private
Sphere: An Analysis of Symbols,” Omega 12, no. 3 (1981–1982): 241–267; Dennis Klass
and Richard A. Hutch, “Elisabeth Kubler-Ross as a Religious Leader,” Omega 16, no.
2 (1985–1986): 89–109; Richard Schulz, The Psychology of Death, Dying, and Bereavement
(Reading, Mass., 1978), 69–76; Robert J. Kastenbaum, Death, Society, & Human Experience
(St. Louis, 1977), 208–216; Richard Schulz and David Aderman, “Clinical Research
and the Stages of Dying,” Omega 5 (1974): 137–143; Jane Littlewood, Aspects of Grief:
Bereavement in Adult Life (London, 1992); Roy Branson, “Is Acceptance a Denial of
Death? Another Look at Kübler-Ross,” ChrCent 92 (1975): 464–468; Joan Retsinas,
“A Theoretical Reassessment of the Applicability of Kübler-Ross’s Stages of Dying,”
DS 12 (1988): 207–216. The Kübler-Ross theory of the stages of dying (denial, anger,
bargaining, depression, acceptance) is based on her observations of 20 terminally ill
cancer patients, all of whom—Tony Walter infers—had not reached their ‘three-score
and ten.’ Yet the theory was generalized to represent the emotional trajectory of
dying persons of all ages. Walter calls her legacy—which has stubbornly persisted—a
meta-story: “It is a story in a 150-year-old American romantic tradition that elevates
female over male, feeling over technique, home over hospital—a story of the truimph
of ordinary people and their experience, championed by a caring woman, over the
depersonalization of male technological rationality. In conflating hard data, personal
involvement and a message that will save the world, Kübler-Ross has written not so much
a scientific monograph offering testable hypotheses as a persuasive political/religious
tract [Klass]. It is also true to the times in being secular. Death is portrayed not as a
spiritual transition but as a return to the acceptance of infancy—a comforting mes-
sage to a neurotic generation thirsting for self-help books on unconditional acceptance.
(Later, Kübler-Ross did re-cast dying as a spiritual transition, and found a substantial
following, but many more felt she had gone off the rails.)”; The Revival of Death, 71.
To many scholars and theologians her ‘spiritual transition’ had almost nothing to do
with traditional religion and was thoroughly, and presciently, New Age.
Anne Hunsaker Hawkins, “Constructing Death: Three Pathographies about Dying,”
Omega 22 (1990–1991): 301–317, however, attempts “three potential versions of an art
of dying for our time,” a ‘contemporary ars moriendi’ (here at 301); cf. LeRoy Aden, In
Life & Death: The Shaping of Faith (Minneapolis, Minn., 2005); Austra Reinis, Reforming
the Art of Dying: The Ars Moriendi in the German Reformation (1519–1528). St. Andrews
Studies in Reformation History (Aldershot, U.K., 2007).
46 chapter two

and observers, works on eschatology and grief abound, but we have

no contemporary Art of Dying. Such was not the case in late medieval
and early modern Europe. For those generations that followed closely
on the heels of massive mortality due to plague, a strong ‘market’ for
aids in dying—that prepare one for death without a priest—apparently
sprang up quickly and persisted for some time. As he found opportunity,
Luther also contributed to that literature. As Martin Brecht attests,
“Luther’s Reformation theology had to pass the test of whether it was
able to stand up to the last human fear.”3

I. Orientation to Luther’s Document

Luther’s 1519 Ein Sermon von der bereitung zum sterben, a brief tract of eight
quarto pages, was unquestionably a ‘bestseller,’ seeing 26 editions in
six years: 22 in German, 2 in Latin, 1 each in Dutch and Danish.4 He
wrote it in mid-October, in response to an earlier request in May by
Markus Schart, via the Elector’s secretary, Georg Spalatin (LW 42:97).5
Luther was able to delay Spalatin until after the Leipzig Disputation,
in the interim recommending “The Imitation of the Willing Death of
Christ” (1515) of Johann Staupitz (ca. 1470 –1524).6 Gottfried Krodel

Martin Brecht, “Luthers reformatorische Sermone,” in Fides et Pietas. Festschrift
Martin Brecht zum 70. Geburtstag, ed. Christian Peters and Jürgen Kampmann. Historia
profana et ecclesiastica 8 (Münster, 2003), 15–32, here at 28; cf. the synopsis of Rudolf
K. Markwald in Luther Digest 14 (2006): 12–19, my quotation in English above is on
page 16.
Werner Goez, “Luthers ‘Ein Sermon von der Bereitung zum Sterben’ und die
spätmittelalterliche ars moriendi,” LuJ 48 (1981): 97–114, here at 97. Martin Brecht,
Martin Luther, 1:354 says writings of comfort were best sellers in the sixteenth century.
On the publication history of Ein Sermon, see Benzing, Nr. 435–460, pp. 54–57. The
following lists the editions by language, year, city, and Nr. in Benzing: (I. German)—in
1519, 10 editions, in Wittenberg (435–436), Leipzig (437–439), Nürnberg (440–441), and
Augsburg (442–444); in 1520, 7 editions, in Wittenberg (445), Leipzig (446), Erfurt (447),
Augsburg (448–450), and Basel (451); in 1522, 1 edition (Wittenberg, 454); in 1523, 3
editions, in Straßburg (452–453) and Basel (455); in 1525, 1 edition (Altenburg, 456);
(II. Latin)—in 1520, 2 editions, in Leipzig (458) and Antwerp (459); (III. Dutch)—in
1522, 1 edition (Antwerp, 460); (IV. Danish)—in 1538, 1 edition (Copenhagen, 457).
WA 2:680ff. assigns a letter designation to each German edition, lettered respectively
according to the Benzing enumeration as follows: 1519 (A–K), 1520 (L–R), 1522 (U),
1523 (S, T, V), 1525 (W). The two Latin editions of 1520 are designated as: ‘a’ (Leipzig,
458) and ‘b’ (Antwerp, 459). Text and commentary on Ein Sermon von der bereitung zum
sterben can be found in Ottfried Jordahn, “Sterbebegleitung und Begräbnis bei Martin
Luther,” in Liturgie im Angesicht des Todes: Reformatorische und katholische Traditionen der Neuzeit,
ed. Hansjakob Becker and Michael Fischer (Tübingen, 2004), 1–22.
Martin Brecht, Martin Luther, 1:354.
Ein buchlein von der nachfolgung des willigen sterbens Christi, entitled in Latin, De imitanda
luther’s “sermon on preparing to die” (1519) 47

calls Luther’s little book “an evangelical version of the popular late
medieval ars moriendi books.”7 Werner Goez,8 Jared Wicks,9 and Dick
Akerboom10 have examined Luther’s book in its context of the ars,
while Richard Marius gleans from the work only corroboration of his
thesis of Luther’s ‘obsession with death.’11 Drawing on these secondary
studies, and employing close rhetorical analysis to Luther’s document
in German, we can only modestly engage the extent to which Luther’s
work intersects with the late medieval ars moriendi literature;12 we shall
concentrate instead on the style in which Luther argued. While I spe-
cifically show how the sermon regards the sacraments that are relevant

morte Jesu Christi libellus (1515) in Johann von Staupitzens Sämmtliche Werke, ed. J. F. K.
Knaake, vol. 1, Deutsche Schriften (Potsdam: Krausnick, 1867), 52–88. Staupitz’s book
has 15 chapters. On the circumstances of Luther’s writing of his Ein Sermon, see LW
42:97f.; David C. Steinmetz, Luther and Staupitz: An Essay in the Intellectual Origins of
the Protestant Reformation. Duke Monographs in Medieval and Renaissance Studies 4
(Durham, N.C., 1980), 75–78.
Gottfried G. Krodel, “Luther’s Work on the Catechism in the Context of Late
Medieval Catechetical Literature,” Concordia Journal 25 (1999): 364–404, here at 398,
footnote 105; Friedrich Gerke, “Die satanische Anfechtung in der ars moriendi und
bei Martin Luther,” Theologische Blätter 11 (1932): 321–332; Austra Reinis, “Evange-
lische Anleitung zur Seelsorge am Sterbebett 1519–1528,” Luther 73 (2002): 31–45;
idem, “How Protestants Face Death: Johann Gerhard’s Funeral Sermon for Kunigund
Gotsmännin, Widow of Hans Dietrich von Haßlach zu Stockheim (d. 1616),” Theological
Review 25 (2004): 24–45, especially 29ff.
Werner Goez, “Luthers ‘Ein Sermon von der Bereitung zum Sterben und die
spätmittelalterliche ars moriendi.’ ” LuJ 48 (1981): 97–114.
Jared Wicks, S.J., “Applied Theology at the Deathbed: Luther and the Late-Medi-
eval Tradition of the Ars Moriendi,” Gregorianum 79 (1998): 345–368; cf. Hans-Martin
Barth, “Leben und Sterben können: Brechungen der spätmittelalterlichen ‘ars moriendi’
in der Theologie Martin Luthers,” in Ars Moriendi: Erwägungen zur Kunst des Sterbens, ed.
Harald Wagner (Frieburg, 1989), 45–66; Reinhard Schwarz, “Das Bild des Todes im
Bild Lebens überwinden: Eine Interpretation von Luthers Sermon von der Bereitung
zum Sterben,” in Gewißheit angesichts des Sterbens. Veröffentlichungen der Luther-Akademie
e. V. Ratzeburg 28, ed. Reinhard Schwarz (Erlangen, 1998), 32–64; Alois M. Haas,
“Didaktik des Sterbens: Zur Botschaft der spätmittelalterlichen Sterbebüchlein,” in
Gewißheit angesichts des Sterbens, 13–31.
Dick Akerboom, “ ‘Only the Image of Christ in Us’: Continuity and Discontinuity
between the Late Medieval ars moriendi and Luther’s Sermon von der Bereitung zum
Sterben,” in Spirituality Renewed: Studies on Significant Representatives of the Modern Devotion, ed.
Hein Blommestijn, Charles Caspers, and Rijcklof Hofman (Leuven, 2003), 209–272.
Richard Marius, Martin Luther: The Christian Between God and Death (Cambridge,
Mass., 1999), 213–214. Marius had published his first book on Luther in 1974; Luther,
A Biography (Philadelphia).
In a review of Marius’s Martin Luther (1999), Heiko Oberman claims that a popu-
lar version of the ars moriendi, one written by Jean Gerson (1363–1429), was typeset
in the cellar of Luther’s own monastery in Wittenberg in 1513; Heiko A. Oberman,
“Varieties of Protest,” New Republic, 16 August 1999, 40–45, here at 43. Brian Patrick
McGuire, Jean Gerson and the Last Medieval Reformation (University Park, Penn., 2005), is
silent on this claim.
48 chapter two

and useful for the dying, how it frequently mentions the saints’ role in
the dying process, and how it strategically addresses the three images
(Bilder) of death, sin, and hell, my principal focus is on how Luther
uses such strategies as scriptural quotation and elaboration, and on how
dialogue, rhetorical question and imaginary direct speech produce an
intimate enactment of encouraging instructions and exhortations to the
dying. Luther grounds his arguments in the “saving work of Christ for
us, now offered to us to be appropriated in sacraments of assurance.”13
His language of conquest dominates the second half of the book.

II. Context of Luther’s Book

Wicks’s study compares the motifs in Luther’s “Sermon on Prepar-

ing to Die” with those of similar vernacular works such as that of
Thomas Peuntner (written in 1434), Jean Gerson, Johann Geiler of
Keisersberg (d. 1510), and Johann von Paltz (d. 1511), some of which
were undoubtedly the predecessors of “The Art of Dying,” a genre
that flourished on the European Continent and in Britain until well
into the seventeenth century. Still existing in at least 300 manuscripts
in Latin and the Western vernaculars, it is a “complete and intelligible
guide to the business of dying, a method to be learned while one is in
good health and kept at one’s fingers’ ends for use in that all important
and inescapable hour.”14 There is little stress upon hell, only hope of
heaven; the dying person (Moriens) is always encouraged and consoled.
The book is entirely orthodox, and may have been intended for those
to whom the ministrations of the clergy were not available, probably
in times of plague.
The longer (yet earlier) version of the text consists in six parts. In
the first Moriens is coached—through a collection of ecclesiastical
utterances on death—in giving up his soul gladly and willfully; the
second takes up the meeting of five temptations with which, one after
another, the devil will put him to the test (Unbelief, Despair, Impatience,
Vainglory, and Attachment to Relatives and Material Possessions). In
the third are given two series of questions which, answered rightly, will

Jared Wicks, S.J., “Facts and Fears in and around Martin Luther,” Moreana 37/141
(2000): 5–32, here at 25.
Sister Mary Catherine O’Connor, The Art of Dying Well: The Development of the Ars
moriendi (New York, 1942), 5.
luther’s “sermon on preparing to die” (1519) 49

insure his salvation; in the fourth, rules of conduct which will pattern
his dying upon that of Christ on the cross. The fifth and sixth parts
address those who stand by the bedside, to aid the dying and to offer
prayers for his safe departure. Included in the text is a series of eleven
woodcut illustrations, each of which pictures the five temptations,
then five inspirations corresponding to each temptation, and a final
picture of death that shows the demons vanquished and the angels
and bystanders triumphant.

III. Analysis of Luther’s “On Preparing to Die”

While others will have to make a more thorough study, some compari-
sons of Luther’s sermon and the ars are in order. One scholar suggests
that Luther’s sermon was probably inspired by the shorter version of
the ars.15 The sermon addresses each of the five temptations, but not
very directly. Instead, Luther’s message is organized in twenty Articles,
with the first five serving as introduction; the remaining fifteen Articles
divide into two sections. The introduction counsels first (not last, as in
the ars) the regulating of earthly goods, then the seeking of forgiveness
of others, then to understand death as a glorious birth, and finally to
confess and seek the sacraments. The body of the sermon focuses on
the sacraments and their virtues, the latter taken up first (in Articles
6–14), and the former discussed last (in Articles 15–20). Instead of
referring to five temptations, Luther repeatedly proclaims that three
images (Bilder) sent by the devil must be overcome: death, sin, and hell.
He mentions the three images in list form 29 times:16 A. Short Lists
of just three words (or with one conjunction added, or with pronouns
added) have the predominant order of ‘death, sin, hell’ (19 times),17 with
‘sin, death, hell’ (twice) and ‘hell, sin, death’ (once); B. Extended Lists,
or using the terms in the same clause, 7 times, all but three coming in
the ‘death, sin, hell’ order.
There is no mistaking what the dying person is up against. In fact,
other than the first short list occurrence in Article 5 (sin, death, hell),
Luther’s introduction of the three as what we might call a ‘triple threat,’

Ibid., 190.
In 13 of these the LW 42 translator gives the wrong order, by inverting the first
two terms.
Article 7 (1), Article 13 (1), Article 14 (4), Article 15 (2), Article 16 (4), Article 17
(2), Article 18 (1), Article 20 (4).
50 chapter two

seems to establish the ‘death, sin, hell’ order, by virtue of progressive

triplet; Luther constructs each image more powerfully than the one
There are three such evils: first, the terrifying image [erschrockliche Bild] of
death; second, the awesomely manifold image [ graulich manichfeltig Bilde]
of sin; third, the unbearable and unavoidable image [untreglich und unvor-
meydliche Bild] of hell and eternal damnation [Hellen und ewiges Vordamnüsz].
Every other evil issues from these three and grows large and strong as a
result of such mingling (WA 2:686.32–36).18
In contrast to the ars, the family of the dying person is virtually absent
from the scene of Luther’s document, except as one might want to
make amends with these, as indicated in Article 2. In addition, Luther’s
perspective on one’s focus on personal sin at time of death sharply
diverges from the medieval ars in that he argues against meditating
on one’s sin, something he says should be done during one’s lifetime.
Indeed, in Articles 7–9 Luther argues that contemplation on ‘death,
sin, hell’ should be done well before death is imminent.
However, there are still apparently orthodox elements of the sermon,
for Luther advocates receiving the sacraments and extreme unction,
and the saints (including Mary) play a role—not only as intercessors
but also, in Wicks’ words, as ‘sharers in [Christ’s] life and grace.’19 I
take up the meaning and function of the sacraments below, but let us
here briefly examine what Wicks calls ‘isolation overcome in the com-
munion of saints,’20 to see to what extent Luther recommends invoking
the saints and angels in one’s prayers. I quote from Article 19:
[ L]et no one presume to perform such things by his own power, but
humbly ask God to create and preserve [schaff und erhalt] such faith in
and such understanding of his holy sacraments in him. He must practice
awe and humility [Furcht und Demut] in all this, lest he ascribe these works
to himself instead of allowing God the glory. To this end he must call
upon the holy angels, particularly his own angel, the Mother of God,
and all the apostles and beloved saints, especially since God has granted
him exceptional zeal for this (WA 2:696:20–26).21

“Der seyn drey: die erste das erschrockliche bild des todts, die ander das graulich
manichfeltig bilde der sund, die dritte das untreglich und unvormeydliche bild der hel-
len und ewiges vordamnüsz. Nu mucht win yglichs ausz diszen dreyen und wirt grosz
und starck ausz seinen zusatzen.”
Wicks, “Applied Theology at the Deathbed,” 362f.
“Soll aber niemant sich vormessen solch dingk ausz seynen crefften zu uben,
sondern gott demutiglich bitten, das er solchen glauben und vorstant seyner heyligen
luther’s “sermon on preparing to die” (1519) 51

This emphasis on the mediating role of the saints, I argue, is deeply

traditional yet represents a developing view of Luther’s, regarding the
identity and function of the saints. So, then, is his call for praying to
them grounded in the treasury of merit or upon their participation in
the body of Christ? Since his Lectures on Romans (1515–16), Luther
had been moving towards a distinction between a traditional identifi-
cation of the saints—as dead Christians, “those who are blessed and
participating in glory”—and a more biblical identification—‘all those
who believe in Christ’ (LW 35:51).22 By the end of the year 1519, Luther
will argue for a stronger connection between living and dead believers,
in the ‘fellowship of all the saints,’ as grounded in the sacrament.23

sacrament yn unsz schaff und erhalt, auff das alszo mit furcht und demut zu gehe,
und wir nit unsz solch werck zu schreyben, sondern gott die eere lassen. Darzu soll
er alle heyligen Engell, bszonder seynen Engell, die Mutter gottis, Alle Aposteln unnd
lieben heyligen anruffen, szonderlich da yhm gott bszondere andacht zu geben hatt.”
LW 42:113 omits ‘beloved’ from lieben heyligen. For information on Luther and angels,
see Susan Schreiner, “Unmasking the Angel of Light: The Problem of Deception
in Martin Luther and Teresa of Avila,” in Mystics, Presence, and Aporia, ed. Michael
Kessler and Christian Sheppard (Chicago, 2003), 118–137; Scott Hendrix, “Angelic
Piety in the Reformation: The Good and Bad Angels of Urbanus Rhegius,” in Fröm-
migkeit—Theologie—Frömmigkeitstheologie: Contributions to European Church History. Festschrift
für Berndt Hamm zum 60. Geburtstag, ed. Gudrun Litz, Heidrun Munzert, and Roland
Liebenberg. SHCT 124 (Leiden, 2005), 385–394.
In his Lectures on Romans: Glosses and Scholia (LW 25), Luther makes no gloss on
Rom. 1:7a (“To all God’s beloved in Rome, who are called to be saints”), but on
12:13 (contribute to the needs of the saints) he glosses: “saints, that is, the believers”
(LW 25:107). In the Scholia, he comments at length (LW 25:257–278) on Rom. 4:7
(“Blessed are those whose iniquities are forgiven, and whose sins are covered”). He
begins (257) by saying, “The saints are always sinners in their own sight, and therefore
always justified outwardly.” One page later he adds, “ ‘God is wonderful in His saints’
(Ps. 68:35). To Him they are at the same time both unrighteous and righteous” (258).
Near the end he says, “You say, ‘Then why is there so much preaching about the merits
of the saints?’ I reply, ‘Because these are not the merits of the saints but the merits of
Christ in them, for whose sake God accepts their works, which otherwise He would
not accept. Hence the saints themselves never know that they perform and possess
meritorious works, but they do all those things only that they might find mercy and
escape judgment, praying for forgiveness with loud groaning rather than presumptu-
ously looking for the crown’ ” (LW 25:277).
Paragraph 4 of “The Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ,
and the Brotherhoods”: “The significance or effect of this sacrament is fellowship of
all the saints [ gemeynschafft aller heyligen]. From this it derives its common name synaxis
[Greek] or communio [Latin], that is, fellowship [ gemeynschafft]. And the Latin communicare
[commune or communicate], or as we say in German, zum sacrament gehen [go to the
sacrament], means to take part in this fellowship [ gemeynschafft empfahen]. Hence it is that
Christ and all saints are one spiritual body [eyn geystlicher corper] [cf. Rom. 12:5; 1 Cor.
12:5], just as the inhabitants of a city are one community and body, each citizen being
a member of the other and of the entire city. All the saints, therefore, are members of
Christ and of the church [Christi und der Kirchen glid ], which is a spiritual and eternal
city of God [cf. Isa. 60:14; Heb. 12:22; Rev. 3:12]. . . . To receive this sacrament in
52 chapter two

While his meaning of ‘saints’ here in 1519 still predominantly means

Christians who have died, by 1532 Luther will insist on the biblical
meaning of ‘saints’ as ‘every Christian.’24 A brief tracing of Luther’s
17 uses of ‘saints’ here in “On Preparing to Die” reveals how he uses
the term, both as to identity and function.
In Article 10 Luther tells his reader not to dwell on death in one’s
self but rather to focus intently on only those who died in God’s grace
and who have overcome death, “particularly in Christ and then also
in all his saints. . . . For Christ is nothing other than sheer life, as his
saints are likewise” (WA 2:689.9–12).25 In Article 11 Luther says that
one should look at sin only within the “picture of grace, which is
nothing else but that of Christ on the cross and of all his dear saints”
(WA 2:689.28f.).26 He says Christ on the cross takes our sin, bears and
destroys it. “Likewise, all the saints who suffer and die [leyden und sterben]
in Christ also bear your sins and suffer and labor [leyden und erbeytet] for
you” (WA 2:689.33–35).27 In Article 12 Luther advises his reader not to
fret about predestination (Vorsehung), but rather to “look at Christ and
all his saints and delight in the grace of God, who elected them, and
continue steadfastly in this joy, . . . However, if you do not adhere solely
to this but have recourse to yourself, you will become adverse [Unlust]
to God and all saints, and thus you will find nothing good in yourself ”
(WA 2:690.26–31).28 In Article 13 he says ‘death, sin, hell’ will flee if
we gaze on the “glowing picture of Christ and his saints and abide
in the faith” (WA 2:690.36–38).29 In Article 15 Luther assures readers

bread and wine, then, is nothing else than to receive a sure sign of this fellowship and
incorporation with Christ and all saints [diszer gemeynschafft und eyn leybung mit Christo und
allen heyligen]” (WA 2:743.7–22)
. . . in iglicher Christen (WA 36:258.33); LW 51:258.
“. . . furnemlich yn Christo, darnach yn allen seynen heyligen. . . . Dan Christus ist
nichts dan eytell leben, seyn heyligen auch.”
“Der gnaden bild ist nit anders, dan Christus am Creutz und alle seyne lieben
“Desselben gleichen alle heyligen ynn yhrem leyden und sterben auch auff yhn
tragen deyne sund und fur dich leyden und erbeyten.” Luther then quotes Gal. 6:2,
which is the only Scripture from this sermon that he uses again in “The Blessed Sacra-
ment of the Holy and True Body of Christ, and the Brotherhoods” (LW 35:54).
“Alszo wan du Christum und all seyne heyligen ansihist, und dir woll gefellet
die gnad gottis, der sie alszo erwelet hatt, und bleybst nur fest yn dem selben wolgefal-
len, . . . . Hafftestu aber nit hir auff alleyn, und fellest yn dich, szo wirt dir eyn unlust
erwachen gegen gott und seyne heyligen, und alszo yn dir nichts guts finden.”
“Alszo fleugt tod, sund und hell mit allen yhren crefften, szo wir nur Christi und
seyner heyligen leuchtende bild yn unsz uben yn der nacht, das ist ym glauben.”
luther’s “sermon on preparing to die” (1519) 53

that God grants blessings found in Christ, and that the sacraments are
sign and testimony (Wartzeichen und Urkund) that ‘death, sin, hell’ are
overcome in Him. Through the same sacraments—and he has just
listed confession, absolution, eucharist, and extreme unction—one is
“included and made one [eyngeleybet und voreyniget] with all the saints.
You thereby enter into the true communion of saints so that they die
with you in Christ, bear sin, vanquish hell” (WA 2:692.33–35).30
In Article 17 Luther discusses the benefits of the sacraments, asking
the following rhetorical question (his fifth successive rhetorical ques-
tion): “Why do people not hold to the sacraments, which are sure and
appointed signs, tested and tried [ probirt und vorsucht] by all saints and
found reliable by all who believed and who received all that they indi-
cate?” (WA 2:694.38–695.3).31 In Article 18 he refers several times to
the saints, arguing that the dying Christian is surely not alone; rather,
upon him are the eyes of God and Christ himself, the eyes “of the
dear angels, of the saints, and of all Christians. . . . In that hour the
work of love and the communion of saints are seriously and mightily
active” (WA 2:695.20–24).32 Further commenting on the fellowship
and assistance of the saints, and using asyndetic triplet and quintuplet
series—plus anaphora—Luther says,
He who doubts this does not believe in the most venerable Sacrament of
the Body of Christ, in which are pointed out, promised, pledged [ gezeugt,
zugesagt, vorpflicht] the communion, help, love, comfort, and support [Gemeyn-
schafft, Hulff, Lieb, Trost und Beystand ] of all the saints in all times of need. . . .
If God looks upon you, all the angels, all saints, all creatures will fix their
eyes upon you (WA 2:695.26–33).33
In Articles 19–20 Luther urges his reader to call upon God for assis-
tance, and to include all the saints in one’s plea. In seeking faith and

“Darzu wirstu durch sie selben sacrament eyngeleybet und voreyniget mit allen
heyligenn und kumist yn die rechte gemeynschafft der heyligen, alszo das sie mit dyr
in Christo sterben, sunde tragen, hell ubirwinden.”
“Warumb halten sie sich nit an die sacrament, wilchs gewisse und eingesetzte
zeychen sein, durch alle heyligen probirt und vorsucht, gewisz ersunden allen denen,
die do glaubt haben, und ubirkummen als wasz sie zeichent?”
“. . . darnach die lieben engel, die heyligen und alle Christenn, . . . Da geht das
werck der liebe und gemeynschafft der heyligen ym ernst und gewaltiglich.”
“. . . der glaubt aber nicht an das hochwirdig sacrament desz leychnams Christi, Jn
wilchem gezeygt, zugesagt, vorpflicht wirt gemeynschafft, hulff, lieb, trost und beystand
aller heyligenn yn allen noten. . . . So aber got auff dich sicht, szo sehen ym nach alle
engele, alle heyligen, alle creaturen, und szo du yn dem glauben bleybst, halten sie
alle die hend unter.”
54 chapter two

understanding of the sacraments, one must “call upon the holy angels,
particularly his own angel,34 the Mother of God, and all the apostles and
dear saints”35 (WA 6:696.25).36 Luther further urges that one “implore
God and his saints our whole life long for true faith in the last hour”
(WA 2:697.5f.).37 Finally, Luther declares that God “commands his
angels, all saints, all creatures to join him in watching over you, to be
concerned about your soul, and to receive it” (WA 2:697.22–24).38
This survey of Luther’s use of the term ‘saints’ reveals that he brings
a strongly traditional sense of the fellowship and function of the saints,
despite the fact that he draws the Christian into these in the sacrament.
It will be in other writings in the next two years that Luther will aban-
don some of these teachings.

A. Using Scripture
How does Luther encourage the dying person to combat the images of
‘death, sin, hell’ and overcome fear, unbelief, and despair? One prin-
cipal way is by wielding the Word of God—i.e., Scripture, something
not much used in the ars, in a personal and intimate manner: 72 lines
are Scriptures directly quoted or paraphrased or alluded to, from 34
different texts (14 from OT and 20 from NT, 13 of which are from
the Gospels). Approximately 60 percent of these lines derive from the
OT. The most frequently cited source is the Psalter; the second is the
passion narratives, Matthew’s being the favorite text. In all but one of
the quotations from the Gospels, Luther has chosen the words of Christ
and attributed them to him, rather than citing the scriptural writer of
the text. Only three pauline texts are used. While Luther summons the
words of Mary, Paul, Isaiah, Peter, Elisha, the psalmist (also called ‘the
prophet’), and ‘the Apostle’ (writer of Hebrews)—all of whom declare
positively the Lord’s words and works—the dominant voices of the

On guardian angels, LW 42:113, note 13 cites Gal. 1:8; 1 Tim. 3:16, and 1 Pet.
LW 42:113, note 14 reads: “On Luther’s later opposition to the invocation of Mary
and the saints, see “On Translating: An Open Letter” (1530); LW 35:198–200.
“Darzu soll er alle heyligen Engell, bszonder seynen Engell, die Mutter gottis, Alle
Aposteln unnd lieben heyligen anruffen.” LW 42:113 omits translating ‘dear’ saints.
“Darzu solt man das gantz leben lang bitten gott und seyne heyligen umb die
letzten stund fur eynen rechten glauben.” LW 42:114 wrongly translates seyne heyligen
as ‘his dear saints.’
“Er befelht seynen Engeln, allen heyligenn, allen creaturen, das sie mit yhm auff
dich sehen, deyner seel warnemen und sie entpfahen.”
luther’s “sermon on preparing to die” (1519) 55

Scriptures Luther quotes are those of God or the Lord or Christ. One
exception is ‘the Jews,’ whom Luther quotes as they deride Christ on
the cross. He does not cite a single father of the church.39 Moreover,
while his authority is clearly God himself, Luther indirectly attributes
authority to Scripture, for in roughly equal measure he mixes quota-
tions or paraphrases of a biblical speaker with that of the biblical book
and chapter reference. Many of these documented statements affirm
the promises of God.
Luther invokes the great majority of his Scripture texts responsibly.
Evidence for that claim is found: (1) in the accuracy of his quotations; (2)
in how often he cites the reference (book and chapter) and attributes the
quote to a speaker; and (3) in his willingness at times to quote a portion
of the text in the original. He did this in Article 12, quoting Jesus on
the cross: “ ‘Eli, Eli lama sabachthani!’—‘O my God, O my God, why
hast thou forsaken me?’ ” (WA 2:690.20f.).40 He does a similar thing in
Article 18, quoting Ps. 32:8, where he begins in Latin (‘Firmabo, etc.’),
then quotes the entire verse in German (WA 2:695.30f.).41
Yet Luther is not reluctant to add his own interpretation to a scrip-
tural quote: First, in Article 5, having twice already used a quote from
Christ in the two preceding Articles ( John 16:21, Article 3; Mark 9:23,
Article 4), Luther introduces the sacraments, what they mean (bedeuten),
all that God declares and indicates (sagt und anzeygt) in them, and how
God speaks and acts (redt und zeychnet) through the priest. In the midst
of this explanation Luther quotes Mary at Luke 1:38, “Let it be to
me according to your words and signs [Worten und Zeychen].” In fact,
all that Luke has Mary say to the angel is ‘according to your word.’42
Luther’s argument about sacraments, informed by his doublet style
and the hermeneutic it embodies, no doubt prompted him to embel-
lish Luke’s reading. Second, in Article 10 Luther’s argument is that,
in order to find peace about one’s death, one must look away from
self—and one’s own anxiety—and onto Christ and his death. Luther

Staupitz’s Ein buchlein von der nachfolgung des willigen sterbens Christi cites St. Augustine
once (chap. 3 [p. 57]) and St. Bernard twice (chap. 14 [p. 87]).
“Eli, Eli, lama sabathani, O meyn gott, o meyn gott, Warumb hastu mich
vorlassen?” LW 42:104 follows the standard transliteration ‘sabachthani’ (cf. Vulgate
‘sabacthani’) and omits Luther’s double interjection ‘O . . . O.’
“Firmabo 2c. Jch will meyn augen stet auff dich haben, das du nit unter-
The GNT reads κατὰ τὸ ῥῆμά σου, and in SeptBib Luther himself translates this
phrase as wie du gesagt hast, ‘as you have said.’
56 chapter two

quotes two passages that teach this looking to God: the bronze ser-
pent (Nu. 21:6–9)43 and the blessedness of those who die ‘in the Lord’
(Rev. 14:13). Finally he adds a quote from Christ ( John 16:33), in the
middle of which Luther adds his own parenthetical interpretation: “In
the world (that is, in yourselves) you have unrest, but in me you will
find peace.”44 The insertion is consistent with Luther’s point, and to
him it may have seemed required. Fourth, in Article 11 Luther adds
terms to his quotation of 1 Cor. 15:57: to the first word of the opening
clause (‘thanks be to God’) Luther adds ‘and praise’; to the ending of
the “final clause” he adds ‘over sin and death,’ which are the subjects,
in reverse order, of the argument in Articles 10 (death) and 11 (sin).
Finally, Luther is not averse to altering the syntax of a Scripture text
as he quotes it. He does this in Article 20, quoting Ps. 111:2 (= 110:2
Vulgate), “Great are the works of the Lord, selected according to his
pleasure,” which Luther inverts into, “The works of God are great and
selected according to all his pleasure” (WA 2:697.29f.).45

B. Using Dialogue
In his “An Exposition of the Lord’s Prayer for Simple Laymen” (LW
42:15–82), written in April 1519, Luther concluded his exposition with
a ‘summary and arrangement’ of the seven petitions of the Vaterunser
(78–81).46 Here, Luther puts the petitions into dialogue form, where ‘The
Soul’ (i.e., Christians, for the pronouns are plural) and God participate
in a sequential conversation. The dialogue style not only helps reveal
how the petitions proceed in sequence, but it also renders the action
more dramatic, the content more vivid. By including God’s explicit
responses, Luther gives the petitions a dramatic context; they make more
sense. In Ein Sermon Luther uses dialogue quite sparingly, compared to
many of his other writings. In Articles 14 and 16 he quotes voices
from Scripture in such a way as to test the dying Christian, as the devil
(and ‘the Jews’) taunted Christ on the cross. Fourteen lines of scriptural

LW 42:104 has Luther mistakenly citing Exodus 21, correcting the citation in
brackets. However, Luther correctly cites Numeri 21. (WA 2:689.17).
“Jn der welt (das is auch yn unszselb) werdet yhr unruge haben, Jn mir aber
den friden” (WA 2:689.21–23). Instead of the parenthetical insertion, LW 42:104 uses
“Die werck gottis seyn grosz und auszerwelet nach allem seynenn wolgefallenn.”
“Auslegung deutsch des Vaterunsers für die einfältigen Laien” (WA 2:74–130),
which saw twelve German editions (Benzing Nr. 265–276) by 1521.
luther’s “sermon on preparing to die” (1519) 57

dialogue dramatize the power of such temptations, so that the dying

Christian can be ready, armed in advance with the knowledge of what
she or he will face. In each case Luther follows the testing statements
with his own expansion of them, in the form of additional, invented
dialogue, so as to interpret the test and amplify its intensity. In Article
14 he argues that Christ has defeated ‘death, sin, hell’ by first suffer-
ing and overcoming the temptations entailed in ‘these pictures [diszen
Bilden].’ To demonstrate that this happened, and to make vivid and
real what it was like, Luther quotes, then explains, the Jews’ taunt of
Christ: “ ‘Let him come down from the cross; he has healed others, let
him now help himself ’ [Matt. 27:40–42]. They said as it were, ‘Here
you are facing death; now you must die; nothing can save you from
that’ ” (WA 2:691.27–29).47 Luther employs the same tactic for the
images of sin and hell. In only one instance, though (Article 16), does
the temptation dialogue not originate in Scripture but consist in words
Luther puts into the devil’s mouth, to be whispered to the dying: “But
then the devil comes along and whispers into your ear, ‘But suppose
I received the sacraments unworthily and through my unworthiness
robbed myself of such grace?’ ” (WA 2:693.35–36).48
Yet Luther also creates dialogue for the dying person to say, and
there is twice as much of this discourse as was given to the devil. This
dialogue is found in Articles 15–17. The first instance, in Article 15,
argues that the sign of the words of the priest is the only help in death’s
agonies (Tods Noten). When faced by the image of ‘death, sin, hell,’ we
are to use Luther’s words below; the pronouns—‘his’ (= Christ) and
‘me/mine’ (= the dying believer)—emphasize the crisis-opportunity.49
At the center of the dialogue are three pivotal phrases that identify
the promise:
God promised and in his sacraments he gave me a sure sign of his grace
that Christ’s life overcame [ubirwunden] my death in his death, that his
obedience blotted out [vortilget] my sin in his suffering, that his love des-
troyed [zustort] my hell in his forsakenness. This sign, this promise of my

“Er steig nu herab vom Creutz, Er hatt ander gesund macht, er helff yhm nu
selbs, als sprechen sie, ‘Da, da sihstu den todt, du must sterben, da hilfft nichts fur.’ ”
“Szo kompt dan der teuffell und blysset dir eyn ‘ja wie, wan ich dan die sacra-
ment hett unwirdig empfangen und mich durch meyn unwirdickeit solcher gnaden
beraubt?’ ”
(1) Opportunity—as the source of promise: God, Christ, God, God, and 5 ‘his’
pronouns; as the recipient of the promise: 6 ‘my/mine’ pronouns; (2) Crisis—death . . .
sin . . . hell.
58 chapter two

salvation will not lie nor deceive me. It is God who has promised it, and
God cannot lie either in words or in deeds (WA 2:693.8–13).50
A second discourse given to the dying believer is found in Article 16 (LW
42:110; WA 2:693:8–13), but I comment on it in the next section.
So I turn now to the third discourse, in Article 17 (LW 42:111). This
speech is longer than the other two and celebrates the advantage that
one receiving the Sacrament of the Altar has over those who can still
obtain the benefits but who must operate solely on faith and the desires
of their hearts. Notice how Luther uses doublets and a long series, and
how intensely personal (‘I/me/my’) the discourse is. The tone is pro-
gressive; it moves from the conditional (‘If,’ meaning virtually, ‘since’),
to the boldly assertive (‘I will’), to the demanding (‘Away with you’):
Thus you must also say with regard to the Sacrament of the Altar, ‘If
the priest gave me the holy body of Christ, which is a sign and promise
of the communion of all angels and saints that they love me, provide for
me, pray and suffer for me, die, bear my sin and overcome hell [sterben,
Sund tragen und Hell ubirwunden], it will and must therefore be true that the
divine sign does not deceive me. I will not let anyone rob me of it. I would
rather deny all the world, myself, than doubt my God’s trustworthiness
and truthfulness in his signs and promises.51 Whether worthy or not, I
am, according to the text and declaration of this sacrament, a member of
Christendom. It is better that I be unworthy than that God’s truthfulness
be questioned. Away with you, Devil, if you advise me differently’ (WA

“ ‘Got hat myr zugesagt und eyn gewisz zeichen seyner gnaden yn den sacramenten
geben, das Christus leben meynen tod yn seynem tod ubirwunden hab, seyn gehorsam
meyne sund yn seynem leyden vortilget, sey lieb meyn hell ynn seynem vorlassen zustort
habe, das tzeichen, das zusagen meyner selickeit wirt myr nit liegen noch triegen, Gott
hat es gesagt, gott mag nit ligen, noch mit worten noch mit wercken.’ ”
The pairing of ‘signs and promises’ is an alliterative rhyming doublet (zeychen und
zusagen) that occurs 4 times, in addition to 3 other pairings of the two terms (in some
form). The rhyme helps bond the two ideas.
“Alszo soltu auch sagen ubir dem sacrament des Altars ‘Hat mir der priester geben
den heyligen laychnam Christi, das eyn zeychen und zusagen ist der gemeynschafft
aller Engel und heyligen, das sie mich lieb haben, fur mich sorgen, bitten und mit
mir leyden, sterben, sund tragen und hell ubirwunden, Szo wirt es und musz alszo
seyn, das gottlich zeychen treugt mich nit, und las mirs nit nhemen, ich wold ehe alle
welt, mich selb vorleugnen, he ich dran zweyffelt, Meyn gott der sey mir gewisz und
warhafftig yn dissem seynem zeychen und zusagen, Jch sey seyn wirdig odder nit, szo
byn ich ein glid der Christenheit nach laut und anzeygung diszes sacraments. Es ist
besser, ich sey unwirdig, dan das gott nit warhafftig gehalten werden, heb dich, teuffell,
szo du mir anders sagst.’ ”
luther’s “sermon on preparing to die” (1519) 59

C. Intimate Language
One cannot help but notice how personal Luther’s language in this
last dialogue is, especially driven home through all the first and second
person singular pronouns. He words the argument in such a way so as
to be intimately conversing with the dying one. Notice his recommenda-
tion for responding to the devil’s whisper—worded above in the dying
one’s own perspective. The devil’s implanted worry is then countered
by Luther’s strong correction about worthiness, and his subsequent,
comforting claims:
In that event cross yourself and do not let the question of your worthiness
or unworthiness assail you. Just see to it that you believe that these are
sure signs, true words of God, and then you will be indeed be and remain
worthy. Faith makes [one] worthy; doubt makes [one] unworthy. The evil
spirit brings up the question of worthiness and unworthiness to stir up
doubts within you, thus nullifying the sacraments with their benefits and
making God a liar in what he says. God gives you nothing because of your
worthiness, nor does he build his Word and sacraments on your worthiness,
but out of sheer grace he establishes you, unworthy one, on the foundation
of his Word and signs (WA 2:693:36 694:8, my emphasis).53
Luther also uses dialogue not only to invoke and enlarge God’s
promises—and to verify and amplify temptations—but sometimes he
puts words into the mouth of the dying also, thus giving her or him
a seemingly tailor-made speech, a credo of confidence. Twenty-seven
German lines of such prepared direct speech can be found, in Articles
15–17 and 19. In Article 16 Luther combines his use of pronouns of
intimacy (first person singular) with balanced triplet phrasing, as he
completes his prolepsis—anticipating reader objections and then refuting
them—which he does in each instance of allowing the devil to express
a doubt the dying Christian might have:
Hold fast to that [the foundation of his Word and signs] and say, ‘He
who gives me and has given me his signs and his Word, which assure me
that Christ’s life, grace, and heaven have kept my death, sin, and hell
from harming me, is truly God, who will surely preserve these things for

“Hie mach das Creutz fur dich, las dich wirdickeit, unwirdickeit nichts anfechten,
schaw nur zu, das du glaubst es seyn gewisse zeychen, ware wort gottis, szo bistu und
bleybst wol wirdigk: glaub macht wirdig, zweyffel macht unwirdigk. Darumb will der
bösze geyst dir an der wirdickeit und unwirdickeit furwenden, das er dir eynen zweyffell
unnd da durch die sacrament mit yren wercken zu nichte und gott yn seynen worten
eynen lügner mache.”
60 chapter two

me. When the priest absolves me, I trust in this as in God’s Word itself.
Since it is God’s Word, it must come true. That is my stand, and on that
stand I will die’ (WA 2:694.9–14).54
Before we respond to the question To whom is the dying one reciting?, we
note that the worthy/unworthy theme is an important issue in the
sermon, particularly when Luther instructs the dying person as to how
she can overcome fear that she is not one of the elect, or to doubt
the efficacy of the sacraments. The prepared speech in Article 17 (see
above) contains a series of affirmative declarations, collectively intended
to forestall any objection to receiving the benefits of the sacrament,
and heavily expressed in first person singular.
It appears that the above two speeches are addressed to the devil, or
to that aspect of one’s consciousness that is entertaining doubts. Article
19 includes two brief utterances the dying one can use to thwart the
devil, but these remarks are instead directed toward sources of hope
and assurance. First, the dying one has every right to implore God’s
attention: “My God, you have commanded me to pray and to believe
that my prayer will be heard. For this reason I come to you in prayer
and am assured that you will not forsake me but will grant me a genuine
faith” (WA 2:697.2–4).55 Second, Luther quotes a familiar prayer sung
at Pentecost, one reflecting a communal solidarity of faith: “Now let us
pray to the Holy Ghost for the true faith of all things the most, when
we go home from this misery, etc.” (WA 2:697.7–8, my emphasis).56 So
Luther provides practical discourse—much of it originating in Scrip-
ture itself—as weapons to be used to suppress doubt and nourish faith,
weapons that are words.

D. Sacraments as Signs
Early on in Ein Sermon it is evident that Luther was still recommending
that the dying one provide oneself with the sacrament. However, he

“Daran halt nur fest und sprich ‘Der mir seyn zeychen und wort gibt und geben
hatt, das Christus leben, gnad und hymel meynen tod, sund, hell mir unschedlich
gemacht hab, der ist gott, wirt mir die ding woll halten. Hatt mich der priester absol-
virt, szo vorlasz ich mich drauff als auff gottis wort selber. Seynd es dan gottis wort,
szo wirt es war seyn, da bleyb ich auff, da stirb ich auff.’ ”
“ ‘Meyn gott, du hast gepoten zu bitten unnd zu glauben, die bitt werd erhört,
drauff bitt ich und vorlas mich, du werdest mich nit lassen und eynen rechten glauben
geben.’ ”
“Nu bitten wir den heyligen geyst umb den rechten glauben aller meyst, wen wir
heim faren ausz dissem elende 2c.”
luther’s “sermon on preparing to die” (1519) 61

does not make it mandatory, and by the end of 1519 he began writing
about his changing views of the sacrament of penance,57 of baptism,58
and the sacrament of the altar.59 It is to the sacrament of the altar, also
called the blessed sacrament, that Luther refers in Ein Sermon. It was
in his “Sermon on the Blessed Sacrament” that he suggested that the
laity60 receive both cup and bread, for which by late December he had
aroused the wrath of Duke George of Saxony.61 By the following sum-
mer Luther was condemned for this in the papal bull of 15 June 1520,
and by the fall of 1521 communion ‘in both kinds’ became a major
issue of the so-called ‘Wittenberg Movement.’ Here, in first mentioning
the sacraments (Article 4), Luther says readiness for dying can be had
through confession, the holy Christian sacrament of the holy and true
body of Christ, and with the unction. “If these can be had, one should
devoutly desire them and receive them with great confidence [ groszer
Zuvorsicht]. If they cannot be had, our longing and yearning for them
should nevertheless be a comfort and we should not be too dismayed
by this circumstance” (WA 2:686.13–16).62
The unction, however, virtually disappears from consideration, for
Luther speaks only of the sacrament of the altar, mentioning unction
only once more. Quoting Jesus’ reassurance to a distraught father (Mk.
9:23), “All things are possible to him who believes,” Luther proceeds
to argue that the sacraments “are nothing else than signs which help
and incite [dienen und reytzen] us to faith” and that without faith they

“The Sacrament of Penance” (1519) in LW 35:9–22; Ein Sermon von dem Sakrament
der Buße (WA 2:714–723); Benzing Nr. 462–478 (17 editions in Wittenberg, Leipzig,
Nürnberg, Augsburg, Straßburg, Erfurt, and Halberstadt [Niederdeutsch] in 3 years).
“The Holy and Blessed Sacrament of Baptism” (1519) in LW 35:29–43; Ein
Sermon von dem heiligen hochwürdigen Sakrament der Taufe (WA 2:727–737); Benzing Nr.
479–496 (17 editions in Wittenberg, Leipzig, Nürnberg, Augsburg, Straßburg, Erfurt,
and Colmar in 5 years).
“The Blessed Sacrament of the Holy and True Body of Christ, and the Brother-
hoods” (1519) in LW 35:49–73; Ein Sermon vom Sakrament des Leichnams Christi und von den
Brüderschaften (WA 2:742–758); Benzing 497–515 (19 editions in Wittenberg, Leipzig,
Nürnberg, Augsburg, Straßburg, Zwickau, Basel, Leiden in 6 years, including editions
in Latin and Czech. LW 42:100, note 2; Brecht, Martin Luther, 1:358–364.
Luther addressed the book specifically to laymen (the subtitle reads, “Fur die
Leyen” [WA 2:739]) and dedicated it to Margaret, duchess of Brunswick; cf. LW
LW 35:47.
“. . . die selben andechtig begere und mit grosser zuvorsicht empfahe, szo man sie
haben mag. Wo aber nit, soll mit defte weniger das vorlangen und begere der selben
trostlich seyn und nit darob zu seher erschrecken.”
62 chapter two

serve ‘no purpose [nichts Nutz]’ (WA 2:686.17–18).63 This statement is

thoroughly consistent with what Luther writes a few months later in
“The Blessed Sacrament,”64 and it is these two claims that he declares
he will support later in this Sermon (‘as we shall see’). As it happens,
he uses the term sacrament 37 times, 24 of which are in Articles 15–17.
In Articles 4–6 he begins his explanation, using the word 6 times.65
As he begins to explain how the sacraments help us in the dying
process, Luther argues that they can overshadow our sins. A proper
understanding of their virtues includes truly receiving what the sacra-
ments signify and all that God declares and indicates in them (WA
2:686.25).66 “When one rightly honors the sacraments, one can say with
Mary [the mother of God, omitted in LW ], ‘Let it be to me according
to your words and signs’ [Luke 1:38]” (WA 2:686.26–27).67 Luther is
enumerating auditory and visual signification, which employ both the
verbal and nonverbal. The dual functions of word and sign are then
fleshed out: “Since God himself here speaks and acts [redet und zeychnet]
through the priest, we would do him in his Word and work [Wort und
Werck] no greater dishonor than to doubt whether it is true. And we
can do him no greater honor than to believe that they are true and to
rely firmly on them” (WA 2:686.27–30).68
Although Luther does not explicitly mention the sacrament in Articles
7–14, he nevertheless develops the theme of their function as signs
and their function of signifying positively, in opposition to the negative
signification of ‘death, sin, hell’: Man “seeks signs of God’s will” (WA
2:688.7);69 our foes “boldly rush in . . . with their image, their arguments,

“Dan die sacrament auch anders nit seyn, dan zeychen, die zum glauben dienen
und reytzen, wie wir sehen werden, An wilchen glauben sie nichts nutz seyn.”
Paragraph 17: “So it is clear from all this that this holy sacrament is nothing else
than a divine sign, in which are pledged, granted, and imparted Christ and all saints
together with all their works, sufferings, merits, mercies, and possessions, for the comfort
and strengthening of all who are in anxiety and sorrow, persecuted by the devil, sins,
the world, the flesh, and every evil. And to receive the sacrament is nothing else than
to desire all this and firmly to believe that it is done” (LW 35:60).
There are also 7 occurrences of sacrament in Articles 18–20.
“. . . was die sacrament bedeuten, und alls, was gott darynnen sagt und anzeygt.”
“. . . das man mit Marien, der mutter gottis, yn festem glauben sprech: Mir geschech
nach deynen worten und zeychen.”
“Dan die weyl da selbst gott durch den priester redt und zeychnet, mocht man gott
kein grosser uneehr yn synem wort und werck thun, dan zweyfelen, ab es war sey, und
kein grosser eehre thun, den glauben es war seyn und sich frey drauff vorlassen.”
“. . . er sucht zeychen gottlichs willen.”
luther’s “sermon on preparing to die” (1519) 63

and their signs” (LW 42:103).70 Some of these signs are visual or mental,
and Luther calls them Bilder, ‘pictures’ (disze Bilde, drey Bild [3×], dreyfeltig
Bild) or ‘images’ (9×): [1] death as being killed by God’s wrath (2× in
LW 42:104), or [2] as sin in sinners, which must be fought off by the
picture of grace (2× in LW 42:104f.) or [3] as hell and eternal pain,
to be countered by the heavenly picture of Christ (LW 42:105). Thus,
three pictures of harm (‘death, sin, hell’) are countered by three images
of victory, which Luther amplifies from Scripture, claiming that these
conflicts are foreshadowed in Judges 7 (Gideon and the Midianites) and
ultimately by Christ, as cited in Isa. 9 and completed on the cross. In a
powerful argument, initiated by question and answer (anthypophora)71
and completed by anaphora (repetitions of statements beginning with
‘He is . . .’), Luther declares a creedal utterance:
And when did Christ do this? On the cross! There he prepared himself as
a threefold picture for us, to be held before the eyes of our faith against
the three evil pictures with which the evil spirit and our nature would
assail us to rob us of this faith. He is the living and immortal [lebendig und
unsterblich] image against death, which he suffered, yet by his resurrection
from the dead he vanquished death in his life. He is the image of the
grace of God against sin, which he assumed, and yet overcame by his
perfect obedience. He is the heavenly image, the one who was forsaken
by God as damned, yet he conquered hell, through his omnipotent love,
thereby proving that he is the dearest Son, who gives this to us all if we
but believe (WA 2:691.12–21, my emphasis).72
In article 15 Luther returns to the notion of sacraments operating as
signs, and he deals with both visual and oral aspects of their significa-
tion: In the sacraments your God, Christ himself, deals, speaks, and

“. . . sie werden selbs alzustarck hereyn . . . mit yhrem ansehen, disputirn un zeygen”
(WA 2:688.25).
Here Luther uses the question to anticipate his readers’ thoughts, and then to
answer them. In his work on the catechisms Luther employed a strong pattern of
question and answer (Was ist das? Antwort); see Charles P. Arand, That I May Be His
Own: An Overview of Luther’s Catechisms (St. Louis, 2000), 101–107; Gottfried G. Krodel,
“Luther’s Work on the Catechism,” “Appendix,” 380–383.
“Wen hatt er das than? Am Creutz, dan doselb hatt er unsz sich selbs bereyt eyn
dreyfeltig bild unszerm glauben furzuhalten widder die drey bild, da der bösze geyst
und unszer nature unsz mit ansicht ausz dem glauben zu reyszen. Er ist das lebendig
und unsterblich bild widder den tod, den er erlitten, und doch mit seyner ufferstand
von todtenn ubirwunden yn seynem leben. Er ist das bild der gnaden gottis widder
die sund, der er auff sich genommen und durch seynen unubirwindlichen gehorsam
ubirwunden. Er ist das hymelisch bild, der vorlassen von gott, alsz eyn vordampter,
und durch seyn aller mechtigist liebe die hell ubirwunden, bezeugt, das er der liebst
sun sey und unsz allen dasselb zu eygen geben, szo wir alszo glauben.”
64 chapter two

works with you through the priest. His are not the works and words of
man. . . . God wants the sacraments to be a sign and testimony [Wartz-
eichen und Urkund ] . . . (WA 2:692.28–30).73 [T]he sacraments, that is the
external words of God as spoken by a priest are a truly great comfort
and at the same time a visible sign of divine intent [sichtlich Zeichen
gotlicher Meynung] (WA 2:692.36f.).74 Everyone who is saved:
is saved only by that sign. It points [weyszet] to Christ and his image,
enabling you to say . . ., ‘God promised and in his sacraments he gave
me a sure sign [ gewisz Zeichen] of his grace. . . . This sign, this promise
[das Tzeichen, das Zusagen] of my salvation will not lie to me or deceive
me. It is God who has promised it, and he cannot lie either in words or
in deeds’ (WA 2:693.6–13).75
The sacraments contain nothing but “God’s words, promises, and
signs. This means that we have no doubts about the sacraments or the
things of which they are certain signs” WA 2:693.17–19).76 The sacra-
ments will be completely fruitless if we do not believe the things that
are ‘indicated, given, and promised there [anzeygt, geben und vorsprechen]’
to us (WA 2:693.25). To disbelieve makes God a liar in his “Word,
signs, and works, as one who speaks, shows, and promises [redt, zeyge,
zusage] something which he neither means nor intends to keep” (WA
Clinging to the signs and promises of God takes faith (LW 42:110;
WA 2:693.30). While later, in “The Blessed Sacrament,” he will explicate
faith’s role more clearly,78 here Luther admonishes the dying to believe

“. . . dann yn den Sacramenten handelt, redt, wirckt durch den priester. Deyn
gott Christus selbs mit dyr und geschehen da nit menschen werck oder wort . . . will
die sacrament eyn wartzeichen und urkund seyn.”
“. . . die sacrament, das ist die euszerliche wort gottis, durch eynen priester
gesprochen, gar eyn grosser trost seynt und gleich eyn sichtlich zeichen gotlicher
“. . . dan mit dem tzeichen werden all erhalten, die erhalten werden. Es weyszet auff
Christum und sein bild, das du magst widder des tods, sund und hell bild sagen ‘Got
hat myr zugesagt und eyn gewisz zeichen seyner gnaden yn den sacramenten geben,
das Christus leben meynen tod yn seynem tod ubirwunden hab, seyn gehorsam meyne
sund yn seynem leyden vortilget, seyn lieb meyn hell ynn seynem vorlassen zustort habe,
das tzeichen, das zusagen meyner selickeit wirt myr nit liegen noch triegen, Gott hat
es gesagt, gott mag nit ligen, noch mit worten noch mit wercken.’ ”
“. . . eytel gottis wort, zusagen, zeichen geschehen, hoch achte, yn ehren halt, sich
drauff vorlasse, das ist, das man widder an den sacramenten noch an denn dingen
der sie seynd gewisse tzeichenn.”
“. . . wort, zeychen und werck als ein lugner geachtet wirt, alls der ettwas redt,
zeyge, zusage, das er nicht meyne, noch halten wolle.”
Paragraph 1: “The holy sacrament of the altar, or of the holy and true body of
luther’s “sermon on preparing to die” (1519) 65

the sacraments are ‘sure signs, true words of God’ (WA 2:694.2–3). God
builds his Word and sacraments on sheer grace on the foundation of
his ‘Word and signs.’ One who receives the sacraments “has received a
sign [Zeychen] and a promise [Zusag] from God” (WA 2:69417f.). Having
to go ‘without these signs’ means one’s faith must even more strongly
persevere (WA 2:694.20). Notice, in the discourse below, that Luther has
created more dialogue for his reader to use, a soliloquy that is intensely
personal (with numerous first person singular pronouns):
Thus you must also say with regard to the Sacrament of the Altar, ‘If the
priest gave me the holy body of Christ, which is a sign and promise of
the communion of all angels and saints that they love me, provide and
pray for me, suffer and die with me, bear my sin and overcome hell, it
will and must therefore be true that the divine sign does not deceive me.
I will not let anyone rob me of it. I would rather deny all the world and
myself than doubt my God’s trustworthiness and truthfulness in his signs
and promises. Whether worthy or unworthy of him, I am, according to
the text and declaration of this sacrament, a member of Christendom
(WA 2:694.21–30).79
The signs still require faith: People want to be certain (gewisz) or have
a ‘sign from heaven’ telling whether they are elected. Luther challenges
this position with five successive rhetorical questions—replete with the
repetitive Zeychen—the final one of which emphasizes the reliability of
what those signs indicate:
But what help would it be to them to receive such a sign if they would
still not believe? What good are all the signs without faith? How did
Christ’s signs and the apostles’ signs help the Jews? What help are the
venerable signs [hochwirdigen Zeychen] of the sacraments and the words of
God even today? Why do people not hold to the sacraments, which are

Christ, also has three parts which it is necessary for us to know. The first is the sacra-
ment, or sign. The second is the significance of this sacrament. The third is the faith
required with each of the first two. These three parts must be found in every sacrament.
The sacrament must be external and visible, having some material form or appearance.
The significance must be internal and spiritual, within the spirit of the person. Faith
must make both of them together operative and useful” (LW 35:49).
“Alszo soltu auch sagen ubir dem sacrament des Altars ‘Hat mir der priester geben
den heyligen leychnam Christi, das eyn zeychen und zusagen ist der gemeynschafft
aller Engel und heyligen, das sie mich leib haben, fur mich sorgen, bitten und mit mir
leyden, sterben, sund tragen und hell ubirwunden, Szo wirt es und musz alszo seyn, das
gottlich zeychen treugt mich nit, und las mirs nit nhemen, ich wolt ehe alle welt, mich
selb vorleugnen, ehe ich dran zweyffelt, Meyn gott der sey mir gewisz und warhafftig
yn dissem seynem zeychen und zusagen, Jch sey seyn wirdig odder nit, szo byn ich ein
glid der Christenheit nach laut und anzeygung diszes sacraments.”
66 chapter two

sure and appointed signs [ gewisse und eingesetzte Zeychen], tested and tried
by all saints and found reliable by all who believed and who received all
that they indicate [zeichent]? (WA 2:694.37–695.3).80
Luther follows his series of rhetorical questions with a final summary
of the sacraments’ function:
The right use of the sacraments involves nothing more than believing that
all will be as the sacraments promise and pledge through God’s Word.
Therefore, it is necessary not only to look at the three pictures in Christ
and with these to drive out the counter-pictures [ gegen Bild], but also to
have a definite sign which assures us that this has surely been given to us.
That is the function [das seyn] of the sacraments (WA 2:695.10–15).81
From Article 18 on Luther’s main objective is not to teach what the
sacraments mean or do, but to encourage the dying to recognize and
depend on others for support: God and Christ, the angels, saints, and all
Christians. But he keeps returning, on occasion, to the signifying power
of the sacraments (and of the Word) to remind us of this assistance.
“He can be certain, as the sacraments point out that a great many eyes
are upon him” (WA 2:695.17f.).82 There is no doubt, as the Sacrament
of the Altar indicates [weyszet], that all of these . . . run to him (WA
2:695.22).83 He who doubts this does not believe in the most venerable
Sacrament of the Body of Christ, in which are pointed out, promised
and pledged [ gezeygt, zugesagt, vorpflicht] . . . (WA 2:695.26f.).84 Therefore,
we must know that even though the works of God surpass human
understanding, God yet effects all of this through such insignificant
signs [cleynen tzeichen] as the sacraments to teach us what a great thing
a true faith in God really is (WA 2:696.16–19).85 We have two reasons

“as helffen noch heut die hochwirdigen zeychen der sacrament und wort gottis?
Warumb halten sie sich nit an die sacrament, wilchs gewisse und eingesetzte zeychen
sein, durch alle heyligen probirt und vorsucht, gewisz erfunden allen denen, die do
glaubt haven, und ubirkummen als wasz sie zeichent?”
“Der prauch ist nit anders, dan glauben, es sey alszo, wie die sacrament durch
gottis wort zusagen und vorpflichten. Drumb ist nott, das man nit alleyn die drey bild
in Christo ansehe und die gegem bild damit ausztreyb und fallen lasse, sondernn das
man eyn gewisz tzeichen hab, das unsz vorsichere, es sey alszo unsz geben, das seyn
die Sacrament.”
“. . . gewisz seyn, das noch antzeigung des sacraments auff yhn gar viel augen
“. . . da ist keyn zweyffell, wie das sacrament des altaris weyszet, das die allesampt
alsz . . . zu seynem glidmas zu lauffen.”
“. . . wer dran zweiffelt, der glaubt aber nicht an das hochwirdig sacrament desz
leychnams Christi, Jn wilchem gezeygt, zugesagt, vorpflicht wirt.”
“. . . darumb soll man wissen, das gottis werck seyn, die grosser seyn dan jemand
luther’s “sermon on preparing to die” (1519) 67

for believing our prayer is heard: The first one is that he has just heard
from the Scriptures how God commanded the angels to give love and
help to all who believe and how the sacrament conveys [ gibt] this (WA
2:696.28f.).86 Luther puts together, in the final Article, how the images
and the sacraments function. While obscured in LW 42:114 (but clear
in German), notice how he uses anaphora and asyndetic repetition
(especially in repeating second singular personal pronouns) to build a
cumulative celebration of God’s pro me provision:
He offers you [Er weyst und gibt deynen] in Christ the image of life, of grace,
of salvation [des lebens, der gnade, der selickeit] so that you [du] may not be
horrified by the images of death, of sin, of hell. He lays, furthermore
[Er legt dartzu], your death, your sin, your hell on his dearest Son, and
vanquishes them, renders them harmless for you. He lets, in addition, your
trials [Er leszt dartzu deyne anfechtung] of death, of sin, of hell also assail
his Son and teaches you how to preserve yourself in the midst of these
and how to make them harmless and bearable. He grants you, [Er gibt
dyr] to relieve you of all doubt, a sure sign [ gewisz Wartzeichen], namely,
the holy sacraments. He commands [Er befelht] his angels, all saints, all
creatures to join him in watching over you, to be concerned about your
soul, and to receive it. He commands you [Er gepeut, du] to ask him for
this and to be assured of fulfilment (WA 2:697.15–25).87

E. Visual Narration, Description, and Exhortation

Luther may have been consciously trying to build on the notion that the
woodcut illustrations of the ars moriendi were an aid to illiterate dying
people who needed help in appreciating—through visualizing—the
spiritual temptations of ‘death, sin, hell,’ and especially the spiritual
assistance of God, the angels, the saints, the sacraments, etc.88 Notice

dencken mag, und sie doch wircket ynn solchen cleynen tzeichen der Sacrament, das
er unsz lere, wie grosz dinck sey eyn rechter glaub tzu Gott.”
“Die erste, das er itzt gehort ausz der schryfft, wie gott yhnen befolen hat, und
wie das sacrament gibt.”
“Er weyst und gibt dyr in Christo des lebens, der gnade, der selickeit bild, das
du fur des tods, der sund, der hell bild nit dich entsetzist. Er legt dartzu deynen tod,
deyne sund, deyn hell auff seynen liebsten sun und ubirwindt sie dyr, macht sie dyr
unschedlich. Er leszt darzu deyne anfechtung des tods, der sund, der helle auch ubir
seynen sun gehen, und dich darinne tzu halten leret und sie unschedlich. Darzu treglich
macht. Er gibt dyr des alles ein gewisz wartzeichen, das du yhe nit dran zweiffelest,
nemlich die heyligen sacrament. Er befelgt seynen Engeln, allen heyligenn, allen crea-
turen, das sie mit yhm auff dich sehen, deyner seel warnemen und sie entpfahen. Er
gepeut, du solt solchs von hym bitten und der erhorung gewisz seyn.”
Perelman emphasizes the role of ‘presence’ in persuasion; cf. Chaim Perelman and
L. Olbrichts-Tyteca, The New Rhetoric: A Treatise on Argumentation, trans. John Wilkinson
68 chapter two

especially what I call Luther’s vision talk and the phrases (both verbs and
objects) that describe or prescribe sensual, particularly visual, action and
contemplation. Although the actions take concentrated effort to perform,
they do not necessarily connote physical movement (which is not easy
for a dying person). Neither do the actions require explanation, for the
notions of seeing, looking, viewing, gazing, etc., are self-explanatory.
Vision talk is required because the enemy also uses this tactic.
We must ‘turn [richten]’ our eyes to God (WA 2:685.20). Death ‘fixes
its gaze [zu seher vor Augen hatt]’ (WA 2:687.4–17). The devil presses man
to ‘look closely [betrachten]’ at the image of death (WA 2:687.5). Indeed,
he “conjures up before man’s eyes [die eyn Mensch yhe gesehen] . . . all kinds
of death ever seen, heard, or read” by man (WA 2:687.6f.). We ‘must
refuse to see [nit sehen wollen]’ death. Death’s power and might are rooted
in our ‘undue viewing and contemplating [ansehen odder betrachten]’ of it
(WA 2:687.17). We tend to “dwell on [sin] and brood over it too much
[ansehen und zu tieff bedencken]” (WA 2:687.18f.). We should constantly
“have our eyes fixed [stetig voraugen haben]” on the image of ‘death,
sin, hell’ (LW 42:102; WA 2:687.32f.). The devil “closes our eyes and
hides these images [thut er unsz die Augen zu und vorbirget die selben Bild],”
the images being the words of Ps. 51:3, “My sin is ever before [alzeit
voraugen] me.” But in the hour of death, when our “eyes should see
only [voraugen haben nur]” life, grace and salvation, he at once “opens
our eyes [thut er unsz dan aller erst die Augen] . . . so that we shall not see
the true ones” (WA 2:687.34–36). We must strive “not to open [lade]
our homes to any of these images and not to paint the devil over the
door” (WA 2:688.22–24).89 The only thing to do with these pictures is

and Purcell Weaver (Notre Dame, 1969). For a brief discussion of presence, see Neil
R. Leroux, “Perceiving Rhetorical Style: Toward A Framework for Criticism.” Rhetoric
Society Quarterly 22 (fall 1992): 29–44.
Here Luther has used a proverb he uses several times later, in other works, accord-
ing to James C. Cornette, Jr., Proverbs and Proverbial Expressions in the German Works of
Martin Luther, ed. Wolfgang Mieder and Dorothee Racette. Sprichwörterforschung 19
(Bern, 1997), 107. See WA 9:154.12; 16:319.10f.; 18:72.29; 30(2):644.25f.; 32:112.32;
37:577.22; 46:177.23; 47:137.14; 50:445.16; 54:235.1. This proverb is catalogued as
No. 356 in ‘Luthers Sprichwörtersammlung’ (WA 51:657, 712). The proverb, “mahle
den Teuffel nicht uber die thuer, er kompt dir sonst wohl,” Luther here renders as:
“[ I ]n this affair we must exercise all diligence not to open our homes to any of these
images and not to paint the devil over the door. These foes will of themselves boldly
rush in and seek to occupy the heart completely . . .” (LW 42:103); “Nu musz man yn
diszem handell allen vleysz ankeren, das man dyszer dreyer bild keyns zu hausz lade,
noch den teuffell ubir die thur male, sie werden selbs alzustarck hereyn fallen und das
hertz mit yhrem ansehen” (WA 2:688.23–26).
luther’s “sermon on preparing to die” (1519) 69

‘to combat and expel them.’ We must ‘look [ansehen]’ at death while
alive and ‘see [ansehen]’ sin in the light of grace and hell in the light
of heaven, permitting nothing to divert us from that ‘view [Blick]’ (WA
In Article 10 (LW 42:104; WA 2:689.3–24) Luther argues that one
must not ‘view or ponder [ansehen odder betrachten]’ death as such. Rather,
we must resolutely “turn your gaze [Sondern deyn Augen] . . . and look
[ansehen] at death closely and untiringly [starck und emfig].” The more
profoundly we impress that image upon our heart and ‘gaze [ansihest]’
upon it, the more it will ‘vanish [vehter].’ The children of Israel had
merely to ‘raise their eyes [ansehen]’ to the dead bronze serpent and
not ‘look [ansihest]’ at death. In Article 11 (LW 42:104f.; WA 2:689.25–
690.3) Luther urges readers: “[Y]ou must not look [ansehen] at sin in
sinners”; you must “turn [abkeren] your thoughts away from that and
look [ansehen] at sin only within the picture of grace.” “Engrave that
picture . . . keep it before your eyes [vor Augen haben].” He urges readers
to keep the cross ‘before your eyes [vor Augen haben],’ which means to
“view the picture of grace and engrave it in yourself.” Readers may
view (ansehen) their sins in safety; they may see (ansihest) their death taken
upon Christ. In Article 12 (LW 42:105; WA 2:690.13–26) Luther urges
readers to “keep your eyes closed tightly to such a view [die Augenn fest
zuhaltenn fur solchem Blick]” as hell and damnation. Instead, gaze (ansich)
at the heavenly picture of Christ, and don’t allow it to be ‘erased from
your vision [las dirs nur nit ausz den Augen nhemen].’ ‘Seek yourself [Suche
dich]’ only in Christ and you will find; when you ‘look [ansihist]’ at
Christ you are already elected.
In Article 13 (LW 42:106; WA 2:690.37–691.13) Luther urges readers
to concentrate on the ‘glowing picture [leuchtende Bild]’ of Christ and his
saints, abiding in faith, which “does not see and does not want to see
the false pictures.” Luther implores readers that Christ ‘be held before
the eyes of our faith.’ In Article 14 (WA 2:691.28–692.19) Luther claims
the Jews “held the image of sin before Christ’s eyes [Der Sund Bild hilten
sye ym fur]”; they pressed the picture of hell before Christ’s eyes (Bild
trieben sie zu yhm), saying ‘let us see’ if God will deliver him now. Luther
argues that ‘now we mark [wyr nu sehen]’ that on the cross Christ acts as
though he does not hear or see them. So also we must ‘let these images
slip away [lassen her fallen und abfallen],’ cling to God’s will—meaning hold
(hafften) and firmly believe ( festiglich gleuben). In Article 15 (LW 42:109)
Luther says we must “carefully walk with open eyes [eyn Aug auff haben
soll mit allem vleysz]” (WA 2:693.3). In Article 16 (LW 42:110) he says,
70 chapter two

“Just see to it [Schaw] that you believe” (WA 2:694.2). In Article 17 (LW
42:111; WA 2:694.32–695.14) Luther says, ‘Just see [Nu sihe]’ how many
people want to be certain; the signs are believed by all who received all
that they indicate (zeichent). ‘Look [ansehe]’ at the three pictures in Christ,
and ‘drive out the counter-pictures [die gegem Bild damit ausztreyb].’ In
Article 18 (LW 42:112; WA 2:695.18–37) Luther claims a great many
eyes are fixed (gar viel Augen sehen) upon the dying Christian: first, the
eyes of God and of Christ himself; then also those of the dear angels.
A Christian must see this for himself; God’s ‘eyes rest upon you.’ Psalm
32:8, which Luther quotes, reads, “my eyes will constantly be upon you
lest you perish.” Luther continues to say that if God ‘looks upon you,’
all will ‘fix [sehen]’ their eyes upon you, as with the Israelites, who could
see nothing but their surrounding enemies. Then the Lord opened the
eyes of Elisha’s servant. In Article 19 (LW 42:113) Luther says God can
make our faith stronger as we face death. In Article 20 (LW 42:114) he
declares that all creatures join God in ‘watching over you,’ and then
we can see God is true (WA 2:697.23–26).

F. Physical Action and Thought in Luther’s Language

In addition to vision talk, Luther’s concrete language also incorporates
many phrases evoking physical action, or at least offering a degree of
vividness, not only the verbs but also the nouns that elicit them—by
providing a scene for, or an object of, action. These phrases often
establish a pattern of dynamic action, especially in describing God’s
active, physical provision, which in turn leads naturally to admonishing
the dying person to ‘fix [his] eyes’ on Jesus. Often these phrases—noun
or verb—are doublets, and they are frequently constructed in close
parallelism, sometimes in rhyme. The working of not one but two
terms enhances the prospects of Luther’s communication being more
compelling. There are roughly five categories of such language.
A. Spatial Description: The Birth Analogy. In Article 3 (LW 42:99f.),
upon the first use of a visual command (‘turn our eyes to God,’ which is
not very literal or explicit in German),90 Luther constructs the analogy
between dying and being born, calling death a new birth (new gepurt).
He derived the analogy from John 16:21, which he quotes. The path
of death ‘leads and directs us’ to God. In Him we find the ‘narrow

“Soll man sich dan alleyn zu gott richten” (WA 2:685.20f.).
luther’s “sermon on preparing to die” (1519) 71

gate and straight path’ to life, on which all must joyfully venture forth,
because the path is not long, though the gate is quite narrow.91 Observe
Luther’s use of assonant rhyme (cleynen/weyten) to stress the comparison:
there are pain and peril (Gefar und Engsten) that accompany the infant
from the small abode (cleynen Wonung) of the mother’s womb, but then
begins life in an ‘immense heaven and earth.’ All then depart life through
the narrow gate of death (enge Pforten des Todts). During life, heaven and
earth seem ‘large and wide’ but are really ‘narrower and smaller’ than
the womb, when compared to the future heaven. Luther’s first proof is
the feast day called Natale in Latin, commemorating the death of saints
but literally meaning birth. Reasoning that death makes us think of this
life as expansive and the life beyond as confined, Luther argues that a
child’s physical birth should teach us what Christ has declared in John
16:21 about the forgotten sorrow of childbirth’s travail, once the child
is born. In dying, anguish must be borne in the belief that expansive
joy follows: the path of death leads and directs us, yet all must joyfully
venture forth ( frölich erwegen). Following his quote of John 16:21, Luther
argues that, as with the travail (Angst) of childbirth, the anguish (Angst)
of dying is what we must bear, for not only is the anguish forgotten; a
‘large mansion and joy’ will follow.92
B. The Devil and Our Conscience. In Articles 6–8 (LW 42:101f.)
Luther uses the concrete language—of noun, verb, adverb, and adjec-
tive—and the series (doublet, triplet) to argue that the devil attacks
the consciences of Christians, using the images of ‘death, sin, hell’ to

Luther uses two balanced, parallel clauses (6 syllables each) for this anaphoric
antithesis: “er ist woll fast enge, er ist aber nit langk” (WA 2:685.23f.).
“Man szo yderman urlaub auff erden geben, Soll man sich dan alleyn zu gott
richten, da der weg des sterbens sich auch hin keret und unsz furet. Und hie hebt an die
enge pforte, der schmale steyg zum leben, des musz sich eyn yglicher frölich erwegen,
dann er ist woll fast enge, er ist aber nit langk, und geht hie zu, gleych wie ein kind
ausz der cleynen wonung seyner mutter leyb mit gefar und engsten geboren wirt yn
diszenn weyten hymell und erden, das ist auff disze welt. Alszo geht der mensch durch
die enge pforten des todts ausz diszem leben, und wie woll der hymell und die welt,
da wir itzt yn leben grosz und weyt angesehen wirt, Szo ist es doch alles gegen dem
zukunfftigem hymel vill enger und kleyner, dan der mutter leyb gegenn diszem hymell
ist, darumb heyst der lieben heyligen sterben eyn new gepurt, und yhre fest nennet
man zu latein Natale, eyn tag yhrer gepurt. Aber der enge gangk des todts macht, das
unsz disz leben weyt und yhenes enge dunckt. Drumb musz man das glauben unnd
an der leyplichen gepurt eyns kinds lernen, als Christus sagt: Eyn weyb, wan es gepirt,
szo leydet es angst, man sie aber geneszen ist szo gedenckt sie der angst nymmer, die
weyll eyn mensch geporn ist von yhr yn die welt, alszo ym sterben auch musz man
sich der angst erwegen und wissen, das darnach eyn groszer raum und freud seyn
wirt” (WA 2:685.20–686.8).
72 chapter two

condemn believers. Residing in the cognitive and psychological realms,

this language—all along the figurative-literal continuum—is less physical
than the birth-analogical diction; yet it still is dynamic. Luther claims
our nature has etched death’s image too vividly within itself; that the
devil presses (steuret) man so that the ‘mien and image [Geperd und Bild]’
of death adds to his ‘worry, timidity, and despair’; that the devil had
‘tormented and destroyed [ geplagt und vorterbet]’ sinners; that the devil
sees that man ‘flees and abhors’ death and thus ‘is and remains dis-
obedient [erfunden werde und bleybe].’ In order to combat this onslaught
when one is dying, Luther boldly argues that we should familiarize
ourselves with death, “inviting death into our presence when it is still
at a distance and not on the move.” At the time of dying, however, we
must put the thought of death out of mind.93 Regarding sin (Article
7), we should not ‘dwell on it and brood over it too much [ansehen und
zu tieff bedencken]’ or else our conscience is ‘ashamed before God and
accuses itself terribly.’ The devil wants us to “despair or die reluctantly,
thus forgetting God and being found disobedient” (WA 2:687.18–24).94
In Article 8 (LW 42:102f.) Luther says hell looms large for us because
of ‘undue scrutiny and stern thought.’ In a vivid expression (not fully
apparent in LW 42:103), the devil tries to blast God’s love from a
man’s mind (Gottis Lieb mit eynem Sturm wind auszuleschen) and to arouse
thoughts of God’s wrath. In the end, the imperiled man who accepts
the devil’s thoughts falls prey to ‘hatred and blasphemy’ of God. The
devil is always reminding us of the lost, “agitating such dangerous and
pernicious thoughts so violently” that man, who would otherwise gladly
die, “now becomes loath to depart this life.”95
C. Scriptural Images of Conflict. In Article 13 (LW 42:106f.) Luther
uses two OT Scriptures (plus the event of Christ’s crucifixion in the
NT) as figur, wherein he argues that the triple threat (‘death, sin,
hell’) has been anticipated by God and conquered by Gideon ( Judges
7:16–22; Isa. 9:4) and by Christ. Having already discussed the two
Scriptures briefly, here I want simply to highlight Luther’s concrete

WA 2:686.31–687.17.
“Die sund wechst und wirt grosz auch durch yhr zuvill ansehen und zu tieff
bedencken. Da hilfft zu die blodickeit unszers gewissen, das sich selbs vor gott schemet
und grewlich strafft. Da hatt der teuffell dan dyn bad sunden, das er gesucht, da treybt er,
da macht er die sund szo vill und grosz, da soll er alle die fürhalten, die gesundet haben,
und wie vil mit wenigern sunden vordampt seyn, Das der mensch aber musz vorzagen
odder unwillig werden zusterben gottis vorgessen und engehorsam ersunden.”
WA 2:688.1–21.
luther’s “sermon on preparing to die” (1519) 73

and vivid language, especially through verbal and nominal doublets

(and a triplet), in which he narrates these stories. Three ‘pictures or
conflicts’ appear in Judges 7: Gideon attacked the Midianites at night
with three hundred men in three different places but did no more than
have ‘trumpets blown and glass fragments smashed’; the foe then ‘fled
and destroyed himself [ feynd flohen und selbs erwurgten].’ Similarly, ‘death,
sin, and hell’ will flee with might. We must ‘encourage and strengthen’
ourselves with God’s Word as with the sound of trumpets. Isaiah 9
uses this figure and three images: the yoke of his burden, the staff for
his shoulder (Ruthe seynes Rucken), the rod of his oppressor (Scepter seynes
Trebers) were broken (ubirwunden), were overcome (ubirwand) by Gideon.
Luther then repeats these images with his interpretation of Isaiah 9.
In this interpretation, Luther uses a form of dialogue, wherein he puts
his interpretation into the mouth of Isaiah (WA uses quotation marks).
Further, Luther foregrounds sin, by placing it first in the list and by
finishing the interpretation with another reference to sin. Luther uses
parenthesis to comment on each of the three applications; the three
parentheses are virtually anaphoric:
He says as it were: ‘The sins of your people (which are a heavy “yoke of
his burden” for his conscience), and death (which is a “staff ” or punish-
ment laid upon his shoulder), and hell (which is a powerful “rod of the
oppressor” with which eternal punishment for sin is exacted)—all these
you have defeated. This came to pass in the days of Midian, that is,
when Gideon, by faith and without wielding his sword, put his enemies
to flight’ (WA 2:691.5–11).96
D. Scriptural Images of Hope and Strength. In Article 18 (LW 42:112f.)
Luther employs five different OT Scriptures, all for the purpose of
bringing comfort in the hour of death. The message is that one is
not alone, that the eyes of many—God, Christ, the angels, the saints,
and all creatures—are upon the dying one. In contrast to the previous
section’s emphasis on Luther’s visual narration, depiction, and descrip-
tion—where the dying one is doing the looking—here Luther describes
the looking down of others. Two things are evident here: (1) Luther’s

“Als sprech er ‘Deyns volcks sund (das do ist eyn schwere last seyner burden yn
seynem gewissen) und den tod (der do ist dyn ruthe odder straff, der do druckt seynen
rücken) unnd die hell (die eyn scepter und gewalt ist des treybers, do mit gefodert wirt
ewiges betzalen fur die sund). Hastu alls ubirwunden wie es dan geschehen ist zu den
zeyten Madian, das ist durch den glaubenn, da durch Gedion an all schwert schlag
die feynd vorjagt.’ ”
74 chapter two

emphasis upon the eyes which look down ‘upon him’—‘upon you,’—is
prevalent in the Scriptures quoted; (2) the concrete language of persons
and places that the quoted Scriptures bring.
First, in the hour of death one can be certain ( gewisz), as the sacra-
ments point out, that a great many eyes are on him: initially, the eyes
of God himself and of Christ; also, the eyes of the dear angels and
of the saints, and all Christians. These eyes ‘in a body’ help him to
overcome and bear all things. God’s eyes rest upon you, as Ps. 32 says:
“Firmabo, etc., my eyes will constantly be upon you lest you perish.”
Luther argues that if God looks upon you (auff dich sicht), “all the angels,
[all the] saints, and all creatures . . . all of them will uphold you with
their hands.” While not strictly speaking of ‘eyes,’ Luther nevertheless
cites 2 Kings 6 [:16f.] to explain how the Lord opened the eyes of the
young man Elisha.
Second, what the young man saw was the huge mass ( groszer Hauff )
of horses and chariots (Wagen) of fire, even though, at first, all Elisha
could see was that enemies surrounded him. Those who are with us
are more than those who are with them, Luther says. He then notes
the words of Ps. 34:7 (= 33:8 Vulgate), telling of the angel that will
encamp around those who fear him and deliver them. In Ps. 125:1–2
(= 124:1–2 Vulgate) those who trust in God cannot be moved (unbeweg-
lich) and are like Mount Zion, which abides forever. As the mountains
encircle (umbring) Jerusalem, so the Lord encircles (umbringet) his people,
‘from this time forth and forevermore.’ Luther then paraphrases from
Ps. 91:11–16 (= 90:11–16 Vulgate.), a fascinating text, from which (vv.
11–12) the devil quoted to Jesus in his wilderness temptation (Matt.
4:6; Luke 4:10f.). The psalm has a narrator tell of all the protections
God (vv. 1–10) and his angels (vv. 11–12) will provide the reader, who
is directly addressed as ‘he’ (vv. 1–3) and ‘you’ (singular, throughout).
Then in vv. 14–16, God’s voice interrupts the narrator and repeatedly
pledges his own protection (‘I will’) to the reader. Note Luther’s inter-
pretive paraphrase and the blend of comforting terms with concrete
dangers, which ends with the anaphora of God’s own promise:
For he has charged his angels to bear you on their hands and to guard
you wherever you go lest you dash your foot against a stone. You will
tread on the adder97 and the lion, the young lion, and the serpent you
will trample under foot (this means that all the power and the cunning

LW 42:113 reverses the doublet.
luther’s “sermon on preparing to die” (1519) 75

[Stercke und List] of the devil will be unable to harm you), because he has
trusted me and I will deliver him.98 I will be with him in all his trials, I
will rescue and honor him. With eternal life I will satisfy [machen] him,
and I will show [offenbaren] him my eternal grace (WA 2:696.5–13).99
E. Actions That Exercise Faith. Having just acknowledged that such
great matters—the legion of angels, God’s ministering spirits (Dinstpar),
sent to those who are to be saved—are, without the sacraments, hard
to believe, Luther declares that a true faith is a great thing. Moreover,
in Article 19 (LW 42:113f.) he suggests ways Christians can ask God
to ‘create and preserve’ this faith, especially at the hour of death.
Luther’s language is vivid, his tone is urgent, and we note his call for
intermediaries. He urges: (1) that one practice ‘awe and humility,’ lest
one ascribe these things to himself, denying God the glory (eere); (2) that
one call upon the holy angels, particularly his own angel, the Mother
of God, and all the apostles and dear saints, since God has granted
exceptional zeal (bszondere Andacht) for this; (3) that one believe one’s
prayer will be heard, because God commanded the angels to help;
(4) that we (Luther shifts from third singular to first plural here) must
hold ( fürhalten) this before them and remind (auffrucken) them, so as
to make our ‘faith and trust’ in them and God ‘stronger and bolder’;
(5) that God has enjoined (gepoten) us firmly to believe in the fulfilment
of our prayer, that it is truly an Amen; (6) that we bring this com-
mand (Gespott) to his attention (the prayer uses first person singular):
“My God, you have commanded me to pray and to believe my prayer
will be heard. I come assured you will not forsake but will grant me
a genuine faith”;100 (7) that we should implore God and his saints our
whole life long for true faith in the last hour, as we sing on Pentecost:
“Now let us pray to the Holy Spirit for the true faith of all things the

LW 42:113 inserts the following words, from Ps. 91:14b–15a, into Luther’s quote:
“I will protect him because he knows my name: When he calls to me, I will answer
him”; these words are absent in WA 2:685.
“Er hat seynen Engelen dich befolen, Auff den henden sollen sie dich tragen und
dich bewaren, wo du hyn gehest, das du nit stoffest deynen fusz an yrgend eynen steyn,
Auff den schlangen und basiliscken soltu gehen, und auff den lawen und drachen soltu
treten (das ist alle sterck und list desz teuffels wreden dyr nichts thun), dan er hat yn
mich vortrawet, Jch wil yhn erloszen, ich wil bey ym seyn yn allen seynen anfechtungen,
ich will yhm ausz helffen und zu ehren setzen, Jch will yhn soll machen mit ewickeit,
Jch will yhm offenbaren meyne ewigen gnade.”
“ ‘Meyn Gott, du hast gepoten zu bitten unnd zu glauben, die bitt werd erhört,
drauff bitt ich und vorlas mich, du werdest mich nit lassen und eynen rechten glauben
geben’ ” (WA 2:697:2–4).
76 chapter two

most, and as home we go, etc.” (WA 2:697.7f.).101 Luther closes Article
19 with the following plea:
When the hour of death is at hand one must offer this prayer and, in
addition, remind God of his command and of his promise and not doubt
that one’s prayer will be fulfilled. After all, if God commanded us to pray
and to trust in prayer, and, furthermore, has granted the grace to pray,
why should one doubt that his purpose in this was also to hear and to
fulfil? (WA 2:697.8–13).102

G. Overcoming the Enemy

In this pamphlet on preparing for dying Luther frequently turns to the
language of conquest. One of the strong terms he uses for character-
izing Christ’s (and the Christian’s) victory at death is uberwunden—all
but once as verb. This conquest language is not as ubiquitous as the
vision talk, but for the most part it occurs in the same places: The
conquest language begins at Article 8; the vision talk is also heard
only sparingly in the earlier articles. In his 26 uses of uberwunden (and
its variants), Luther makes victory seem certain. While he most often
uses uberwunden as an active verb, he occasionally uses the passive voice
to feature how the enemy (usually ‘death, sin, and hell’) is overcome.103
Only 3 times does he use the verb uberwunden to remind readers of
the dangers of ‘being overcome.’ LW 42:99–115 translates uberwunden
as some form of ‘overcome’ (15×), ‘vanquished’ (5×), ‘defeated’ (4×),
‘broken’ (1), and ‘victory’ (1). Moreover, alluding to Hebrews 5:8–9,

“Nu bitten wir den heyligen geyst umb den rechten glauben aller meyst, wen wir
heim faren ausz dissem elende 2c.” LW 42:114 adds words to the hymn that Luther
did not utter here, but which were indeed part of the German text (first verse) of
this well-known hymn, “Sancti Spiritus adsit nobis gratia, quaecorda nostra sibi faciat
habitaculum,” an eleventh-century song appointed for use following the reading of the
Epistle for Pentecost. The song is attributed to Notker Labeo (d. 912); cf. LW 53:25.
In 1524 Luther added three stanzas. The English translation of the hymn is “Now
Let Us Pray to the Holy Ghost” (LW 53:263f.).
“Und wan die stund kommen ist zusterben, soll man gott desselben gepeets
ermanen neben seynem gepot und zusagenn an allen zweyffell, es sey erhoret, dann szo
er gepoten hat tzu bitten und zu trawen ym gebet, dartzu gnad geben zu bitten, Was
solt man zweiffellnn, er habs drumb alls than, das er es erhoren und erfullen will?” LW
42:114 includes several first plural pronouns that are not explicit in Luther’s text.
The list of 19 short-list occurrences of ‘death, sin, hell’ is strikingly parallel
to the 26 occurences of uberwunden. Not counting Articles 10–12, in which we find
uberwunden used 8 times, the two lists are practically identical. In other words, Luther
(unintentionally, no doubt), used an equivalent number of ‘conquest’ verbs as he did
‘death, sin, hell’ short lists. He saw to it, that is, that the triple threat of ‘death, sin, hell’
was thoroughly vanquished.
luther’s “sermon on preparing to die” (1519) 77

Luther uses unubirwindlichen to describe the ‘perfect’ obedience of Christ,

which ‘overcame’ sin.
Article 8 (LW 42:103): “He who surmounts this temptation [over
whether I am elected] has vanquished [ubirwunden] hell, sin, and death
all in one.”104 In Article 10 Luther argues:
[Y]ou must not view or ponder death as such, not in yourself or in your
nature, nor in those who were killed by God’s wrath and were overcome
[ubir wunden] by death. If you do that you will be lost and defeated [ubir
wunden] with them. But you must resolutely turn your gaze, the thoughts
of your heart, and all your senses away from this picture and look at death
closely and untiringly only as seen in those who died in God’s grace and
who have overcome [ubir wunden] death, particularly in Christ and then
also in all his saints” (WA 2:689.3–10).105
In Article 11 we find: Thus you must not look at sin in sinners, or
in your conscience, or in those who abide in sin to the end and are
damned. If you do, you will surely follow them and also be overcome
[ubirwunden] (WA 2:689.24–26).106
Here [when borne by Christ] sins are never sins, for here they are over-
come [ubirwunden] and swallowed up in Christ. He takes your death upon
himself and strangles it so that it may not harm you, if you believe that
he does it for you and see your death in him and not in yourself. Likewise,
he also takes your sins upon himself and overcomes [ubir windt] them with
his righteousness out of sheer mercy. . . . 1 Cor 15 [:57]: ‘Thanks and
praise be to God, who through Christ gives us the victory [Ubirwundung]
over sin and death’ (WA 2:689.38–690.9).107

“Wer hie gewinnet, der hat die hel, sund, todt auff einem hauffen ubirwunden”
(WA 2:688:21f.).
“Du must den todt nit yn yhm selbs, noch yn dir odder deyner nature, noch yn
denen, die durch gottis zorn getodtet seyn, die der todt ubir wunden hatt, ansehen
odder betrachten, du bist anders vorloren und wirst mit yhn ubir wunden, Sondern
deyn augen, deyns hertzen gedancken unnd alle deyne syn gewaltiglich keren von dem
selben bild, und den todt starck und emfig ansehen nur yn denen, die yn gottis gnaden
gestorben und den todt ubir wunden haben, furnemlich yn Christo, darnach yn allen
seynen heyligen.” There is a pregnant phrase facilitated by alliterative consonance in
Gottis Gnaden gestorben above.
“Also mustu die sund nit ansehen yn denn sundern, noch yn deynem gewissen,
noch yn denen, die yn sunden endlich bliben und vordampt seyn, du ferest gewiszlich
hynach und wirst ubirwunden.”
“. . . da seynd sund nymer sund, da seynd sie uberwunden und yn Christo
vorschlunden: dan gleych wie er deynen tod auff sich nympt und yhn erwurgt, das
er dir nit schaden mag, szo du anders gleubst, das er dyr das thut, und deynen todt
yn yhm, nit yn dyr ansihest, alszo nympt er auch deyn sund auff sich und yn seyner
gerechtickeit ausz lauter gnaden dir ubir windt: . . . das sagt Paulus 1. Corin: 15. Gott
78 chapter two

In Article 12: “In that picture [of Christ, forsaken, on the cross] your
hell is defeated [ubirwunden] and your uncertain election is made sure”
(WA 2:690.21).108
Luther’s conquest language is most prolific in Article 13. Quoting
Isa. 9:4, Luther says, “For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for
his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, thou hast broken [ubirwunden]
as in the days of the Midianites, who were overcome [ubirwand ] by
Gideon. . . . all these you have defeated [ubirwunden]” (WA 2:691.3–9).109
Incorporating anaphora, Luther declares:
He [Christ] is the living and immortal image against death, which he
suffered, yet by his resurrection from the dead he vanquished [ubirwunden]
death in his life. He is the image of the grace of God against sin, which
he assumed, and yet overcame [ubir wunden] by his perfect [unubirwindlichen]
obedience. He is the heavenly image, the one who was forsaken by God
as damned, yet he conquered [ubirwunden] hell through his omnipotent
love, thereby proving that he is the dearest Son, who gives this to us all
if we but believe (WA 2:691.15–18).110
Note the opening prepositional phrase as Luther begins Article 14:
“[B]eyond [Zu Ubirflusz] all this he not only defeated [ubirwunden] sin,
death, and hell in himself and offered his victory to our faith, but for
our further comfort he himself suffered and overcame [ubirwunden] the
temptations which these pictures entail for us” (WA 2:691.22–25).111
We see another passive use of our conquest verb in the following: “We
must, similarly, let these images slip away from us to wherever they wish
or care to go, and remember only that we cling to God’s will, which

sey lob und danck, das er unsz yn Christo geben hatt ubirwindung der sund und des
“Sich, yn dem bild ist ubirwunden deyn helle und deyn ungewisz vorsehung
gewisz gemacht.”
“Die last seyner burden, die ruthe seines rucken, das scepter seines treybers
hastu ubirwunden gleych wie zu den zeyten der Madianiten, die Gedeon ubirwand. . . .
Hastu alls ubirwunden.”
“Er ist das lebendig und unsterblich bild widder den tod, den er erlitten, und
doch mit seyner ufferstand von todtenn ubirwunden yn seynem leben. Er ist das bild
der gnaden gottis widder die sund, die er auff sich genommen und durch seynen
unubirwindlichen gehorsam ubirwunden. Er ist das hymelisch bild, der vorlassen von
gott, alsz eyn vordampter, und durch seyn aller mechtigist liebe die hell ubirwunden,
bezeugt, das er der liebst sun sey und unsz allen dasselb zu eygen geben, szo wir alszo
“Zu ubirflusz hatt er nit allein yn yhm selbs die sund, todt, hell ubirwunden und
unsz furgehalten zu glauben, Sondern zu mehrem trost auch selbst die anfechtung
erlitten und ubirwunden, die wir yn diszen bilden haben.”
luther’s “sermon on preparing to die” (1519) 79

is that we hold to Christ and firmly believe our death, sin, and hell
are overcome [ubirwunden] in him and no longer able to harm us” (WA
2:692.16–20).112 In Article 15:
God wants the sacraments to be a sign and testimony that Christ’s life
has taken your death, his obedience your sin, his love your hell, upon
themselves and overcome [ubirwunden] them. Moreover, through the
same sacraments you are included and made one with all the saints. You
thereby enter into the true communion of saints so that they die with
you in Christ, bear sin, vanquish [ubirwinden] hell (WA 2:692.29–35).113
Giving them dialogue they can recite when facing the image of death,
sin, and hell, Luther also assures his readers that “God promised and
in his sacraments he gave me a sure sign of his grace that Christ’s life
overcame [ubirwunden] my death in his death, that his obedience blot-
ted out my sin in his suffering, that his love destroyed my hell in his
forsakenness” (WA 2:693.8–12).114
The last five occurrences of uberwunden are scattered within Articles
16–20. In Article 16: What will it profit you to assume and to believe
that death, sin, and hell are overcome [ubirwunden] in Christ for oth-
ers, but not to believe that your death, your sin, and your hell are
also vanquished [ubirwunden] and wiped out and that you are thus
redeemed? (WA 2:693.21–24).115 Article 17 (more soliloquy Luther gives
his reader): If the priest gave me the holy body of Christ, which is a
sign and promise of the communion of all angels and saints that they
love me, provide and pray for me, suffer and die with me, bear my sin
and overcome [ubirwunden] hell, it will and must therefore be true that

“Alszo solnn wyr die selben bild auch lassen her fallen und abfallen, wie sie wol-
len oder mugen, und nur gedencken, das wyr an dem willen gottis hangen, der ist,
das wir in Christo hafften und festiglich gleuben, unszer tod, sund und hell sey unsz
yn yhm ubirwunden und mug uns nit schaden.”
“Da geredt dyr gott selbs alle ding, die itzt von Christo gesagt seyn, und will
die sacrament eyn wartzeichen und urkund seyn, Christus leben soll deynen tod, seyn
gehorsam soll deyn sund, seyn liebe deyn helle auff sich genommen und ubirwunden
haben. Darzu wirstu durch die selben sacrament eyngeleybet und voreyniget mit allen
heyligenn und kumift yn die rechte gemeynschafft der heyligen, alszo das sie mit dyr
in Christo sterben, sunde tragen, hell ubirwinden.”
“ ‘Got hat myr zugesagt und eyn gewisz zeichen seyner gnaden yn den sacra-
menten geben, das Christus leben meynen tod yn seynem tod ubirwunden hab, seyn
gehorsam meyne sund yn seynem leyden vortilget, seyn lieb meyn hell ynn seynem
vorlassen zustort habe. . . .’ ”
“Was hulffs, das du dyr vorbildest und gleubest, der tod, die sund, die hell der
andernn sey in Christo ubirwunden, Wan du nit auch glaubst, das deyn tod, deyn sund,
deyn hell dyr da ubirwunden und vertilget sey, und alszo erloszet seyest?”
80 chapter two

the divine sign does not deceive me (WA 2:694.22–27).116 Article 18:
There is no doubt, as the Sacrament of the Altar indicates, that all of
these [the eyes of angels, saints, Christians] in a body run to him as
one of their own, help him overcome [ubirwinden] death, sin, and hell,
and bear all things with him (WA 2:695.20–23).117 Article 20: Further-
more, he lays your sin, your death, and your hell on his dearest Son,
vanquishes [ubirwindt] them, and renders them harmless for you (WA

IV. Conclusion

Already in 1519 we see clear evidence in “Sermon on Preparing to

Die” of Luther’s rhetorical artistry, homiletical power, and consolatory
effectiveness. Martin Brecht calls ‘graphic’ Luther’s descriptions of the
images of ‘death, sin, hell’; he aptly characterizes Luther’s argument
that, “One’s gaze should be directed toward another concrete image,
namely, toward Christ who has overcome death and is pure life, who
on the cross has throttled and annihilated sin and has vanquished hell.”
Brecht has captured most of the themes that my rhetorical analysis
has uncovered. He argues that the significance ‘for the reformatory
concept’ of Luther’s 1519 writings on comfort and death may now
be underestimated. “At that time the crucial test for it was not least
whether one could not only live with it, but also die with it.”119 My
hope is that, with continued study of this and other consolatory writ-
ings of Luther, we may more clearly understand what it meant (and
means) to die well.

“ ‘Hat mir der priester geben den heyligen leychnam Christi, das eyn zeychen
und zusagen ist der gemeynschafft aller Engel und heyligen, das sie mich lieb haben,
fur mich sorgen, bitten und mit mir leyden, sterben, sund tragen und hell ubirwunden,
Szo wirt es und musz alszo seyn, das gottlich zeychen treugt mich nit, und las mirs
nit nhemen . . .’ ”
“. . . da ist keyn zweyffell, wie das sacrament des altaris weyszet, das die allesampt
alsz eyn gantz corper zu seynem glidmas zu lauffen, helffen yhm den tod, die sund,
die hell ubirwinden und tragen alle mit yhm.”
“Er legt dartzu deynen tod, deyne sund, deyn hell auff seynen liebsten sun und
ubirwindt sie dyr, macht sie dyr unschedlich.”
Martin Brecht, Martin Luther, 1:355.



A martyr is not one who merely expires, not even a ‘good person’ about
whom words are inadequate to express our love, respect, and admiration
(particularly so, now that the person is dead). The term is not assigned
consensually to one whose aim in dying is to kill as many others as
possible. Rather, a martyr is said to have died for the faith; a Christian
martyr has died for ‘the faith once for all delivered to the saints’ ( Jude
3). The first definition offered in today’s English dictionaries seeks to
capture the meaning of the Greek martys/martyros (= witness): “a person
who voluntarily suffers death as the penalty of witnessing to and refusing
to renounce a religion.” While some scholars argue that the operational
definition of martyr ought also to include ‘refusing to accept aid or
escape,’ nevertheless it is clear that true martyrs are a minority, and they
are generally esteemed by those in their faith community because they
testify to something of immeasurable worth for which few can imagine
themselves capable of standing firm.1 But are martyrs like heroes, or
does their cause deserve greater credit than their deed?
Discourse that promulgates cultural discussion about martyrs is
yet another genre to which Luther put his pen: martyrology. As
happened with the advance of European Christianity, opportunities
for martyrdom had dwindled,2 and yet the sixteenth century saw a

William C. Weinrich, “Death and Martyrdom: An Important Aspect of Early
Christian Eschatology,” CTQ 66 (2002): 327–338, here at 327; Peter Burschel, Sterben
und Unsterblichkeit: Zur Kultur des Martyriums in der frühen Neuzeit. Ancien Régime Aufklärung
und Revolution 35 (Münich, 2004). J. Warren Smith, “Martyrdom: Self-Denial or Self-
Exaltation? Motives for Self-Sacrifice from Homer to Polycarp, A Theological Reflec-
tion,” Modern Theology 22 (2006): 169–196; Keith L. Sprunger, “Dutch Anabaptists and
the Telling of the Martyr Stories,” MQR 80 (2006): 149–182.
According to Thomas A. Fudge, the early fifteenth century saw Germany serve
“as a killing field for wandering Hussites: Hus, Jerome of Prague, Nicholas of Dresden,
etc. Johannes Drändorf, a Hussite emissary, together with his companion Martin Bor-
chard, were put to death at Heidelberg on 17 February 1425 with the approval of the
Bishop of Worms and a number of the professors at the University of Heidelberg. . . .
Peter Turnow was burnt at Speyer in 1426. In 1458 Matthäus Hagen was burned at
Stettin for claiming that Hus and Jerome were saints”; “ ‘The Shouting Hus’: Heresy
82 chapter three

‘stunning renaissance’ of men and women who died for their faith.3
The situation had shifted from the prospect of dying for the faith being
seldom more than a fantasy, ‘except for the missionaries,’ to the reality
of approximately five thousand martyrs among Anabaptists, Protestants,
and Catholics in the sixteenth century.4 Brad Gregory argues that the
late medieval context of attitudes toward patient suffering and death,
informed by discourse such as the Golden Legend and the ars moriendi,
provided the fertile soil of desire and readiness for death, to which
the Reformation’s emphasis on sola scriptura added opportunity and
justification for persecution by fellow believers.5 Luther himself, under
imperial ban by the Edict of Worms, was rumored to have been mur-
dered in the spring of 1521. From his seclusion at Wartburg castle he
was profoundly conscious of being part of the persecuted church (cf.
“A Letter of Consolation to All Who Suffer Persecution” [1522; LW
43:61–70]), and he said in a letter to Staupitz ( June 1522) that ‘the
sophists’ were planning to burn him, just as he believed that Jakob Propst
(ca. 1495–1562) and two other Augustinians at Antwerp had already
been burned.6 While Luther had been misinformed about the fate of
Propst and the others, a little over a year later—in midyear 1523—he
expressed similar thoughts about the positive value of martyrdom in
“To the Christians in the Netherlands” (August 1523), which we shall
analyze later.

Appropriated as Propaganda in the Sixteenth Century,” Communio Viatorum 38 (1996):

197–231, here at 200.
Brad S. Gregory, “Late Medieval Religiosity and the Renaissance of Christian
Martyrdom in the Reformation Era,” in Continuity and Change: The Harvest of Late Medieval
and Reformation History. Essays Presented to Heiko A. Oberman on his 70th Birthday, ed. Robert
J. Bast and Andrew C. Gow (Leiden, 2000), 379–399, here at 379.
Richard Kieckhefer, Unquiet Souls: Fourteenth-Century Saints and Their Religious Milieu
(Chicago, 1984), 66, cited in Gregory, “Late Medieval Religiosity,” 380. Gregory, ibid.,
379 (note 1), supplies documentation for the frequently mentioned figure of 5000. Wil-
liam Monter, “Heresy Executions in Reformation Europe, 1520–1565, in Tolerance and
Intolerance in the European Reformation, ed. Ole Peter Grell and Bob Scribner (Cambridge,
1996), 48–64 (here at 49), lists the figure of approximately 3,000 ‘legally sanctioned
deaths across Latin Christendom.’
Gregory, “Late Medieval Religiosity,” passim.
LW 48:13, Letter # 124, “To Johann Staupitz” (27 June 1522); WABr 2:567–568.
luther’s martyrological literature 83

I. A Letter of Consolation to All Who Suffer Persecution Because of

God’s Word, Addressed to Hartmuth von Cronberg (1522)

A little more than a year before the first two martyrs were burned at
Brussels (1 July 1523), Luther received two writings from a young Fran-
conian nobleman, Hartmuth von Cronberg (1488–1549). Von Cronberg
had participated in the Diet of Worms in 1521 (Luther’s hearing was
on 17–18 April) and soon became an ardent supporter of the reforma-
tion. After the Edict of Worms was signed (8 May 1521), von Cronberg
renounced in protest an imperial stipend of 200 gulden, and he began
writing on behalf of the reformation cause, thus becoming one of a
number of laity who authored a significant (though minority) portion
of the religious tracts in the early 1520s.7 Luther’s response to von
Cronberg, Eyn missive allen den, szo von wegen des wort gottes verfolgung leyden
an Hartmutt von Cronberg geschrieben (WA 10II:53–60), was probably written
from the Wartburg in early 1522. While Luther had not intended it for
publication, von Cronberg published Eyn missive, together with some of
his own writings (Wittenberg: Johann Rhau-Grunenberg, 1522). By the
end of the year, the work was also printed in Straßburg (two editions)
and in Augsburg.8
Explanations for the work’s popularity can certainly be found in
the general notion that anything from Luther during this period was
bound to sell. However, we shall see that the subject matter and style
of the document make it not only exciting reading but also useful to
anyone who supported the reformation cause, for the letter speaks
boldly and aggressively about the rightness of the cause. Luther fills his
letter with scriptural evidence designed to explain to his new ‘partner’
in the cause how normal it is to expect persecution when proclaiming
Christian truth.9 While there were no actual martyrs for the Luther
movement yet, the Edict of Worms made the prospect of such very
real to Luther. Consequently, although we find scarcely any reference

“Luther to Melanchthon,” 12 May 1521 (no. 77), LW 48:215–217; WABr 2:232–
233; OER, s.v. “Laity,” by Lorna Jane Abray.
LW 43:59–60; Benzing, Nr. 1168–1171.
We note that while he has just joined the reformation effort, von Cronberg is only
five years younger than Luther. Regardless of age, however, Luther had to have felt
affection for this man, and the risks that von Cronberg would face made any prospect
of losing him not an easy thought for Luther. On the notion of concern for a ‘fellow
worker and fellow soldier’ whose illness made very real the prospect of his death, hence
‘sorrow upon sorrow,’ see Phil. 2:25–30 (Paul and Epaphroditus).
84 chapter three

to blood, murder, or martyrs per se, Luther argues back and forth among
three themes: (1) persecution (trials and testing) is a real fact that must
be expected and prepared for; (2) we can be strong in Christ; and
(3) we must pray for our enemies.
The letter’s overt structure is not easy to discern, but the follow-
ing should prove helpful for presenting the analysis: I. Salutatio (2
lines); II. Benevolentiae captatio/narratio (WA 10II:53.7–55.29); III. Petitio
(55.29–60.10); IV. Conclusio (60.1–9); V. Pauline postscript (60.10–20);
VI. Benediction and Signature (3 lines). In such an order Luther’s
greeting and closing are ritualistic and parallel, and the benevolentiae
captatio and postscript have similar functions. The bulk of the letter’s
body, then, gradually invites the reader to hear favorably a message
about the prospect and meaning of persecution—to consider such a
situation with resolve and hope. In this document one cannot miss the
sense of joy Luther feels in learning of how God is working faithfully
in others who have caught the spirit of reformation faith.
I. Salutatio: Luther’s eloquent greeting is noteworthy, not simply in
itself but also for what will follow it. In itself, (1) unlike all other (later)
documents we have examined thus far, here he still uses the ‘Jhesus’
heading, which he had used consistently up until 1522 but not there-
after;10 (2) instead of the Pauline ‘grace and peace’ that Luther comes
to use so often, here he wishes his reader the “favor and peace of God
the Father and of our Lord Jesus Christ” (LW 43:61). ‘Favor [Gunst]’ is
especially appropriate in light of von Cronberg’s recent rejection of an
annual monetary stipend (200 guldens) and is repeated in the following
line as well as in the Benediction.11
II. Benevolentiae captatio/narratio: Since the salutatio was expressed as a
wish (optative) rather than a granting (imperative), it has absorbed the
next function—expressing one’s good intentions toward the reader. In
this case Luther combines this function with that of narratio, revealing the
circumstances that prompt him to write. Luther’s ‘great joy’ at receiving
von Cronberg’s writings prompts him to write back a letter of encour-
agement.12 What has prompted this feeling in Luther is his conclusion

Timothy J. Wengert, “Martin Luther’s Movement toward an Apostolic Self-Aware-
ness As Reflected in His Early Letters,” LuJ 61 (1994): 71–92, here at 75.
One also notices the repetitive, hard ‘g’ sound in which this greeting is expressed:
‘wish [gewunscht],’ followed by ‘kind sir [Günstiger]’ and, two words later, ‘favor [Gunst],’
which comes (in the preceding line) from God [von Gott] (WA 10II:53.5–7).
WA 10II:53.9, 24. Twice in the initial sentences of the first two paragraphs of
this section Luther uses this word joy as justification for writing and for explaining
luther’s martyrological literature 85

that von Cronberg has been gifted by the word of God with the truth
of the Gospel. This strategy is similar to Paul’s in several epistles: first
thanking God for what he finds praiseworthy in his readers.13
In the next paragraph Luther reveals how his thankfulness for von
Cronberg’s spiritual gift relates to persecution. The language is personal,
in the ‘I/you’ style, but it does not preclude a wider audience. Twice
in this paragraph Luther says he finds ‘comfort’ when he realizes that
his reader recognizes the truth and openly confesses it. His argument
now extends his explanation of how persecution fits into God’s plan.
His reasoning is clear: God’s word is truth, which makes one thirsty
to proclaim truth, in order to save others (what Paul desired and what
Christ taught). With this thirst comes also persecution: one is linked
to Christ through faith and persecution; those without faith—who
persecute the faithful—are not linked to Christ but to the villains who
crucified him.
In the next paragraph of the narratio Luther contrasts the persecu-
tors’ state with that of believers (note the double use of the contrastive
conjunction, tzonder).14 Arguing that death puts an end to sin, by reason

why he feels this way, when the circumstances prompting joy do not seem to us to be
E.g., Rom. 1:8; 1 Cor. 1:4; Eph. 1:16; Phil. 1:3, 5; Col. 1:3; 1 Thess. 1:2; 2 Thess.
1:3; 2 Tim. 1:3; Philem. 1:4. Again, following Luther’s greeting in the Salutatio, the
‘g’ sound of alliteration reverberates in the next three lines: “Two of your letters, the
one . . . the other given [ gethan] . . . came to my attention and were read [ geleszen] by me
with great joy [mit grosser Freud]. I thank my God [Gott] for the favor [Gunst] and gift
[Gabe] of the knowledge of Christian truth bestowed [ geben] on you and in addition
for your delight and active love in it” (LW 43:61) [“Ich hab ewer schrifften zwo, eyne
an Keyszerliche Maiestat, die ander an die bettel ordenn gethan, mit grosszer freud
erfarenn unnd geleszen und danck meynem gott fur die gunst und gabe, szo euch geben
ist an der erkentnisz der Christlichen warheyt, dar tzu auch die lust unnd thetige liebe
tzu der selbigen”] (WA 10II:53.7–11).
Luther s own argumentation here contains interesting rhetorical style: [A] ironic,
almost comic, ridicule, via chiasmus [a.b:b1.a]—“They threaten us with death. If they
were as smart as they are stupid, they would threaten us with life” [Sie drauwenn (a) uns
mit dem Todt (b). Wenn sie szo klug weren, als thoricht sie sind, sollten sie uns mit dem Leben (b1)
drawen (a)] (WA 10II:55.3–4); [B] simile, with consonance between subject and verb—“It
[threatening Christians with death] is just like [Gleych als wenn] trying to frighten a man
by bridling and saddling his horse [Rosz] and bidding him to ride [reytten] on it” (WA
10II:55.6–8); [C] epithet; whereas earlier Luther quoted Scripture calling men ‘gods
[Gotter],’ here he uses a different word to designate Christians as he does Christ—“they
are lords and victors [Hern unnd Sieg] over death. . . . Christ rose from the dead and
is a Lord [Herr] over life and death” (WA 10II:55.6–10); [ D] doublet, coupled with
maxim—“But we are confident and happy [trotzen und sind freydig] because we know
that Christ rose and that death is no more than the end of sin and the end of itself ”
[todt nichts mehr sey denn syn ende der sunde und seyn selbs] (WAII:55.10–12).
86 chapter three

of the flesh, Luther resorts to apostrophe—direct address—much like

John Donne’s “Death Be Not Proud,” in that his cry (“Come, death
and Judgment Day, and put an end both to sin and death. Amen”) not
only models a defiance of death but also invokes, through interpretatio,
Paul’s words, ‘Wie sanctus Paulus Roma. 7. und 8. Schreybt.’
III. Petitio: Luther begins his exhortation to von Cronberg in the first
person singular language that Paul often uses in his epistles).15 As he
urges that his reader pray for Duke George, Luther tries to alert von
Cronberg to scriptural teaching on formidable enemies of the Gospel,
who, although they are destined for wrath—unless they repent—also
have great power and potential for good. To clarify and test—and thus
strengthen—the exhortation to be kind and loving toward enemies
(especially Duke George), Luther shifts to discussing how he has handled
some of his enemies. In the next twelve lines he ventures deeper into
personal speculation, thinking aloud to his reader—who deals with
similar issues—about the possibility that resistance, harassment, and
persecution are a deserved punishment. For the remainder of the peti-
tio (and the document), Luther frequently returns to the issue of the
Diet at Worms—in which von Cronberg participated and because of
which both his and Luther’s lives, and that of the German nation, were
forever changed. The dilemma for Luther, in hindsight, is whether he
acted properly at Worms; the issue for his chief patrons (particularly
the Saxon Elector, Frederick the Wise) is whether they themselves have
yet demonstrated sufficient courage and faith. The first person singular
pronouns are telling: two refer to his chief patrons (meynen gonnern); ten
refer to his own conduct (WA 10II:56.13–24).16
Luther’s exhortation of gratitude and prayer for a strong Christian
faith and a stable German society then returns to expressions of fear
for what may happen to the nation. In 15 lines Luther mentions the
nation three times explicitly, even more through relative pronouns; he

‘I ask you [Ich bitt, yhr]’; ‘I would exhort you [Ich wollt euch woll ermanen]’; “I know
of nothing else to do in his behalf than to pray for him [ich nichts denn das gebett weysz
fur yhn tzuthun]” (WA 10II:55.29–37). In Paul (according to SeptBib): ‘I ask [bitte] you’
(Eph. 3:13; Phil. 4:3); ‘I beg [bitte] you’ (2 Cor. 2:8); ‘I beseech [bitte] you’ (Gal. 4:12); ‘I
urge [ermahne] you’ (1 Cor. 4:16; 16:16); ‘I appeal to [ermahne] you’ (Rom. 12:1; 15:30;
16:17; 1 Cor. 1:10; Philem. 1:10).
We should also call attention to the Luther’s four references to the Word (in 8
lines): ‘God’s word [Gottes Wortt]’; ‘divine truth [gotlich Warheytt]’; ‘precious word [thewr
Wort]’; ‘God’s word [Gottes Wort]’ (WAII:57.20–27).
luther’s martyrological literature 87

names Worms twice; he uses forms of the explicit terms blood (four
times) and murder (twice). He puts these graphic terms in an argument
from historical examples that purportedly add up to an indictment of
Germany for a fate similar to that of the people of Judah in 2 Chron.
36—the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.: (a) Germany’s crimes occurred
all over the land in the preceding century;17 (b) “The nation is tempting
God too often”;18 and (c) “In their hearts they are continually murder-
ing me. You unhappy nation! Why must you more than others be the
Antichrist’s jailer and his hangman of God’s saints and prophets?”
(WA 10II:59.33–35).19
IV. Conclusio: Luther’s remarks neatly summarize the exigence
prompting this letter, both what caused him to write and what he
hopes to accomplish in writing. His words begin as apology for wordi-
ness and conclude with a blessing. In between, he takes a scriptural
story from the Nativity narrative (Luke 1:39–41) to characterize his
feelings toward von Cronberg, feelings he hopes are mutual. While the
language of these ten lines is in the intimate first and second person
singular (three pronouns each), the feelings expressed are not merely
at the ‘personal’ level but rather center in the actions each has taken.
That is, Luther’s joy—and, he hopes, von Cronberg’s also—is rooted
in the letters he received; each man’s spirits can soar because of the
reformation in which they are participating. Luther’s remarks are, of
course, intended to strengthen and comfort von Cronberg, and they

(1) Shedding the ‘innocent blood [unschuldig Blutt]’ of [ Jan] Hus and Jerome
[of Prague at the Council of Constance] (1415); (2) at Worms and in Heidelberg
[ Johannes] Dramsdorf [von Schlieben] and others [were burned at stake in 1425];
(3) Mainz and Cologne, both of which are sites of an archbishopric, are also named,
without detail; (4) the entire Rhine ‘is bloody’; (5) finally, Worms again [at the Diet
in 1521] is the scene of the nation’s condemnation; through two highly metaphorical
statements that surround one concise, sobering declaration, Luther’s denunciation of
all these is strikingly blunt: “The entire Rhine [Reynstrom] is bloody and will not be
cleansed [reynigen] of the blood, but unceasingly fetes the murderers of Christians, the
inquisitors, until God intervenes, and then the time of help will be past” [der gantz
Reynstrom ist bluttig und will noch nicht sich reynigen lassen von dem blutt vergissen,
szonder feyret die Christ mörder, die ketzer meyster an auffhören, bisz das gott hereyn
platz unnd auch keyn hülff mehr da sey] (WA 10II:59.28–31).
“Sie versucht gott tzu offt” (WA 10II:59.31).
“und mördern mich noch on underlasz ynn yhrem hertzen. Du unselige Nation,
mustu denn vor allen andern des Endchrists stockmeyster und hencker seyn uber gottes
heyligen und Propheten?”
88 chapter three

attempt to do that in several ways.20 Franz von Sickingen (1481–1523)21

had been introduced to Luther and the theological debates by Ulrich
von Hutten (1488–1523), a humanist poet and antipapalist.22 Luther
asks that both men be greeted in the faith.
VI. Benediction and Signature: Luther’s closing remark (“May God’s
favor [gunst] rest upon you. Amen”) neatly matches the salutatio. His
signature is a simple “Martinus Luther.”

II. To the Christians in the Netherlands (1523)

Early in 1523 Luther had already expressed indignation against the

imprisonment of a young master, Arsacius Seehofer (1505–1545), by the
University of Ingolstadt, and he had strongly objected to the canoniza-
tion (on 31 May in Rome) of Benno, Bishop of Meisen (1066–1106).
Luther claimed that the “popes kill the true saints and elevate the coun-
terfeit ones; they condemn God’s Word and set up their own human
teachings.”23 In the early 1520s the Low Countries were under strict
control of Margaret, regent of Emperor Charles V. In October 1522
she had all of the monks of the Observant Augustinian monastery in
Antwerp arrested on suspicion of Evangelical sentiments. On 1 July
1523 Hendrik Vos and Johann van den Esschen were burned at stake
on the Grote Markt in Brussels—the Reformation’s first martyrs—who
were from the Augustinian monastery in Antwerp, all of whom adopted

(1) The disclosure about Wittenberg reveals insight into Luther’s own struggles
with resistance and persecution, to which the reader can relate; (2) information about
Luther’s other literary projects—Bible translation, the book on confession (dedicated to
von Sickingen), the books of postils on the Gospels and Epistles—are all discussed so
that von Cronberg can know what works of Luther are available, so he can purchase
them. Luther adds that the postils, when finished, will contain (he hopes) “all that is
necessary for a Christian to know” (WA 10II:60.20); (3) brief remarks about Francis
von Sickingen and Ulrich von Hutten, and other ‘friends in the faith,’ consistent
with Pauline epistolary practices, strive to solidify the reader’s faith and confidence
by reminding him of the community of Christians, especially those older in the faith
and of similar situation—including great personal and professional risk, and persecu-
tion: e.g., Rom. 16:1–23; Phil. 4:21f.; Col. 4:9–17; 2 Tim. 4:19–21; Philem. 1:23f. In
Phil. (2:19–30) Paul conveys news about Timothy and Epaphroditus in the middle of
the letter also.
Franz von Sickingen, an imperial knight, saw himself as ‘the Protector of the
Reformation’ and was the first secular follower to declare his support for Luther,
having—a couple years earlier—offered him protection at his home, the Ebernburg
castle. OER, s.v. “Sickingen, Franz von,” by Ulman Weiß.
Ibid., s.v. “Hutten, Ulrich von,” by Eckhard Bernstein.
Martin Brecht, Martin Luther, 2:88–89.
luther’s martyrological literature 89

Lutheranism, only later to recant. The exceptions were Vos and van
den Esschen.24
The first responding publication, Der actus vnd handlung der degradation
vnd verprenung der Christlichen Ritter vnd merterer Augustiner ordens geschen zu
Brussel . . ., saw sixteen editions by year’s end, produced by at least eight
separate printers working in seven different German cities.25 Luther
joined others in the mass media uproar.26 “Instead of pitying these men
for the sacrifice which they had been forced to offer, he considered their
faithfulness a victory and their martyrdom an honor” (LW 53:211).
Upon learning of the burning, he is reported by an eyewitness to have
lamented the fact that he had thought that he would be the first to be
martyred but was not worthy of it.27
Ein Brief an die Christen im Niederland (1523) was published in six differ-
ent German cities, in eleven editions in its first year.28 Luther intended
this letter to be read by groups of reformation believers, however and

Luther an Spalatin in Kolditz, 22. oder 23. Juli 1523 (WABr 3:114–116 [Nr. 635]).
In December 1521 Jakob Probst ( James Propst), the prior of Antwerp’s Observant
Augustinians, was imprisoned on suspicion of heresy. When pressured, he publicly
recanted and was released; Corpus documentorum inquisitionis haereticae pravitatis neerlandicae,
ed. Paul Dredericq (Ghent, 1889–1902), 4:80–81, 88–96, cited by Brad S. Gregory,
Salvation at Stake Christian Martyrdom in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge, Mass., 1999),
79. Martin Brecht, Martin Luther, 2:102, has the date that Propst allegedly recanted as
February 1522. Propst was then transferred to Ieper and there preached in an evangeli-
cal way so that he was again imprisoned in the summer of 1522. He escaped, coming
to Wittenberg, and in 1523 he became the leader of the Reformation in Bremen.
Gregory, Salvation at Stake, 3. The document is found in Bibliotheca Reformatoria
Neerlandica. Geschriften uit den tijd der hervorming in de Nederlanden, ed. S. Cramer and
F. Pijper (The Hague, 1903–14), 8:13–19.
Tappert, 192–194; OER, s.v. “Books of Martyrs,” by Jean-François Gilmont,
speaks of four pamphlets, disseminated in over twenty editions, that proclaimed the
perception that the two men were martyrs, not heretics. Bernd Moeller, “Inquisition und
Martyrium in Flugschriften der frühen Reformation in Deutschland,” in Ketzerverfolgung
im 16. Und frühen 17. Jahrhundert, ed. Silvana Seidel Menchi. Wolfenbütteler Forschung
51 (Wiesbaden, 1992), 45–71 (here at 46), catalogs five documents (two of which are
Luther’s and were published together) and more than 25 editions.
WABr 3:238.18 (note 3): “Joh. Keßler in seinen Sabbata (Neuausgabe 1902,
S. 131, 27ff.): ‘Wie ich zu der Zeit in Wittenberg war in Sachsen [am 9. November
1523 langte er wieder in St. Gallen an], sagt man mir, daß Martinus Luther, als er
die Histori von diesen zweien obgemendten Märtyrern gschriftlich vernommen, hat er
angefangen innerlich zu weinen und gesagt: Ich vermeint, ich sollte ja der erste sein,
der umb dies heilig Euangelion wegen sollte gemarteret werden; aber ich bin des nit
wirdig gewesen.’ ” Also cited by Brecht, Martin Luther, 2:103.
WA 12:77–79, Benzing, Nr. 1658–1668. Hildegard Hebenstreit-Wilfert, “Märtyr-
erflugschriften der Reformationszeit,” in Flugschriften als Massenmedium der Reformations-
zeit: Beiträge zum Tübinger Symposion 1980, ed. Hans-Joachim Köhler (Stuttgart, 1981),
90 chapter three

wherever they could get their hands on the document or hear it read
(“To all my dear brethren in Christ living in Holland, Brabant, and
Flanders, together with all believers in Christ”). When read by individu-
als, its effectiveness will be diminished, for the appeal is to support and
strengthen one another. The letter brings comfort and encouragement
for those affected by the martyred deaths of ‘Henry and John.’
Because Luther wrote this letter29 soon after Louvain theologians
executed the two Augustinian brothers for heresy, we may consider
that he had perhaps two goals in mind: (1) to prevent his readers from
becoming discouraged due to their drawing false conclusions—e.g., that
the punishment was deserved, a just retribution for sinning against God
and his church, since even Jesus’ disciples surmised that suffering may
be a sign of God’s disfavor upon someone’s sin, either ‘this man or his
parents’ ( John 9:2); (2) to embolden sympathetic readers who may fear
repercussions. In this short correspondence Luther’s objective is not to
produce a detailed account of what happened, nor does he graphically
describe the means of execution. The word ‘burned [verprandt]’ is not
found in the letter but in the appendix (Die Artickel) that follows; the
word ‘blood’ occurs but twice, and ‘martyrs’ only once.30 There is no
list of charges, for Die Artickel are appended to the letter, listing three
concise questions put to the defendants, along with their equally concise
responses.31 The tale of what happened is reserved for his very first
hymn, “A New Song Here Shall Be Begun” (August 1523) [Eyn newes
lyed wyr heben an], which we shall examine next in turn.
In typical humanist fashion Luther attaches his name at the head
of the salutatio, followed by the initials ‘E.W. [Ecclesiastes Witebergen-
sis].’ The epithet, which he uses in several martyrological writings,
foregrounds his position as preacher (spokesman) in Wittenberg, where
the reform movement had begun, not only within the University but
especially within Luther’s own Order, the Observantist Order of the
Hermits of St. Augustine. Moreover, Luther’s signature downplays his

Brief; two editions (Benzing Nr. 1663, 1665) have Sendbrief.
Tappert, 193; WA 12:78.7, 13, 18.
WA 12:79f. The questions and responses occur in third person, for this document
is not a transcript of the legal proceedings but rather a report by a biased party, Luther,
followed by a twenty-five line ‘judgment [Urteyl ].’ Apparently there were sixty-two
articles that they refused to recant. For discussion of the several pamphlets defending
the boys’ sixty-two articles and for the documents pertaining to the suppression of the
monastery in Antwerp, see Gregory, “Late Medieval Religiosity,” 380f.
luther’s martyrological literature 91

own particular function as avowed monk in that Order, for it is his fel-
lowship with his readers (both lay and religious) that he promotes.32 If
we consider the two parts of the letter’s ‘body’ as narratio and petitio, they
are roughly equal in length and do not provide concrete information
about the event itself, but rather characterize the event and its signifi-
cance as something God will use to bring joy. The narratio portrays what
happened to Henry and John (the names are only mentioned once in
the letter)—the ‘shame and injury, anxiety and distress, imprisonment
and death’—as ‘joy and pleasure’ producing ‘strong and productive’
Christians of their friends (Tappert, 193; WA 12:78.2–5).
To persuade his readers that everything that happened is consistent
with God’s design and will result in his glory, Luther weaves a kind of
legal case in the narratio. Efficiently, he compiles six categories of witness
that seem to testify for his case: (1) Henry and John themselves are ‘two
precious jewels of Christ’; (2) their condemnation was ‘unjustly con-
ducted’ but will eventuate in their returning with Christ to ‘judge justly’
those who killed them; (3) Scripture itself calls their blood ‘precious’
and their death ‘dear’ in God’s sight (cf. Ps. 9:13; 116:15); (4) the angels
look upon these souls with ‘gladness and joy’; (5) the Germans—and
surely this means, first of all, Luther himself—would like to count
themselves “deserving to become so precious and worthy an offering
to Christ”; and (6) the great ‘signs and wonders’ God has begun to do.
Not only does he bring witnesses, but Luther also lets them help argue
his case: He interprets the motives of the victims (‘held their lives of no
account’), making their martyrdom available for others to appreciate
and emulate; he suggests the intentions of the persecutors, for readers
to hate and take as a sign of evil, not righteous, zeal; he downplays
the significance of bodily death, bolstering his argument with Scripture
as proof of God’s acceptance of these men’s commitment; he claims
that what the Germans see in Henry and John are ‘real saints and true
martyrs [rechte Heyligen und warhafftige Merterer],’ a welcome contrast to
the many ‘false saints’ they have known and worshiped for too long
(Tappert, 193; WA 12:78.6–23).
We find most of Luther’s scriptural evidence in the petitio, in a
compact series of quotations, all meant to encourage readers to know

Luther wore his Augustinian cowl until October 1524; Brecht, Martin Luther, 2:95;
Eric L. Saak, High Way to Heaven: The Augustinian Platform between Reform and Reformation,
1292–1524. SMRT 89 (Leiden, 2002), 3–4; LW 54:337–339; WATr 4 (Nr. 4414).
92 chapter three

God understands their plight and will make things right. Luther also
provides a small prolepsis, acknowledging that charges of ‘Hussites,
Wycliffites, and Lutherans’ will abound but that Christ’s cross will always
be slandered, yet He will pass a just judgment.33 Coming near the end
of the letter, this assurance of Luther that ‘This we know for certain’
summarizes his case that Henry and John are legitimate martyrs and
that readers should take heart from this, making ready to join them,
if necessary.34
Finally, we must acknowledge several stylistic tactics Luther uses.
One I call endearment, a combination of inclusive, first person plu-
ral, pronouns (where they matter most—in the early and late parts of
the letter) and direct address (‘dear brethren,’ etc.). Luther uses direct
address not only in both salutatio and conclusio but twice also in the body.
When he says, ‘let us thank him’ (WA 12:78.23) or “Pray for us and
for one another, dear brethren, that we may uphold one another with
faithful hands and all of us may cling in unity of spirit to our Head,
Jesus Christ” (WA 12:79.8–10),35 Luther is intensifying the solidarity
with—not isolation from—other followers of the reformation faith
that he wants his readers to feel; he does not treat Henry and John as
pitiful victims.
A second tactic is juxtaposition, where he aligns opposing terms
within the same section, or even sentence. Notice how the follow-
ing two lists I have selectively compiled from the narratio (21 lines in
WA 12:78) highlight the paradoxical nature of the execution’s event,
attempting to transform apparent defeat into real victory: (1) shame
(2 times), slain, injury, anxiety, distress, imprisonment, condemned (2 times),
death, false saints, persecution, ignominy, fire, blood; (2) joy (4 times), pleasure,
privilege, strong, productive, watered, strengthened, deserving, precious, worthy, dear,
gloriously, everlasting glory, eternal life.

Two years later Luther would argue that Hus ‘should be canonized’; Robert
Kolb, ‘“Saint John Hus’ and ‘Jerome Savonarola, Confessor of God’: The Lutheran
‘Canonization’ of Late Medieval Martyrs,” Concordia Journal 17 (1991): 404–418, here
at 404.
Marius, Martin Luther, quotes assorted remarks of Luther, calling attention to the
“tone of jubilation in the letter.” He uses this observation as evidence that Luther had
now ‘backed away’ from a previous position, “that no one could know the state of
another’s soul, that even if the apostle Peter were among us, we could not know if he
were among the redeemed” (394).
“Bittet fur uns, lieben bruder, und unternander, auff das wyr die trewe hand
eyner dem andern reichen, und alle ynn eynem geyst an unserm heubt Jhesu Christo
luther’s martyrological literature 93

In a third tactic, metaphor, that occurs in the section between salu-

tatio and narratio—a kind of Pauline benevolentiae captatio that praises the
Father, not the reader—Luther evokes images of flora and fauna from
Song of Solomon 2:12. The ‘voice of the turtledove [Dordel tauben
Stym]’36 and ‘flowers [Blumen]’ appearing signal, for him, a promised
awakening of the earth to God’s ‘wonderful light’ that had been long
hidden; he will employ the springtime motif again in stanza ten of “A
New Song” (WA 12:77.7–11). These images of darkness/light and of
signs of springtime (or even a new, post-deluvian world) are extended
in the opening lines of the narratio when Luther suggests that the newly
released Gospel has allowed the Netherlanders to become strong and
productive: They have “watered and strengthened the cause with your
very blood”; Henry and John are two ‘precious jewels of Christ.’
Luther implies that the God who made light and seasons and crea-
tures and causes finds the blood of the two martyrs as pleasing, rather
than crying out for justice from the ground, as with Abel (Gen. 4:10).
These metaphors, while strictly speaking ‘mixed,’ nevertheless are quite
consistent with Luther’s personal background and with the flowing
context of the narratio and its six ‘witnesses.’37 Accordingly, the need to
spread the news of what God was now doing provoked Luther to turn
next to the medium of song.

III. A New Song Here Shall Be Begun (1523)

Not only did the execution of Henry and John at Brussels on 1 July
1523 inaugurate the first of the Reformation’s martyrs in the sixteenth
century, but the event also proved to be the launching of Martin Luther’s
career as hymn writer. Not as musically proficient as Huldrych Zwingli
(1484–1531), Luther nevertheless was both gifted and thoroughly trained
in music: from his earliest days at the Mansfeld Latin school, where
he learned Latin and singing, to the Quadrivium at the St. George’s
school at Eisenach, to the University at Erfurt, he was well grounded
in music theory and singing. He played proficiently both flute and lute;
testimonies abound to his melodic tenor voice, tracing back to choir
at Eisenach and forward to his legendary table talk sessions at the

Tappert, 192, translates dordel tauben as ‘turtle.’
His father was a miner, and Luther himself had just spent nearly a year at Wart-
burg castle, listening to the birds of the Thüringian hills above Eisenach.
94 chapter three

Black Cloister, which Elector Frederic the Wise gave the Luthers to be
their home.38 Moreover, he was clearly the only one of the magisterial
reformers who did not completely remove music (as did Zwingli) or
severely limit it from the worship service (as did Calvin).39 Indeed, ‘the
Wittenberg nightingale’—as Luther is called in a 1523 poem by Hans
Sachs (1494–1576), the famous Meistersinger of Nürnberg—promul-
gated a flowering of music in the life of the church, which was to see
its culmination in the career of J. S. Bach at Leipzig in the eighteenth
century.40 Luther believed music was a divine gift, second only to
theology, and he insisted that singing—the most important of the fine
arts—be given back to the congregation.41 This first of his thirty-six
hymns,42 the vast majority of which were composed within two years, is

Carl F. Schalk, Luther on Music: Paradigms of Praise (St. Louis, 1988), 11–15; Dennis
Marzolf, “Luther and Music Education,” Lutheran Synod Quarterly 46 (2006): 68–105.
Markus Jenny, “The Hymns of Zwingli and Luther: A Comparison,” in Cantors
at the Crossroads: Essays on Church Music in Honor of Walter E. Buszin, ed. Johannes Riedel
(St. Louis, 1967), 45–63 (here at 45), says Calvin wrote no hymns, and Zwingli has
only three preserved hymns.
Die Wittenbergisch Nachtigall, die man jetzt höret überall has 700 lines.
Robin A. Leaver, “The Lutheran Reformation,” The Renaissance: From the 1470s
to the End of the Sixteenth Century, ed. I. Fenelon (Englewood Cliffs, N.J., 1989), 263–285
(here at 265). In his famous letter of 4 October 4 1530, to the well known Catholic
composer, Louis Senfl (ca. 1486–1543), chief conductor and court composer to Duke
William of Bavaria, Luther wrote: “Indeed I plainly judge, and do not hesitate to affirm,
that except for theology there is no art that could be put on the same level with music,
since except for theology [music] alone produces what otherwise only theology can
do, namely, a calm and joyful disposition. Manifest proof [of this is the fact] that the
devil, the creator of saddening cares and disquieting worries, takes flight at the sound
of music almost as he takes flight at the word of theology. This is the reason why the
prophets did not make use of any art except music; when setting forth their theology
they did it not as geometry, not as arithmetic, not as astronomy, but as music, so that they
held theology and music most tightly connected, and proclaimed truth through Psalms
and songs” (LW 49:428); “Et plane iudico, nec pudet asserere, post theologiam esse
nullam artem, quae musicae possit aequari, cum ipsa sola post theologiam id praestet,
quod alioqui sola theologia praestat, scilicet quietem et animum laetum, manifesto
argumento, quod diabolus, curarum tristium et turbarum inquietarum autor, ad vocem
musicae paene similiter fugiat, sicut fugit ad verbum theologiae. Hinc factum est, ut
prophetae nulla sic arte sint usi ut musica, dum suam theologiam non in geometriam,
non in arithmeticam, non in astronomiam, sed in musicam digesserunt, ut theologiam
et musicam haberent coniunctissimas, veritatem psalmis et canticis dicentes” [WABr 5:
639.12–21]. Luther also admired the music of Josquin des Prés and Pierre de la Rue;
Robert M. Stevenson, Patterns of Protestant Church Music (Durham, N.C., 1953), 5.
Among scholars, the number varies between 36–37; Herbert R. Pankratz, “Luther’s
Utilization of Music in School and Town in the Early Reformation,” Andrews University
Seminary Studies 22 (1984): 99–112, here at 100. Kyle C. Sessions, “Luther In Music
and Verse,” in Pietas et Societas: New Trends in Reformation Social History. Essays in Memory
of Harold J. Grimm, ed. Kyle C. Sessions and Phillip N. Bebb. SCES 4 (Kirksville, Mo.,
luther’s martyrological literature 95

one of the handful for which Luther composed both lyrics and melody,
and it is virtually the only one not intended for the worship service.43
While Ein Brief an die Christen im Niederland was intended to support
and embolden evangelical believers through ‘witnesses’ and arguments,
Eyn newes lyed wyr heben an provides evidence to Germans of what took
place there (‘in Brussels in the Netherlands,’ first stanza, 5th line) by
spreading the news through mass media—the broadsheet and popular
song,44 both of which were popular, despite the fact that in many regions
they were subversive and illegal.45

1985), 123–139, maintains the number of Luther’s hymns at 37, as does Helen Pietsch,
“Luther’s Attitude to Music in Worship and Implications for Today,” in Perspectives on
Martin Luther, ed. M. W. Worthing (North Adelaide, So. Australia, 1996), 141–154 (here
at 143), who cites recent work of Markus Jenny, considered to be a definitive source
on Luther’s music. Jenny’s “The Hymns of Zwingli and Luther” (45) has the number
of Luther’s hymns still at 36, as does Gerhard Hahn, ed., Martin Luther: Die geistlichen
Lieder (Tübingen, 1967).
Luther completed twenty-three hymns within the space of twelve months; Johannes
Riedel, The Lutheran Chorale: Its Basic Traditions (Minneapolis, 1967), 37. Luther D. Reed,
Luther and Congregational Song. Papers of the Hymn Society 12 (New York, 1947), 9, lists
five entirely original songs. “When a melody or a whole composition is reused, altered,
or unaltered, the result is a parody or a contrafactum, depending largely on when it
was borrowed. If the borrower is a poet or musician who lived before about 1500,
what is produced is likely called a contrafactum; if an eighteenth-century musician is
borrower, it is usually called a parody”; cf. Robert Falck, “Parody and Contrafactum:
A Terminological Clarification,” The Musical Quarterly 65 (1979): 1–2. Most studies of
Luther’s hymns and hymnology pass over Ein neues Lied and concentrate on the choral
hymns. A few studies provide comment, however: Rolf Wilhelm Brednich, Die Lied-
publizistik im Flugblatt des 15. Bis 17. Jahrhunderts, bd. 1, Abhandlung (Baden-Baden, 1974),
79–87; Gerhard Hahn, Evangelium als literarische Anweisung: Zu Luthers Stellung in der Geschichte
des deutschen kirchlichen Liedes (Munich, 1981), 98–109; Markus Jenny, Luther—Zwingli—
Calvin in ihren Liedern, (Zürich, 1983), 15–29 [“Luthers Lied”], 97–101 [Ein neues Lied];
Christine Helmer, The Trinity and Martin Luther: A Study on the Relationship between Genre,
Language and the Trinity in Luther’s Works (1523–1546). Veröffentlichungen des Instituts
für Europäische Geschichte Mainz, Abteilung abendländische Religionsgeschichte 174
(Mainz, 1999), 123–131; Christian Möller, “ ‘Ein neues Lied wir heben an’: Überlegun-
gen zum ‘neuen’ geistlichen Lied,” in Der heilsame Riss: Impulse reformatorischer Spiritualität,
ed. Christian Möller (Stuttgart, 2003), 257–273; Gracia Grindal, “The Rhetoric of
Martin Luther’s Hymns: Hymnody Then and Now,” WW 26 (2006): 178–187.
Lied, the union of lyric poetry with music; Hugo Riemann, Dictionary of Music,
2 vols., trans. J. S. Shedlock (New York, 1970), s.v. “Lied.” Leaver, “The Lutheran
Reformation,” 268, says these freely composed hymns took as their model the Hofweise,
the art song of the day.
Sessions, “Luther In Music and Verse,” 125, claims that the “practice of broadsheet
dissemination was initiated with ‘A New Song’ and was continued with three more early
compositions. . . .” Hebenstreit-Wilfert, “Märtyrer Flugschriften der Reformationszeit,”
404–406, provides a brief summary of the song. Robinson-Hammerstein argues that
this form of narrative song (Zeitungslied) was a solo song to be sung as ‘news’ to an
audience, “in the manner of the Bänkelsänger, who normally operated out-of-doors in
96 chapter three

Eyn newes lyed can rightly be called a propaganda song, for it is a folk
ballad of twelve, nine-lined stanzas (566 words) that tell the heroic tale
of the trial and execution of Vos and Van den Esschen. Eyn newes lyed
is not the song’s title but rather, like many songs, the opening phrase
of its first stanza, which follows a characteristic folk song phrase of
the day, “What shall we now take up and sing? [Was wollen wir singen
und heben an?].” The language and monophonic melody are simple and
easily learned, despite the fact that the melody was probably new to
listeners.46 In keeping with the composition, I shall analyze the verbal
message and the vocal features in close coordination.
The song is essentially simple poetry set to music, following the tradi-
tional bar form (Barform: AAB: the first four lines are two Stollen [A], the
final five lines the Abgesang [B], making the specific pattern a serial bar
form).47 The poetic pattern of the stanzas is as follows: (1) 43–52 words
per stanza, the majority (64%) of which are monosyllables; (2) each stanza
averages 66–68 syllables; (3) the pattern of meter is;
and (4) the end rhyme pattern is a.b.a.b.c.d.c.e.f.48 A stirring and robust
hymn of faith, the melodic line maintains familiar territory, written in
Ionian mode, “with all but one note remaining within the span of an
octave, and all cadences but one ending on C or F.”49 With the melody

the controlled social environment of the marketplace. . . . It can even be shown that
an audience, after absorbing the news, was encouraged by the tied form of rhyme
and familiar tune to internalise and repeat what had been communicated and thus
to become informed communicators themselves as singing individuals or as a singing
group”; Helga Robinson-Hammerstein, “The Lutheran Reformation and its Music,”
in The Transmission of Ideas in the Lutheran Reformation, ed. Helga Robinson-Hammerstein
(Dublin, 1989), 141–171 (here at 155).
At least, scholars have not yet identified any precursors and give Luther credit
for composing new music.
Riedel, The Lutheran Chorale, 45.
Ernst Sommer, “Die Metrik in Luthers Liedern,” in Jahrbuch für Liturgik und Hym-
nologie, bd. 9, ed. Konrad Ameln, Christhard Mahrenholz, and Karl Ferdinand Müller
(Kassel, 1965), 29–81, here at 56.
Rebecca W. Oettinger describes the tempo, or note value, as follows: “In the
opening phrase, a very simple rhythmic pattern of minim [eighth note] followed by
seven semibreves [quarter notes] is established; the minim upbeat keeps the rhythm
from becoming too monotonous. The rhythm of the first line repeats for all seven
remaining phrases, with slight variation at the end of two internal cadences on the
sixth and eighth lines, and all nine phrases use the eighth note pick-up beginning. Such
a simple vocal line facilitates quick memorization”; Music as Propaganda in the German
Reformation (Aldershot, 2001), 62. Oettinger continues: “In Luther’s original melody that
presumably appeared in the now-lost broadside, the final phrase returned to the starting
pitch of F.” In a footnote she adds, “However, the better known version of the melody,
luther’s martyrological literature 97

starting and ending on the same note, untrained singers can easily con-
tinue singing stanza after stanza.
The melody essentially allows one note per syllable, except for the
cadential figures at the end of some lines, where a syllable in the final
word of the line may encompass 2–4 notes. The melodic line pattern
of each stanza (a.b.a.b) follows quite closely the poetic end rhyme
pattern of the Stollen (a.b.a.b). However, the Abgesang departs from the
poetic repetition (c.d.c.e.f ), allowing the final line’s melodic ascendance
to climax (c.d.e.f.g.), drawing emphasis to its verbal message.50 In fact,
the opening three-note pickup (all the same note) functions like a
trumpet call, and is the same pattern used in Luther’s most famous
hymn, Ein feste Burg (1528). Riedel summarizes three important musical
characteristics of Luther’s four ‘personal hymns’—“A New Song,” “A
Mighty Fortress,” “From Heaven Above” (1535) and “Our Father in
Heaven” (1539): (1) Unlike his other Ionian hymns, a close similarity
exists among all the phrases; (2) The four tunes begin with the upper
tonic in order to descend to its lower equivalent within the space of two
phrases;51 and (3) Luther’s robust melodies differ from their progenitors
(in the descending line feature) in that they are not meant to be pas-
sively heard; rather, they invite people to join actively in singing them.
“They are extroverted optimistic manifestations of Lutheran faith.”52
The tale the song tells is worth tracking, for we can identify significant
features of the story and hence construe it as argument.
The first stanza emphasizes God’s initiative and work in the deaths,
thus suggesting that one purpose for the entire song is to bring praise
to God, who deserves it even more than the two martyrs; that God
has done a wonder in this act; that this blessed act involved two young
boys in Brussels; and (final line) that dying for God is a blessing and
not a curse. The second stanza names the two ( John and Henry) who
thereafter are called ‘boys [Knaben]’ or referred to with pronouns. Their
character is deemed innocent, in God’s favor, and their decision to
disdain this life gains them a crown. By using the word ‘martyrs’ in the

which first appeared in the tenor voice of Johann Walther’s Geistliches Gesangbüchlein of
1524, ends on C.” Modern melody is normally written for the soprano voice, but the
sixteenth century and earlier centuries wrote it for the tenor.
“Some musicologists see in this octave-space treatment a personality-tinged feature
of Luther’s own style of musical production”; Riedel, The Lutheran Chorale, 51.
Riedel, The Lutheran Chorale, 50f.
98 chapter three

final line, Luther argues thus far for a redefinition of the term, omitting
from jurisdiction any ecclesiastical decision, in favor of “God’s good
children [who] For his word life disdained.” Luther’s song clearly chal-
lenges the prevailing understanding of sainthood, recasting it as a part
of early Christianity’s pattern of recognizing, without official committee
decision, those who were willing to die for their faith.53
Stanzas three through five describe the legal proceedings: The third
stanza assigns blame to named perpetrators, identifying their motive
and strategy: to entrap the boys into heretical admissions against the
Word.54 With both devil and theologians named here, it is clear that
they are collaborating.55 Luther calls this a ‘trick [Kunst]’ that backfires,
drawing the sophists themselves into their own ‘game,’ only to be made
fools of by the Spirit, gaining them (final line) nothing at all; herein the
punch line indicates the innocence of the two men. Stanza four sings
sarcastically (with rhyme) of various tactics by the prosecution (‘sang
sweet . . . sang sour’), upholding the ‘boys’/‘youngsters’ as courageous,
which only elicited more hatred. The wrath of the perpetrator quickly
led to plans for burning. The wrath’s greatness conjures up thoughts
of the three men in the Book of Daniel who were cast into the fiery
furnace, for one translator renders er wart vol zorn von stunden as ‘His
wrath grew sevenfold heated’ (LW 53:215).56 Stanza five completes
the proceedings by characterizing the ‘boys’ as thanking God for their
‘rescue,’ though there is no hint of escape, release, or acquittal. The
boys are stripped of their ‘vestments’ and ‘consecrations.’ The final
line emphasizes the deception for which (betreuget is the emphatic final
word) the world has fallen.
Stanza six is a bold redefinition of the priesthood! It argues that God
alone is the grantor of martyrdom, and only for a ‘true priesthood,’ not

Oettinger, Music as Propaganda, 51–69, argues that Luther’s song, published in the
midst of a polemical battle with Hieronymus Emser (1477–1527) over the canoniza-
tion of Benno, fired the first musical shot in the battle over ‘true sainthood’ and that
Luther’s song was so successful that Emser is, to her knowledge, one of only two Catholic
theologians (the other being Thomas Murner [1475–1537]) to use propagandistic song
as a defense of the faith in the early decades of the reformation (52).
The ‘old arch-fiend [allte Feynd],’ line one; Sophisten from Louvain, line five; Sophisten
appears again in stanza eight.
Oettinger, 66, translates the subjects of lines 1, 3, 5 as all plural, thus overlooking
the devil and seeing only the theologians as blamed: “Luther departed from Catholic
belief in the second [sic] strophe, when he named the ancient enemy not as the Devil,
but as the Catholic theologians, or ‘sophists’ from Louvain, who belittled Scripture.”
Oettinger, 66.
luther’s martyrological literature 99

for a ‘falsehood made a schism.’ ‘Christ’s own order’ is what these two
achieve, thus correcting the usual Catholic terminology for holiness on
earth (priest, holy orders).57 They come to heaven ‘all pure and white.’58
Stanza seven explains how the formal charges were assigned, making
clear how unscriptural the condemnation was. The stanza describes the
articles of condemnation, citing only one of the three Die Artickel, the
final one that includes explicit denial of papal and patristic authority.
Yet the actual wording of lines 6–8 excludes those entities, juxtapos-
ing only God and man. The result is to diminish all but God, and the
German syntax brings that out far better than English does.59 The final
line (Des musten sie verbrennen) is highly repetitious from the final line
of stanza four (Gedacht sie zuuerbrennen), as though the ‘trial’ was but a
hesitation in the plan, that the plan is now become necessity, which in
the following stanzas is proclaimed.
Stanza eight describes the actual burning, the opening three F notes
of line 1 intensifying the fire image, while the corresponding phrase of
line 3, its poetic-melodic mate, stresses the attitude of bystanders at the
resignation of the condemned: they had contempt for the pain, and
with joy, offer praise to God. With singing, they faced their deaths.60
Meanwhile, the Sophisten are taking notice (final line) of what God is
revealing, reminiscent of stanza one. Stanza nine (eleven in LW )61
argues that the perpetrators spread lies that the boys had recanted
with their last breaths, a serious claim that could be devastating to the
story.62 With the final line saying that ‘they recanted their statements,’
this stanza—and the next one—functions much like a prolepsis, raising

Ibid., 67.
“frey und reyn” is the rhyming phrase of the rich melodic cadence at the end of
line 7. The following line begins with Müncherey, which rhymes with the previous phrase,
and prepares for the final line, which throws one more slap at the traditional clergy.
“Mann musz alleyn Gott glawben/der mensch lewgt und trewgt ymmerdar/dem
soll man nichts vertrawen.”
One might be reminded of Paul and Silas singing in the Philippian jail (Acts
I shall follow the order of stanzas in WA 35:487f., which follows the ‘A’ print
(Wittenberg: Hans Lufft, 1523). LW 53:216 orders stanzas 9–12 differently. The issue
is due to textual variations wherein two stanzas are omitted from some texts. Martin
Rössler, “Ein neues Lied wir heben an: Ein Protestsong Martin Luthers,” in Reformation
und praktische Theologie: Festschrift für Werner Jetter zum siebzigsten Geburtstag, ed. Hans-Martin
Müller and D. Rössler (Göttingen, 1983), 216–232, orders the stanzas as I do: 1–8,
11–12, 9–10.
Indeed, all but three from the monastery had earlier renounced Lutheran teach-
ing (LW 53:211). Such rumors no doubt played a significant role in prompting Luther
to write the song.
100 chapter three

an objection to the tale of righteous martyrdom. Stanza ten (twelve in

LW ) complements the previous stanza in that, as prolepsis, the objec-
tion is strongly answered. No evidence is given, save that—as in “A
Letter to the Christians in the Netherlands”—believers can celebrate
the reappearance of God’s Word, though lies abound. Luther returns
to the springtime motif of the Letter, adding to those metaphors from
Song of Solomon 2:12: at Wynter’s end Sommer appears, bringing with it
‘tender flowers,’ all reliable signs that (final two lines), “His hand when
once extended/Withdraws not till he’s finished.”63
Stanzas eleven and twelve extend the rebuttal by arguing that, in
addition to God’s own sanction, we now have the regrets of the per-
petrators themselves. First, in shame they tried to hush up the deed,
which ‘In their hearts gnaweth infamy,’ even deploring it to their
friends.64 Yet the ‘Spirit cannot silent be,’ and the final two lines invoke
the Cain and Abel example, with the stigma of Cain’s mark (final line)
looming ominously on Catholic consciences, as did Abel’s blood ‘cry
out’ to God (Gen. 4:10): “Good Abel’s blood out-poured/Must still
besmear Cain’s forehead” (Gen. 4:15).65 Stanza twelve closes the song
with two images: (1) the ashes of the two inexorably scattering into all
lands in testimony to the shame of their murderers who silenced them.
No natural disposal place will suffice;66 (2) the singing tongues of the
dying (now dead) are multiplied in the voices of all who will sing this
song, perhaps a precursor to the final revelation that will cause “every
tongue [to] confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the
Father” (Phil. 2:11). Luther’s final line provides a satisfactory antiphon
to the song’s opening line, for there now really is a New Song we have
here begun.
The majority of Luther’s hymns were intended for congregational
worship, and for most of them he adapted known tunes. He wanted
to enlist the aid of poets in setting to music many of the Psalms, and
at the end of 1523 he wrote to the Elector’s secretary, Georg Spalatin,
for help in this project. The brief letter is very important for under-

“. . . der das hat angefangen,/der wirdt es woll volende.”
Die schand ym hertzen beysset sie” (Stanza eleven, line 50).
“. . . des Aabels blut vergossen,/Es mus den Cain melden.” Oettinger (68) claims
that the ‘figure of Cain’ appears in several songs, most prominently in Johann Walther’s
‘Cain sich aber regen thut,’ published in Wittembergisch deudsch Geistlich Gesengbüchlein. Mit
vier vnd fünff stimmen (Wittenberg: Georg Rhau, 1544), Part II, no. 28.”
Note the rhyme of the four sites (‘Stream, hole, ditch, grave [Bach, Loch, Grub
noch Grab]’).
luther’s martyrological literature 101

standing Luther’s understanding of, and agenda for, the use of music in
worship.67 However, as we have seen with “A New Song,” even before
that Luther was writing ‘news’ hymns.68 And the news he wanted to
convey was the Good News of the Gospel, to ‘sing a new song,’ as the
Psalms and Prophets had foretold.69 With the martyrdom of Henry
and John, it was obvious to Luther that the Gospel had been unleashed
once again.70

IV. To the Christians in Riga, Tallinn, and Tartu (August 1523)71

More than twenty years ago, and just a few weeks after the death of
our teenage son, an acquaintance of mine—also a preacher—said, in
response to my complaint that I was not doing very well, that “You’re
probably doing some of your best preaching.” While we cannot now
discuss the complexities of that remark, it is worthwhile to examine
briefly another epistle Luther wrote in mid-1523, to Christians also
living well north of Wittenberg, for we can see that the recent deaths
of Henry and John were on his mind, perhaps helping him produce
‘some of his best preaching.’ Although he made only brief mention
of those two men in this composition, Luther offers a compelling let-
ter of exhortation (Ermanung) that outlines a threefold teaching about
what is most important in the Christian life, in view of the seriousness
of the times—the proliferation of the Gospel and its concomitant
In August 1522 Luther had received a letter from John Lohmüller,
secretary of the town council in Riga,72 asking for a letter of encourage-
ment for two Evangelical clergymen there. Luther directed his response
to reformation followers not only in Riga but also in Tallinn73 and Tartu,
another city in Estonia. Luther’s Brief an die Christen in Riga, Reval und

LW 49:68–70; WABr 3:220.
Robinson-Hammerstein, 152, 155.
Ps. 33:3; 40:3; 96:1; 98:1; 144:9; 149:1; Isa. 42:10; Rev. 5:9; 14:3.
Dick Akerboom, ‘Ein neues lied wir heben an’: Over de eerste martelaren van
de Reformatie en het ontstaan van het eerste lied van Martin Luther,” Luther-Bulletin
14 (2005): 27–43, which I have just recently come across, argues that Luther’s song
“shows clear parallels with the martyrs’ hymns of the first century of the Church,”
here at 43.
Tappert, 194–197.
Located on the Baltic Sea, in present-day Latvia.
Also on the Baltic Sea, in present-day Estonia, and its capital.
102 chapter three

Dorpat (1523) saw three editions in 1523.74 What may account for its
popularity is not so much the conditions of immediate persecution but
rather its ability to synthesize, for struggling new Evangelicals (especially
those outside of Electoral Saxony), the essence of the Christian faith,
what—in the first of the Invocavit Sermons (9 March 1522) and again
here—Luther called the ‘chief thing [Heubstuck].’ In responding to a
request for a letter of encouragement, under the same signature used
to address those in the Netherlands,75 he consolidates the four ‘chief
things’ down to three: he takes the faith, hope, and love of 1 Cor. 13
and reorders them (faith, love, hope). By ending with hope, Luther
tries to provide encouragement for believers to withstand persecution
and false teachers.
As with “To the Christians in the Netherlands” (1523), Luther’s
narratio (combined with benevolentiae captatio) declares that the reception
of the ‘gracious light of his [God’s] truth’ has produced reliable signs
that He is at work: fruit has been produced, and resistance is encoun-
tered. As evidence of the latter, he announces that ‘recently they have
burned two,’ arguing that his readers are those at the ends of the world
who are receiving the ‘true Word’ and the ‘saving Word,’ despite this
kind of opposition. As he begins the petitio, the substance of the letter,
Luther reminds readers what they need to know, believe, and do, with
three paragraph-initiating leads: ‘You have heard and learned’; ‘From
this you have gone on and learned’; ‘Afterward you heard that.’76 He
appeals to them to: (1) be thankful for God’s grace, and (2) be respon-
sible to God’s grace. The style of this section uses the second person
pronoun much more heavily than in the narratio. In warning readers
to be vigilant,77 Luther uses a long, asyndetic list of titles for Christ, a
list intended to convey a notion of confidence in Christ’s sufficiency, so
that no one will resort to works for his own righteousness: “he, alone

WA 12:147–50 (Benzing 1681–1683). See Leonid Arbusow, Jr., Die Einführung der
Reformation in Liv-, Est- und Kurland. Quellen und Forschungen zur Reformationsge-
schichte 3 (Aalen, 1964), 271–279; Janis Matulis, “Die ersten Schritte der Reforma-
tion in Riga,” in Luther und Luthertum in Osteuropa: Selbstdarstellungen aus der Diaspora und
Beiträge zur theologischen Diskussion, ed. Gerhard Bassarak and Günter Wirth (Berlin,
1983), 354–363; Reinhard Slenczka, “Luther’s Care of Souls for Our Times,” CTQ
67 (2003): 33–63, here at 58–63.
“Mar. Luther, Eccl. Wyttem.”
“Denn also habt . . . Aus disem yhr weytter gelernt habt . . . Darnach habt yhr
gehört” (WA 12:148.21; 149.3, 13).
Similar to Paul’s admonition to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:21ff.
luther’s martyrological literature 103

and always, is our Lord, Priest, Teacher, Bishop, Father, Saviour, Helper,
Comforter, and Protector in all sins, in death, in necessity, and in every
need, whether temporal or eternal.”78
In a second warning of the petitio—urging readers to be faithful,
not succumbing to works’ righteousness—Luther stresses the body life
of the church, and he does so by shifting to a predominance of first
plural pronouns. This admonition stresses the first of the triad (faith),
yet he uses that term (Glawben) only twice: as verb, just before quoting
Rom. 3:28 (which he says is Rom. 4) and, near the end of the section,
as noun.79 This faith binds Christians together, providing such blessings
and peace that they can be unafraid of misfortune. Indeed, such faith
is a necessary component of being a Christian, and persecution is a
reliable indicator that one has such faith.80
A third teaching of the petitio (and the completion of the ‘faith’ sec-
tion) urges readers to avoid actions that would undermine faith. Luther
here presents another asyndetic list, which complements the first one.
The set of behaviors to avoid contains much alliteration, especially
two types of end-rhyme.81 A fourth teaching of the petitio consists in
the Christian’s only true obligation: to love his neighbor, meaning that
good works are to be done for others, not self. Unlike his speaking on
‘faith’ (which was twice as long as this section), Luther here uses the verb
‘love’ five times, and he calls it the ‘second chief thing’ in the Christian
life. The final teaching of the petitio brings the third element of the
triad (‘hope’) into view. The teaching is a warning that persecution is
imminent, and the arguments supporting it appeal to logic: that the
enemy feels compelled to resist and that we should fare no better than

“. . . das er alleyn ist unser herr, priester, lerer, bischoff, vatter, heyland, helffer, trost
und beystand ewiglich ynn allen sunden, tod, nott und was uns seylet, es sey zeyttlich
odder ewiglich” (WA 12:148.17–20).
Clearly ‘faith’ is the subject, for not only has Tappert, 195f., inserted the noun
‘faith’ five additional times (where the context justifies it), but Luther himself confirms
it, in his summary of the three terms at the end of the petitio.
Note the regressive triplet of clauses in Luther’s comment, the triplet expediting
the meaning, so that the last item, the one left standing, seems more blatant: Where
such [faith] is wanting there is blindness, there are no Christians, there is not even a
spark of God’s work and favor.
(1) plural nouns that end with -en; (2) singular substantives ending with -erey: the
appointed fasts, prayers, pilgrimages, Masses, vigils, charitable endowments, monkery,
nunnery, priestcraft [die gesatzten Fasten, Beten, Wallen, Messen Vigilien, Stifften, Moncherey,
Nonnerey, Pfafferey] all such things are devilish doctrine [Lere] and blasphemy [Lesterung]
(WA 12:149.5f.).
104 chapter three

Christ. Accordingly, Luther argues that the cross is necessary, but he also
argues somewhat paradoxically—that the cross brings hope (Hoffnung),
a term he uses twice in this, the shortest section on the triad.
So faith, love, hope are what Luther says are ‘prepared and perfected’
by the cross. He urges his readers not to depend on Rome, or on priests
and bishops, for Christ is their ‘Lord and Bishop.’82 The heavily Pauline
material that Luther uses for teaching on faith and love, the warnings
of false teachings (Paul at Acts 20:21), and the persecution motif of 1
Peter all provided material for exhortation in this letter. Luther found a
way to generate some of his best preaching in this letter of exhortation
to isolated Evangelicals—God’s ‘elect [Auszerwelten]’—in the northern
regions on the Baltic.83

V. Letter to Lambert Thorn (19 January 1524)

In the summer of 1523 a third Augustinian from Antwerp was sched-

uled for execution, along with Vos and van den Esschen. However,
Lambert Thorn was not burned but thrown into prison, where he died
five years later without recanting (Tappert, 197–199). Luther’s letter to
him (in Latin) is a short (41 lines) but moving personal message that
not only attempts to comfort and encourage the reader; it also provides
evidence of Luther’s attitudes toward aspects of martyrdom at the
time. A modern critical edition of the text of Luther an den eingekerkerten
Augustiner Lambert Thorn (Wittenberg, 19. Januar 1524) is printed in WABr
3:238–239—with lines numbered consecutively across both pages—and
is organized in the following way: I. Heading and salutatio (3 lines);
II. Benevolentiae captatio (lines 3–12); III. Petitio (12–22); IV. Exhortatio
(22–33); V. Narratio and benediction (34–39); VI. Conclusio (40–41).
Luther’s goal is to bolster Thorn’s Christian hope by assuring him that
he is suffering for Christ and the Gospel and by reminding him of the
support he has in the fellowship of the Lord and his church.
This goal is consonant with the situation, for Thorn may have been
experiencing what today resembles so-called ‘survivor guilt.’ Six months
had passed since his two Augustinian brothers (Henry and John) were

Twice in this Brief Luther has referred to Christ as Bischoff, a biblical epithet used
only by Peter (1 Pet. 2:25) and consistent with Luther’s quoting of 1 Pet. 5:10 near
the end of the letter.
From the salutatio (WA 12:147.1).
luther’s martyrological literature 105

burned at stake in Brussels, and Thorn was probably wondering why

he escaped the flames, or how long it might be before the same fate
befell him. On the other side of the exigence is fellow Augustinian
Luther and his own feelings as to why he has been spared the honor
of martyrdom. In some ways this letter is an “inverted” image of Paul’s
prison epistle to the Philippians: instead of an incarcerated apostolic
writer consoling and encouraging his concerned congregation, a free
Luther writes to a chained follower on the inside of prison walls.
I. Heading and salutatio: Luther’s address and greeting follow classi-
cal conventions more closely than in his public letters, yet the content
is thoroughly Christianized. That is, the names of both addressee and
sender appear at the letter’s beginning, and the epithets remind the
addressee (and all other readers) of whose cause it is in which they
share fellowship and service.84 The endearing salutation of Tappert’s
translation (‘Dear Brother Lambert’) is actually embedded as apostrophe
(‘greatest Brother Lambert’), following the first sentence of the next
section. Thus Luther foreshadows the major themes of the letter.
II. Benevolentiae captatio (3–12): This section goes beyond a mere well
wishing, yet it functions to put the reader at ease, in that it argues that
Thorn is thoroughly grounded in Christ and that he technically ‘needs’
no consolation. Yet by sending this letter, and by Thorn’s reading it,
Luther encourages him in his plight: the exigence of imprisonment
cannot be altered, but Thorn’s attitude can be addressed. That this
section is not about Luther but about Thorn and Christ is clear from
the pronouns alone.85 In lines 5–6 he explains what he means by
‘Christ, who is in you’ and what accomplishments He has obtained;
these accomplishments then enable Thorn to be strengthened by his

The first words of the heading are ‘Disciple of Christ’; in the critical notes is
acknowledged a variant reading that adds the word ‘faithful [ fideli].’ In second posi-
tion comes ‘brother Lambert Thorn,’ followed by terms acknowledging the reader’s
present plight and affirming the writer’s affection: “bound in chains on account of
the gospel, my beloved friend in the Lord, Martin Luther [in vinculis euangelii posito suo
in Domino chariss[imo]. Martinus Lutherus].” The greeting (‘Gratiam et pacem in Domino!’)
is thoroughly Pauline, yet it is the one Luther has consistently used since 1522; cf.
Wengert, “Apostolic Self-Awareness,” 71.
Once Luther has asserted that Christ “has given me abundant testimony [Quanquam
satis mihi . . . testatur],” only three times do we find the first person singular pronoun ‘my,’
where Luther says “you do not need my [meis] words. . . . . Thus both they and you are
to me [mihi] a great consolation. . . . . There is little need to burden you with my [mea]
consolation” (lines 4, 11); eight instances of ‘you’ in pronouns [te, sis], with numerous
others implicit in the inflected verbs or understood from the main clause, remind reader
Thorn of his position. As he explicates, Luther piles up doublets of verbs.
106 chapter three

Spirit and consoled by the double example of brothers John and Henry.
Luther argues that the three Augustinians’ witness brings him great
‘consolation and strength’ and bring to the whole world a ‘sweet savor
[suavissimo odori],’ a phrase from the language of sacrifice and burnt
offerings of the Old Testament.86 As he finishes this section, Luther
pointedly addresses Thorn’s concern for why he lives on, offering him
the prospects of something better, by reminding him that the matter
is out of his (own) hands: “Who knows why the Lord was unwilling to
have you die with the other two? Perhaps you were saved for another
III. Petitio (12–22): Luther injects more of his own persona—feelings,
concerns, teachings—in this section, focusing on how to encourage
Thorn by helping him realize that his imprisonment is a good thing.
Luther confesses a certain amount of envy, clearly speaking of the
prospect of Thorn’s likely martyrdom: “Alas, though I am the first to
teach these things, I am the last to share your chains and fires, and
perhaps I shall never be found worthy to share them.”88 So by turning
from Thorn’s likely martyrdom to his own lack thereof, Luther seems
to have slipped into a preoccupation with himself. However, what we
must not miss is the shared nature of this business of suffering for Christ:
Luther emphasized earlier that it was ‘grace’ that was given to Thorn
and that knowledge of the Word and the Spirit were ‘given [donavit]’ to
him (Luther). So, to whatever extent Luther (or even others) can share
in these sufferings (the outcome), it is possible, provided he (or they)
share in the task of confessing and preaching and rejoicing with those

WABr 3:239 and Tappert, both cite Exod. 29:18 for the phrase ‘sweet savor [sua-
vissimo odori],’ but it occurs over forty times in the Old Testament, and Thorn surely
would recognize the term and its context of sacrifice.
“Quis scit, cur te Dominus noluerit cum duobus istis perire? Servaris in aliud
miraculum” (WABr 3:238.11–12).
Me miserum, qui primus ista docuisse iactor et novissimus et forte nunquam
vestrorum vinculorum et ignium particeps esse dignus sum! (WABr 2:238.16–18). As
we notice that Luther placed himself (sum) in final position in that sentence, he begins
the next with himself, offering a more positive attitude on how he should handle the
way things have gone: “Nevertheless, I shall avenge myself for this unhappiness of
mine and console myself with the thought that your chains and prisons and fires are
all my own, as indeed they are so long as I confess and preach these doctrines and
sympathize with you and rejoice with you [Vindicabo tamen hanc meam miseriam et
consolabor me, quod vestra vincula mea sunt, vestri carceres et ignes mei sunt. Sunt
vero, dum et ego eadem confiteor et praedico vobisque simul compatior et congratu-
lor]” (WABr 3:328.18–21).
luther’s martyrological literature 107

who suffer. Thus we note that Luther has begun this section with con-
gratulations and thanks, and he ends it with sympathy and rejoicing.
IV. Exhortatio (22–33): While we could call it petitio—for in it Luther
makes a request of his reader (‘pray for me’)—the section is devoted
almost entirely to offering encouragement (‘pray for me as I do for you’)
through scriptural quotations (without citations) that remind the reader
of his resources from the Lord. He reminds Thorn that he is not suf-
fering alone. This stress on the inclusiveness of the fellowship Thorn
has with others is seen in the presence of several first person plural
pronouns, which Luther has used only in this section, as he emphasizes
the Lord’s presence and power which are available for Thorn: “Do
not argue with Satan but fix your eyes on the Lord, relying on simple
faith on Jesus Christ, and know that by his blood we are saved. Just
as our works and human laws cannot be the blood of Christ, so they
can neither take away our sins nor justify us, can neither condemn us
nor accuse us” (29–33, my emphasis).89 It is in this section of the let-
ter (24–30) that Luther uses promises from Scripture, knitting them
together with pledges and exhortations of his own, into a seamless
encouragement that reminds Thorn of the strength he can draw from
the Lord and his people.90
V. Narratio and benediction (34–39): Luther’s final section of the
letter conveys news updates about what is happening on the outside.
It appears to be all ‘bad news,’ which generally one is cautious about
divulging, lest it discourage the inmate. However, these generalizations
with which Luther characterizes the state of affairs are meant further to

“Ne disputes cum Sathana, sed ad Dominum stent oculi tui, simplici fide innixus.
Solum Iesum Christum esse scito, cuius sanguine nos salvi erimus. Opera nostra et
humana statuta, sicut non possunt esse sanguis Christi, ita nec peccata tollere nec
iustificare, ita neca damnare nec reum tenere.” The italicized pronouns are all neces-
sitated by the correlative conjunctions (nec . . . nec . . . nec . . . nec), which hark back to the
pronoun nostra.
Paraphrasing Psalm 91:14f. (90:14f. Vulgate), Luther reminds Thorn that the
Lord is with him in trouble, that “I will deliver him: I will set him on high because he
hath known my name [liberabo eum, protegam eum, quoniam cognovit nomen meum].” Prior
to quoting John 16:33, Luther makes his own declaration (two imperatives that sur-
round a promise of future benefit) that paraphrases Psalm 27:14 (26:14 Vulgate): “Be
of good courage and he will strengthen your heart; wait on the Lord [Tantum viriliter
age, confortetur cor tuum et sustine Dominum! ],” which he follows with this comfort from the
Lord’s own words (“He has said: ‘In the world ye shall have tribulation, in me you have
peace, but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world’ [Ipse dixit: ‘In mundo pressuram
habetis, in me autem pacem, sed confidite, ego vici mundum! ’ ]”).
108 chapter three

verify his contention that persecution is a reliable sign that the Lord is
at work, that the Gospel is effective, and perhaps that the judgment—or
even the return—of the Lord is at hand. Hence, ‘bad news’ should be
reassuring to Thorn.
VI. Conclusio (40–41): Luther’s closing is both classical and Christian
(especially Pauline): “Farewell, my brother in Christ. Greetings to you
from all our friends and our whole church” (40–41). ‘Farewell’ is a
typically classical close; ‘greetings to you’ from the church or churches
is a common close in the Epistles.91

VI. To the Christians of Miltenberg (14 February 1524)

Miltenberg was a small town near Heidelberg, in the jurisdiction of

Albert of Mainz, who opposed the Luther reformation. When they
called an Evangelical pastor, John Drach, in the spring of 1522 (roughly
coinciding with Luther’s return to Wittenberg from Wartburg castle),
many in the town responded to his preaching. Opposition also spread,
and Drach was excommunicated; in the fall of 1523 he fled. Some of
his followers were later beheaded, and the reformation was suppressed
in the town. Having been kept informed by Drach, Luther wrote a let-
ter of encouragement (Christlicher trostbrieff ) in February 1524. In this
document (Tappert, 199–208) we find similar themes from the previous
two letters written a few months earlier, and we begin to comprehend
their significance.92 Luther’s understanding of the Miltenbergers’ situ-
ation and needs, then, is more that of their need for comfort from
false accusations of sedition—and in the midst of persecution, of their
beliefs—than it is about assuaging their grief over specific losses they
have suffered.93

1 Cor. 16:19–20; Col. 4:15; 2 Tim. 4:21; Titus 3:15; Philem. 1:23; Heb. 13:24;
1 Pet. 5:13.
Eyn Christlicher trostbrieff an die Miltenberger, Wie sie sich an yhren feynden rechen sollen, aus
dem 119. Psalm (WA 15:69–78) appeared in seven editions, from five German cities, in
1524 (Benzing Nr. 1888–1894). In a letter to Archbishop Albert (dated the same day,
14 February), Luther explains that he published this document as an open letter of
consolation in order to reach poor people who cannot receive letters and so that he
would not be guilty of being condemned by Christ on the last day, “I was in prison
and ye visited me not” (Matt. 25:35–39); Tappert, 199.
Indeed, the term ‘martyr’ does not appear, although ‘murderers of souls [Seel
Mörder]’ does occur once (WA 15:70.14).
luther’s martyrological literature 109

In the role indicated in the salutatio’s signature in all letters thus

far—‘preacher in Wittenberg’ (my emphasis)—Luther stresses the author-
ity of God’s word and its stake in this situation: it is preaching that is
needed. Although the salutatio seems like his typically Pauline greeting,
the phrase ‘from God’ proves revealingly important.94 The distinction
Luther makes, then—and it is one with which he begins the body of
the letter and uses as an organizing principle throughout the piece—is
between the comfort of men and the comfort ‘of God.’95 The Trost-
brieff itself is an example of an attempt to comfort others with God’s
His proof of God’s comfort is a dichotomy between false (worldly)
and true (Christian) comfort. The evidence—or rather, definition—of
comfort from God is found in Rom. 15:4, which links patience and
comfort of the Scriptures with hope. He tells readers that the world’s
comfort is based only on what the afflicted ‘desire [Begerd],’ which is
contrasted to hope, which can neither be seen nor felt (Rom. 8:24f.).
But what really convinces Luther about ‘God’s comfort’ is what he
finds Paul doing throughout the Second Epistle to his Corinthians:96
(A) “telling them [the Corinthians] that they are a letter of Christ pre-
pared by the preaching of the gospel and written by the living Spirit”;
(B) then praising the office of preaching97 and boasting of the gospel
by offering a ‘psalm of praise to the Gospel.’ Acknowledging that a
carnal man may find this approach to consolation absurd (what comfort
does one bring by failing to affirm the plight of the bereaved and by
mouthing scriptural platitudes to him?), Luther appeals to his readers
to discover the genius and sovereignty of God in such a strategy. And
Luther himself then sets out to follow that strategy.
He begins step (A) by acknowledging the plight of his readers (the
Miltenbergers), in a sort of mini narratio that uses many first and second
person pronouns to aid in conveying to them that (‘I’) recognize the

He will use similar phrases (‘from God,’ ‘of God,’ ‘for God’s sake,’ etc.) 15 times
in the first 120 lines, where he then narrows to a fairly consistent focus on the Word
of God (‘God’s word,’ ‘his word,’ ‘the Word,’ etc., another 19 times).
That is to say, instead of starting with a narratio—facts from the situation of the
readers and about the writer’s perspective and purpose—Luther begins by completely
quoting 2 Cor. 1:3–4, using the final clause (“comfort wherewith we ourselves are
comforted of God [mit dem Trost, da mit wyr gestrostet werden von Gott]”; WA 15:69.14f.)
as his thesis, what he wants his readers to find (God’s comfort) and which he himself
wants to provide in the letter.
Tappert, 200, misses the seynen in translating WA 15:69.28.
Tappert, 200, says ‘praises himself and his preaching.’
110 chapter three

harm (‘you’) have suffered. Second, following that brief section, Luther
starts a lengthy discussion of how to draw comfort from this plight. In
function, this section operates like a rhetorical contrarium, which offers
a counter-example, or as in this case, considers unhelpful responses, such
as complaining, scolding, even revenge. Such counter-examples are quite
consistent with arguing from definition, for definitions often include
what is not fitting.98 This section is rich with second person pronouns,
not of confrontation but of exhortation, a kind of Pauline praise of
the audience for what God (not the enemy) is doing in them.99
Yet Luther does grant a concession to his audience, an avenue along
which they can direct their revenge: it can be heaped upon the devil.
Moreover, Luther begins to deal with step (B) of Paul’s two-fold strategy
in 2 Corinthians, namely: praising the office of preaching and boast-
ing of the gospel by offering a ‘psalm of praise to the Gospel.’ This
is where Luther takes Scripture—in this case a ‘little verse’ from the
Psalter—exegetes, expounds, and applies it to the case at hand, therein
thwarting the devil’s plan.100
But what if speaking the Word is forbidden? That objection, a real
problem in Albertine Saxony, Luther next takes up, in his prolepsis.
He uses dialogue to allow the objection to have voice, and he answers
it with brief dialogue. Toward the goal of supplying strength to the
weak to meet this task, Luther next offers his German translation of

Luther returns to the comfort from God, employing several of the key phrases
linking suffering to God and his word—especially the phrase ‘for the sake of [God,
God’s word, etc.].’ ‘Suffering [leydet]’ is repeatedly used in this section (six times in fif-
teen lines), along with seven instances (in nine lines) of terms such as ‘sure’ or ‘certain
[gewis],’ ‘know [wissen],’ ‘conscience [Gewissen].’ Luther’s German syntax twice places
umb yhr gottis immediately after gewiss. In one instance Luther uses the opposite term
The ‘you’s and ‘your’s are juxtaposed to ‘they’s and ‘them’s, as Luther distinguishes
between what benefits the Miltenbergers enjoy (salvation, good conscience, righteous
cause, “the consolation of God with patience and hope out of the Scriptures”), com-
pared to the harms suffered by their persecutors (misery, bad conscience, blind cause,
“the devil’s consolation in revenge and visible tyranny” [Tappert, 202]). In employing
pronoun and descriptive juxtaposition, Luther entices these answers from his readers
through rhetorical question and argumentum ad absurdum, ending the one section of exhor-
tation with a striking chiasmus (a.b.c:c1.b1.a1): If you had the power to choose between
their lot and your own, ought you not flee from theirs as from the devil himself, even
though it were a kingdom of heaven that they had, and hasten to choose your own lot,
even though it were a hell? For heaven [a] cannot be glad [b] if the devil [c] reigns
there, and hell [c1] cannot be sad [b1] if God [a1] reigns there (Tappert, 202).
In Ein feste Burg the final line of stanza three explains the principle: “One word
can overturn him” (LW 53:285), or as another translation puts it, “One little word
shall fell him.”
luther’s martyrological literature 111

Psalm 120 (119 Vulgate), which he says fits their situation perfectly.101
In order to see how Luther finds the existential Sitz im Leben of the
Miltenbergers and the Word of God in this Psalm, his exposition of
its seven verses is worth examination.
Psalm 120 (119 Vulgate), one of the Lament Psalms, shows the
human battle under persecution, and it identifies God’s answers and
assistance.102 Luther offers a translation of each verse, and then he
expounds each verse in turn. Structurally, the psalm progresses rapidly
from questions (vv. 1–3) to answers (vv. 4–7).103 His exposition of v. 1
covers both clauses, starting with the first, for Luther’s emphasis is on
the source to which we cry out for help. Using expeditio—dispatch-
ing wrong answers in order to get to the correct one, thus leaving it
standing alone, triumphantly—he offers three wrong sources (emperor,
sword, our own devices and wisdom) before he turns distinctly (sondern)
to emphasize the right answer: the Lord. By completing the exposition
with a paraphrase, Luther finds God’s pleasure in being sought and in
acting to ‘hear and help.’ In verse two, the imperative (vocative), Luther
argues that the cry functions not to inform God of our need but to
motivate us to pray more diligently. He then identifies the Miltenbergers’
enemies as revealed in the Psalm, showing how applicable Scripture is
to human situations (God’s comfort). In verse three, Luther finds the
distressed person’s thoughts about how to respond to the persecution,
indicating that the person feels weak, needing help, and is considering
compromise. Luther says the Spirit rejects these proposals.
Luther spends the most time with the two metaphors of verse four,
and the images of this verse are crucial to understand. The coherence
of this Psalm with the body of the letter now emerges, for the preaching
of the word is ‘help that comes from God,’ sharp arrows that pierce
human opinion. So both preaching truth and loving life are needed,
and these stand out in stark contrast to the impotent sermons and cold

In his lectures on the Psalms (1513–1516) Luther plainly declares that this psalm
is “speaking about the trouble of treachery, not the trouble of torments” (LW 11).
In the Vulgate and German Bibles the first verse has attached to it at the begin-
ning: ‘A pilgrimage song,’ and here Luther includes as heading the Latin ‘first line title’
(Ad dominum, cum tribularer, clamavi).
The first three verses get brief exposition (7 lines, 7 lines, 5 lines); the fourth
verse—the center—gets the longest treatment (18 lines); the final three verses are more
treated more concisely (11 lines, 8 lines, 8 lines). In five of the seven verses Luther
interprets the meaning as dealing with the Word of God, a seemingly rather strange
connection to find in this Psalm, for the only obvious link are terms that indicate
speaking: cried, heard (v. 1); lips, tongue (v. 2, 3); speak (v. 7).
112 chapter three

love of many preachers. In the fifth, sixth, and seventh verses Luther
explains the treatment preachers of God’s Word receive. The final verse
continues the cry of the righteous, confessing their love for peace, all the
while being charged with sedition when they speak Christian doctrine.
Luther bolsters his exposition with the historical example of Ahab’s
false charge against Elijah for troubling Israel (1 Kings 8:17f.).
Following his brief exposition of Psalm 120, Luther then returns to
a more direct conversational exhortation with his readers as he tries
to show them how the psalm applies to their present situation. Fol-
lowing that, he concludes the entire letter. He asks that confident and
abundant prayers be offered for Miltenberg and elsewhere, to fan the
flames which the Word has ignited.104 Luther’s closing is thorough and
very gracious in its fullness, invoking God’s name (not once but three
times) so that Christ will be preached.105

In his final paragraph of application and exhortation, Luther shifts to first person
plural, turning attention onto himself as well as his readers, as he continues using the
fire metaphor to urge steadfastness and passion in prayer. The exhortation concludes
(set off as an independent paragraph in WA) with three successive ‘Let us . . .’ clauses:
“So let us be up and about. The time is here. The devil is playing evil tricks on us
everywhere. Let us for once do something to vex him and revenge ourselves on him.
In other words, let us pray God without ceasing until he sends us enough instruments,
marksmen, sharp arrows, and coals” (Tappert, 207) [Darumb lasst uns auff wachen
und frisch seyn, die zeyt ist hie. Er thu(o)tt uns allentthalben viel böser tück, last uns
doch auch eyn mal yhm etwas beweysen, das yhn verdreuffet, und uns rechen, das ist,
lasst uns bitten zu Gott on unterlas, bis er uns gerüfte schützen mit scharffen pfeylen
und kolen gnüg sende] (WA 15:77.30 78.2).
“Hie mit will ich euch, lieben freunde, Gott ynn seyn gnad und barmhertzickeit
befollen haben, und bittet auch Gott fur mich armen sunder, und lasst euch ewer
prediger befollen seyn, so Christum und nicht den bapst odder die Meyntzischen
tempeljunckern predigen. Gottis gnade sey mit euch. Amen” (WA 15:78.19–22). Such
a closing allows us to call brief attention to how similar this document is to Luther’s
sermons, especially the Invocavit sermons of March 1522: (1) in its strategic use of
pronouns for shifting attention to subjects and for maintaining reader communion with
speaker; (2) in its frequent use of the ‘endearment’ (lieben Freunde), seven times in all;
(3) in its emphasis on the ‘chief things’ of the Christian life, which must be constantly
returned to during times of stress, such as rapid innovation (March 1522) or heavy
persecution (February 1524); (4) in its singular focus on the Word of God as the source
of life, with preaching as the vehicle through which the Word is made effective, and
with the importance of allowing the Word to have free course; (5) in its exhortation
to maintain good works of love, not for righteous merit but for demonstrating faith
and for fanning the flames kindled by the Spirit.
luther’s martyrological literature 113

VII. The Burning of Brother Henry (1525)

Hendrik van Zutphen (Heinrich von Zütphen) was a Dutch Augustin-

ian who had been educated in Wittenberg (Master’s degree, 1511) and
had served as prior of his order at Cologne in 1514 and at Dort in
1515. In 1522 he left Wittenberg, where he had resumed his studies
(Bachelor of Divinity, 1521), to serve as prior at Antwerp, where he
was arrested. As it happened, though, ‘Henry’ was helped to escape the
country—on his way, presumably, back to Wittenberg. However, having
been persuaded at Bremen to stay there and preach, Henry never got
out of Holstein. In the fall of 1524 he accepted a potentially danger-
ous, but also compelling, call to Meldorf in Dithmarschen,106 where
he was later kidnapped and eventually tortured and murdered on 10
December by a mob at Hemmingstedt.107 Luther was asked to write
a letter of consolation to the congregation in Bremen, and he did so,
joining others who memorialized Henry’s martyrdom in print.108
“The Burning of Brother Henry in Dithmarschen, Including an
Explanation of the Ninth Psalm” (LW 32:265–286)109 was written in
February or March of 1525, based on reports of witnesses.110 It is
Luther’s second attempt at writing about the death of a martyr, and as
a consolatory letter that includes an exposition of a psalm, the docu-
ment also includes something new—Luther’s first literary ‘martyrology.’
“The Burning of Brother Henry” differs from “A New Song Here Shall
Be Begun” (1523) in several respects: (1) since this ‘execution’ had no
official ecclesiastical sanction; there are no Acta that outline the charges

Near the mouth of the Elbe river, at the North Sea.
A half mile outside of the village of Meldorf.
Bernd Moeller, “Inquisition und Martyrium,” 47, catalogs four different Flug-
schriften, including Luther’s, which responded to the Prozeß against Heinrich von
Zütphen, which were issued in ten total editions. Martin Brecht, Martin Luther, 2:349,
says the request of Luther that he write to Henry came from Jakob Propst; cf. WABr
Tappert, 208–211, omits both the explanation of Psalm 9 and the ‘history.’
Luther’s Von Bruder Henrico in Ditmar verbrannt samt dem zehnten Psalmen ausgelegt (WA
18:224–240) was published in seven German editions (including one in Niederdeutsch) in
five German cities, all in 1525 (Benzing, Nr. 2107–2113). Three authors of Flugschriften
that Moeller, “Inquisition und Martyrium,” cites were Jakob Propst, Henry’s predeces-
sor at Antwerp, Johannes Lang (1488–1548), and Wenceslaus Linck (1482–1547), all
Augustinians, followers, and friends of Luther. Linck was on the theology faculty at
Wittenberg, and Lang had been at Erfurt with Luther. For background on the Augustin-
ian order, see David Gutierrez, The Augustinians from the Protestant Reformation to the Peace
of Westphalia 1518–1648. History of the Order of St. Augustine 2 (Villanova, 1979).
114 chapter three

and sentence; (2) Luther’s is one of four documents—all Lutheran—to

chronicle the story;111 and (3) that its prose provides far more detail
and evidence, purporting to present an historical, journalistic account
of the events.
Luther’s document devotes approximately one-third to consolatory
letter and psalm exposition, two-thirds to the Geschichte of Henry’s
murder. The structure is roughly as follows: (A) Salutatio (LW 32:265;
WA 18:224.1–2); (B) Narratio (LW 32:265; WA 18:224.4–11); (C) Expo-
sition and exhortation on the meaning of martyrdom, plus a short
justification for including the psalm exposition (LW 32:265–268; WA
18:224.12–226.11); (D) Exposition of the Ninth Psalm, including an
exhortation on how believers should respond to the burning (LW
32:268–272; WA 18:226.17–229.17); (E) Conclusio (LW 32:272; WA
18:229.17–21); (F) Narrative of the murder of Henry (LW 32:272–286;
WA 18:229.22–240.33).
As a multi-layered discourse responding to a violent and unofficial
killing—rather than a clerically sanctioned trial and execution—sev-
eral distinctive features of rhetorical style can be found in the overall
document: (1) Luther uses abundantly the words blood, murder, martyr,
and martyrdom, along with vivid descriptions of these deeds; (2) he is
endearing to his audience, as he offers ubiquitous and praiseworthy
references to Henry, the victim; (3) the Word of God, and the preach-
ing and teaching of it, are repeatedly emphasized, including detailing
topics Henry preached and the favorable responses to them; (4) guilty
perpetrators are described—names are given and actions told; and
(5) Luther frequently inserts dialogue into the narrative, in order to
demonstrate the clear difference between Henry’s innocence and the
persecutors’ guilt.
(1) Unlike the few explicit references to blood and martyrs in the 1523
documents, nearly two years later Luther is more direct and concrete:
he mentions blood fourteen times, nearly all of them in the letter and
exposition section (three of those uses come from Scriptures quoted).112

The titles of documents catalogued by Moeller, “Inquisition und Martyrium,” 47,
all claim to be ‘histories’: Nr. 1 ( Jakob Propst): “Ain erschrockliche geschicht . . .”; Nr.
2 ( Johann Lang): “Eyn Hystorie odder geschicht . . .”; Nr. 3 ( Johann Lang-Wenceslaus
Linck): “Historia wie S. Heinrich zon Zutphan . . .”
While Psalm 9:12 is the only verse to use the word blood, Luther’s explanation for
the meaning of this psalm invokes its title (“A Psalm of David, to be sung with voice
uplifted, about the youth of the son”), the latter phrase of which Luther interprets as
referring “to the martyrs of Christ the Son of God.” These are his “young and strong
luther’s martyrological literature 115

Virtually all of the time, when Luther mentions blood, he speaks of

it positively.113 At the same time, such an act is murder, which stained
(befleckt) the hands of those who shed it. Luther calls those who do such
things ‘murderers,’ and he uses these terms four times, all in the early
part of the letter. In addition to speaking of the biblical and legal syn-
ecdoche for life (blood), Luther’s Geschichte of Henry’s murder describes
the events candidly, concretely, and vividly enough to characterize the
murders (and murderers) in unmistakably derogatory terms. The mob
who attacked Henry were peasants, about five hundred of them, drunk
on three barrels of Hamburg beer.114
(2) Not surprisingly, Luther’s references to Henry are affectionate and
praiseworthy.115 Here was a fellow Augustinian, trained at Wittenberg,
with whom Luther had a lot in common. Moreover, the discourse
directly addresses the bereaved congregation at Bremen, and more
indirectly, all Evangelicals. Accordingly, Luther is gentle and affection-
ate with his readers in the letter, as we have come to expect.116 Yet the
complimentary references are strategic, in that they vary according to
audience and context of the discourse.

followers who by faith are made perfect in death” (268). No hint of such an interpreta-
tion is found in his Psalm lectures of 1513–1515 (LW 10:91), so we may conjecture that
events subsequent to that time have influenced Luther to read this Psalm differently
than he did then, although he may have also been influenced by Jewish sources and
by Jerome (cf. 268, note 7).
Whether it is Henry’s ‘precious [theure]’ blood or the saints’ blood, having inno-
cent blood (unschuldigen Blute) shed for the cause of Christ is an advantageous event for
the sufferers, because it confirms (bezeuget), certifies ( gewis machten), and seals (versigelt)
the Gospel.
“They broke into the parsonage and, in the manner of drunken, senseless peas-
ants, smashed everything in sight—cans, pots, clothing, cups” (LW 32:283). These
‘wretched creatures,’ these ‘poor, miserable, drunken people’ bind Henry, drag him
away, beat him over the skull with a rapier, stab him “in the sides, the back, the arms,
and wherever they could get at him, not just once, but as often as he attempted to
speak” (286). They tied him to a ladder, raised him up to the fire, and ‘roasted him
on the coals’ (286).
In the letter Luther stresses relationship—of Henry to his fellow believers: usually
he simply calls him ‘Henry’ but also “the sainted Brother Henry of Zütphen, your
evangelist”; later ‘your Henry,’ and again, ‘the sainted Henry.’ Luther does not men-
tion him at all in the Ninth Psalm exposition, but in the Geschichte he usually calls him
‘Brother Henry’ (seven times), ‘the good Henry’ (seven times), ‘good Brother Henry’
(twice), and on the last page he calls him ‘the good martyr of Christ’ (three times),
‘the martyr of Christ,’ the ‘holy martyr’ (twice).
The petitio is directed to “dear friends in Christ, at Bremen”; the narratio begins,
‘Dearly beloved in Christ’; the exhortation, at the end of the letter, to take the Ninth
Psalm as comfort, is directed to ‘my dear sirs and friends.’
116 chapter three

(3) Throughout the entire document Luther stresses the role of the
Word of God. Not only does he use the phrase with abandon, but as
we trace how he uses it we find this discourse consistent with previ-
ous documents: First, Luther sees the times117 as an exciting period of
the demonstration and confirmation of the Word with great deeds, so
that (alluding to Acts 2:47) people are shedding their blood, suffering
imprisonment, being driven from their homes. The pattern ‘of a true
Christian life’ has reappeared, which is costly and precious in God’s
sight.118 The sheer number of times Luther uses the phrases Word of
God, God’s Word, his Word, thy word (when paraphrasing Scripture), the
Word, Scripture, and holy Scripture is itself telling of his emphasis: 5 times
in the letter, 11 times (out of 20 verses) in the psalm exposition; 27
times in the Geschichte.119 In Luther’s account of the actual kidnapping,
torture, and murder (LW 32:283–286), the Word or the Scriptures are
scarcely mentioned. That is true not only because the punishment has
begun but also because Luther has previously established, in some
detail, what topics Henry had preached and how his congregation
had responded.120

‘[ I ]n this time [dieser Zeyt]’; ‘in our day [Und nu widder].’
Luther’s proof texts offer a clever rhetorical tactic: in the first text (Ps. 116:15)
his German syntax alters the Vulgate’s, using hyperbaton to emphasize the predicate
(“Costly in the Lord is the death of his saints [Köstlich ist fur dem Herrn der Todt seyner
Heyligen]”); in the second (Ps. 72:14) Luther also alters the Vulgate syntax (Their blood
is precious in his sight. [Yhr Blut ist köstlich fur seynen Augen]”), thereby creating a chias-
mus—costly, death: blood, costly (WA 18:224.21–24).
When we look carefully at the context of these uses, we learn more: we have,
hear, and read the pure [lauter] Word of God (LW 32:265); martyrdom is suffered for
the sake of God’s Word (266); to preserve the Word of God (266); only for God’s
Word will God’s martyrs [Gottes Marterer] die (267). In the psalm exposition Luther
argues that the Word of God is the just cause which the godless oppose (v. 4); thy
Word punishes and converts the godless (v. 5); His Word and kingdom will stand (v. 7);
through his Word he leads and teaches the world justly (v. 8); those who seek Him will
hold fast to his Word (v. 10); his Word must be preached (v. 11); God uses persecution
and martyrdom to strengthen his Word (v. 15); the Lord does not forsake his Word
(v. 16); one should judge circumstances only according to his Word (v. 18); let thy
Word be heard (v. 19); dependence upon God alone is learned only from the public
preaching [eusserlich gepredigt] of the Word (v. 20).
In about a dozen lines Luther takes one-third of the space to report on four
different sermons, preached on two different occasions, giving their titles or scriptural
basis (in Latin), devoting twice as much space then to describe how Henry argued
these texts and with what degree of persuasion: “He preached with such spirit that
everyone was astonished and prayed God earnestly to let them keep such a preacher
a long time. . . . All this he taught with such spirit that everyone marveled and thanked
God fervently for sending them such a preacher. For they now saw plainly how they
had been duped by the monks and priests” (LW 32:281).
luther’s martyrological literature 117

(4) Luther offers the names of many attackers and plotters, giving
details of their actions. The first group named, as sharing the overall
blame, is ‘the monks’ (LW 32:272) and sometimes ‘the papists’ (276)
and ‘the devil and his followers’ (278). To this group Luther adds the
‘canons’ and ‘priests,’ later the ‘bishop,’ two of his councilors, one of
which was the suffragan bishop, and a Dominican (274). Then he men-
tions Lady Margaret, a provincial synod at Buxtehude, the monks of
the Black Cloister (called Jacobins), stirred up by Augustine Torneborch
and Master John Snicken (278).121 Moreover, amongst all the specific
perpetrators fingered, Luther also describes valiant defense actions on
Henry’s behalf carried out not only by the ‘wise and honorable council’
at Bremen, but also a small handful of others.122
(5) Luther uses dialogue very sparingly, but when he does it supplies
not only liveliness to the narrative but also ‘evidence’ that would be far
less potent in non-dialogue form. Of course, his most common form of
dialogue is when he quotes Scripture, and in preaching he frequently
quotes unnamed objectors or listeners, both of which serve as sounding
boards for the audience’s ideas to be considered. But in the Geschichte
Luther also occasionally inserts language into the mouths of characters
in his narrative. Near the end of the section detailing the proceedings,
he uses a second bit of dialogue—this one another attempt at reasoned
argument, this time by the prior, who would have nothing of delays. By

Accusations were supported by Master Günter and Peter Hannen (LW 32:279), a
Dominican, Doctor William (281), the ‘gray monks,’ who summoned several regents—
Peter Nannen, Peter Swin, Claus Roden (only Nannen is identified as a culprit; Swin
later intervened on Henry’s behalf, and nothing precise is said of Roden). As ringlead-
ers (heubt leute), Luther named: Peter Nannen, Peter Swin’s son, Henning of Lunden,
John Holm, Lorenz Hannemann, Ludwig Hannemann, Bostel John Preen, Claus of
Weslingburen, Brosi John of Wodkenhausen, Marquard Kramer of Henstedt, Ludecke
John of Wessling, and Peter Grossvogt of Hemmingstedt (282). During the actual
capture and torture there was a traitor (Henning’s Hans); one who dragged Henry
along ( John Balke); a cooperating priest named Reimer Hozek; other priests—Simon,
of Altenworden, and Christian, of Neuenkirchen (284); and a magistrate Schoesser
Maes, who pronounced sentence (285). Finally, one of the ringleaders, John Holm, is
named twice as inflicting blows, including the final lethal blow (286).
‘Pastor Nicolas Boye and other good Christians’ of Meldorf, who called Henry
to preach (LW 32:276); Peter Detlefs, one of the Bremen council, who spoke up at
the proceedings at Heide, that there was insufficient evidence against Henry at that
time (280); Peter Swin, who tried to support allowing the congregation to hold Henry
accountable to the Word (282); an unnamed woman who wept at the dragging off of
Henry (285); Claus Jungen’s wife (who was also a sister of one of the ringleaders!), who
offered to take Henry’s place at the fire and also promised to pay a bond of a thousand
gulden if the execution could be delayed until a proper trial was conducted (285).
118 chapter three

including this little ‘speech’ of the prior, Luther supplies a potent piece
of evidence for Henry’s innocence and persuasiveness, for the prior’s
remark seems to confirm previous conclusions Luther shared.123
Luther put his most damning dialogue in the account of the killing
itself. Thirteen separate statements are recorded, most of them spoken
by Henry’s attackers. As with some Gospel accounts of Jesus’ cruci-
fixion, Luther often juxtaposes Henry’s own comments (or that of a
sympathetic onlooker) to the vicious remarks of mob members. When
heard together, each remark draws sharper clarity from its opposite—in
the presence of reason and innocence, a harsh remarks seems even
more callous and brutal; seen against cruelty, gentle responses shine
more brightly.124
While the document ends with the Geschichte, we must recall Luther’s
words at its beginning, following the exposition of the psalm. He wanted
no retribution, no desire for revenge. Much as with previous documents
we have examined, Luther speaks of the good that Henry’s death can
accomplish: (1) with the metaphors of spark (Funke) and fire (Fewr) to
speak of the increasing benefit that can come from this event, Luther
urges friendship and kindness toward those in Dithmarschen; (2) he says
many there are sorry this happened in their land, and they should be

“[A] majority of the younger clergy they sent admitted that such doctrine and
preaching were the truth and were from God, which no one could oppose. They added
that they had never in their lives heard such teaching from any man” (LW 32: 276) [das
der meyste hauffen yhrer Capellan, die sie hin fandten, bekant haben, das solche lere
und predigt die warheyt und von Gott sey, der niemand widerstehen könde, denn sie
hyr leben lang von keynem menschen solche lere gehöret hetten] (WA 18:232.10–13).
“He preached with such spirit that everyone was astonished and prayed God earnestly
to let them keep such a preacher a long time. . . . All this he taught with such spirit
that everyone marveled and thanked God fervently for sending them such a preacher”
[mit solchem geyst, das sichs yderman verwundert, und Gott mit vleys betten, yhn
solchen prediger lang zu lassen. . . . und das alles mit solchem geyst, das yderman
sich verwundert, und Gott vleyssig danckten, das er yhn solchen prediger zugeschickt
hette (WA 18:236.15–16, 20–22). The prior’s statement is also highly reminiscent of
similar remarks by Jewish leaders who resented the success of Jesus with the common
people ( John 7:46).
“ ‘Kill him! Kill him!’. . . . But others shouted, ‘Let him go! We have no orders to
capture him’ ” [schlah todt, schlah todt. . . . . Dan ander teyl schrey, man solt yhn gehen
laffen, denn sie hetten keynen befelh, yhn zu fangen] (WA 18:238.9–13). In response
to a lose-lose question of venue, “Henry answered, ‘If I have taught or done anything
un-Christian you may indeed punish me for it. God’s will be done!’ Master Günther
replied, ‘Listen to him, dear friends, he wants to die in Dithmarschen’ ” [Antwort
Henricus: hab ich was unchristlichs geleret odder gehandelt, künden sie mich wol
drumb straffen, der wille Gottes geschehe. Antwort M. Günter: hört, lieben freunde,
er will ynn Diedmar sterben] (WA 18:239.5–7).
luther’s martyrological literature 119

comforted and helped; and (3) the people of Bremen are to comfort
themselves with the psalm. Luther uses his typically Pauline conclusio,
adding boldly that Henry’s blood has sealed the doctrine to which they
should hold fast, and that they should follow gladly in Henry’s footsteps,
“if God should demand it” (LW 32:272). Meanwhile, in Freiburg in
Ducal Saxony, Luther’s letter was read in public. It touched off violent
reactions by the old believers, who “were outraged that the heretic had
been called a saint.”125

VIII. A Letter of Consolation to the Christians at Halle (1527)

In May 1527 Luther learned of the sudden death of a young pastor

friend, George Winkler, living near Halle. By this time he had written
several documents that responded to executions and murders of Evan-
gelicals, which he identified as Christian martyrs. The Peasant War was
over, Luther and Katy had been married for two years and had one
child, Hans, with another, Elizabeth, on the way. Plague had broken out
in Wittenberg, and the University was moved to Jena; however, Luther
refused to leave town, choosing instead to stay and minister to the sick.
Moreover, he himself was not well, and illness delayed his response to
the death of his friend. Winkler, formerly a zealous papist, now turned
to Luther’s teaching and was canon of the Stiftkirche in Halle. Earlier in
1527 he had been charged with administering the sacrament in both
kinds (bread and cup) but was then released by his friend, Archbishop
Albrecht of Mainz (1490, 1514–1545). Lured away from his companions
on the return trip to Halle, Winkler was murdered on 23 April.126
While we do not know precisely what Albrecht’s attitude toward
Winkler was, Luther believed that Albrecht was implicated in the mur-
der, the responsibility for which he attributed directly to the cathedral
chapter at Mainz. Yet Luther and others did not want to accuse the
Archbishop directly, and he still hoped to influence Albrecht for the
Reformation cause. However, because the doctrinal issue of sacrament
in both kinds was involved, Luther’s response was particularly blunt.
Tröstung an die Christen zu Halle über Herr Georgen ihres Predigers Tod was
printed in Wittenberg by Hans Lufft in 1527, and in five subsequent

Martin Brecht, Martin Luther, 2:349.
LW 43:141.
120 chapter three

editions the same year.127 Luther’s Tröstung can be seen as follows:

I. Salutatio (LW 43:145; WA 23:403.3–4); II. Narratio (LW 43:145–146;
WA 23:403.5–404.31); III. Petitio (LW 43:146–151; WA 23:403.32–
413.2); IV. Apologia on Communion in Both Kinds [not included in my
analysis that follows] (LW 43:151–160; WA 23:413.3–423.5); V. Petitio,
continued (LW 43:160–164; WA 23:423.6–429.24); VI. Exhortatio (LW
43:164–165; WA 23:429.25–431.27).
I. Luther’s salutatio is typically Pauline, but it has two dissimilarities
from others we have seen him use in previous comforting and mar-
tyrological documents: (1) The signature, ‘Martinus Luther,’ does not
include the epithet of ‘preacher at Wittenberg.’ Without further research,
one can only guess why that is so, but we do note that Luther does
not as frequently mention preaching or the Word, not even where we
might expect it more—in the apologia on both kinds in the sacrament.
However, he does stress the preaching of the Word in the narratio, as
we shall see below. Further, it is now four years after the first martyrs,
and Luther does not dwell as much on the flowering or flaming of
the Gospel in these times as he did earlier. Yet we will see later an
apocalyptic motif; (2) Luther includes the epithet ‘our Lord and Savior,’
which is unusual, Savior being found in only 10–15% of the letters of
consolation in Tappert.
II. The narratio notes circumstances for writing the letter of comfort,
for which Luther has dual outcomes in mind, both to ‘admonish and
comfort’ (LW 43:145; WA 23:403.6), and he identifies what happened to
Magister Georgen (as he typically calls him) as murder five times in these
21 lines. Yet even before he mentions the victim by name, Luther first
identifies the villain: der Satan (three times mentioned). Moreover, his
admonition and comfort is for the loss of a ‘good and excellent man’
and a ‘steadfast preacher of God’s word,’ and after a lapse of several
months he writes because he can no longer delay. In these remarks
of Luther we note several expressions for how truth must be uttered

WA 23:403–434 prints, on alternating pages, a critical edition of the text of the
original manuscript and that of the printed editions. I shall follow the printed editions,
because the text of the manuscript is fragmentary. Therefore, succeeding pages of the
text will skip a page in between; i.e., 403, 405, etc.
Luther could not ‘remain silent [zu schweigen]’; Winkler’s blood allows the holy
word of God to be ‘declared and made known [bezeuget und bekand]’; Luther wants to
use his writing to help ‘shout out to the heavens [ruffen und schreien gen Hymel]’ to pre-
vent ‘concealment [ geschwigen]’ of the murder; so that God will ‘hear our cry [ geschrey
luther’s martyrological literature 121

III. The petitio, or the content of the purpose section, tries to provide
information to readers that will bring comfort and satisfaction for them,
a ‘knowledge is power’ (‘Demons live in the dark’) strategy that coun-
selors often invoke.129 Luther’s goals in this section are: (A) to implicate
Satan as the chief villain, through explaining how his dominion operates,
and to speculate, through argument and evidence, upon what persons
might have been involved in the murder of Winkler; (B) to establish
and celebrate Winkler’s innocence of wrongdoing against authority,
thereby attempting to refute any allegations of heresy or sedition; (C)
to explore the circumstances surrounding and motives for the killing,
asserting that it was for a reformation doctrine (communion in both
kinds), upon which he will later expound; (D) to persuade readers to
realize that George is better off now and that they should pray for the
perpetrators; and (E) to convince readers that these killings are signs
that God is removing his elect before calamity comes to unbelievers.
For goal (A) Luther addresses his readers as ‘dear friends’—already
the third such endearment thus far—offering to provide ‘comfort and
satisfaction’ for both them and his own people.130 His explanation tries
to show how Satan controls this world, primarily through the twin
enemies of murder and lying, which Luther finds first in his para-
phrase of John 14:30; 16:11 and his citation of John 8:44.131 Satan
performs his murders repeatedly through deception; Luther attributes
virtually every sudden or unnatural death to Satan (‘such murders and
misfortunes’). Since he is ‘a prince of this world,’ we must realize we
are, in Luther’s analogy, guests at Satan’s inn, over which hangs the

erhöre],’ just as he heard Abel’s blood cry out from the ground (Gen. 4:10), a biblical
metaphor Luther used in reference to the burning of Henry and John in 1523; Luther
compares Winkler’s blood to a divine ‘seed’ that will be sown on earth by Satan but
will sprout forth a hundred other true preachers and do a ‘thousand times more’ dam-
age to Satan, just like he could not ‘listen [hören]’ to many more; as the pope did not
want Huss to ‘whisper [mucken]’ in one little corner, now he won’t be able to prevent
‘shouting [schreien]’ to the four corners of the earth; the ‘outcry [Auffhören]’ has not
stopped yet (WA 23:403.14–32).
Dr. Phill McGraw, Columbia Broadcasting System.
One particularly striking phrase occurs when Luther says that Satan inflames
princes and kings against one another until there is such bloodshed that it seems as
though men were ‘born for nothing but killing [zu Morden geboren].’ Satan’s greatest
delight (am Liebsten) is in murdering those who proclaim Christ’s word, for to do that
is to expose Satan’s rule and identity as murderer and liar (Morder und Lügener), lying
being what he next explores (LW 43:146 wrongly translates Euch aber und uns [WA
23:403.3] as ‘But you and I’).
LW 43:146 omits chapter 8 in Luther’s citation.
122 chapter three

sign, ‘Death and Untruth.’ He elaborates on Satan’s domain by enu-

merating instances of violent deaths and through an accumulation of
violent phrases, in which he uses ‘murder’ seven times in 11 lines.132
Following such an emphasis on Satan’s murderous agenda, Luther next
explains the Devil’s deceptive tactics. Given that his comforting strategy
is to expose Satan to his readers, so that they recognize his schemes
and understand his ways, ‘In the same way’ Satan unwittingly reveals
his lies in the deceptions of heresy, disbelief, and factionalism.133 In
wrapping up the first goal Luther again loudly accuses Das Capitel zu
Mentz of consenting to the murder, if not ordering it directly, by their
lack of vigorous investigation and prosecution, especially since they have
more legal power than the bishop. This strong accusation against the
alleged perpetrators also helps to build a case for George’s innocence:
what they did (seven third person plural pronouns, in addition to all the
nouns, in 12 lines) was illegal and unjust, and readers can take comfort
in that (WA 23:409.12–24).
Goal (B) of the petitio is to exonerate Winkler of any charge of insub-
ordination—against clerical and divine authority. This short section (17
lines) makes a strong argument that George’s loyalty both to God and
the bishop was above reproach, and Luther does some interesting things
with scriptural evidence in making this argument. First, he claims that,
in the face of danger to his life, George obeyed ‘his true Lord Jesus
Christ.’ In making this obvious point, Luther uses the word ‘obedient

WA 23:405.1–26. LW 43:146 wrongly reads ‘liar and a murderer’; Luther stays
with the order of John 8:44.
Observe Luther’s blend of repetition (anaphora) and epithet as he lists some of
Satan’s subtleties, and notice how Luther moves from third person, to first person, to
second person, as he brings this exposition on Satan back to the case at hand, Winkler’s
murder: All of this is sheer deviltry, intended to seduce souls and to lead them back
to damnation, to say nothing of hidden temptations by which the devil attacks each
person, particularly a person’s faith, with doubt, with false intuitions, with false comforts, with
false fears, etc., for he is the very father, master, and juggler of lies, so leading us in
thought and imagination that were God not with us in strength and mercy, he would
lead astray, if possible, even the elect [Matt. 24:24]. He dealt with you in this same
manner in Halle [Welchs auch alles sind eitel teuffels werck, die seelen zu verfuren
und verdammen, on was seines heimlichen anfechtens ist, damit er einen iglichen
ynn sonderheit ynn seinem glauben ansicht mit zweifel, mit falschem eingeben, mit
falschem trost, mit falschem schrecken etc.: wie er denn ein vater das ist ein meister
und tausantkunstler ist auff lugen zur dencken und furzubilden, das wo Gott nicht
starck und gnediglich uber uns hellt, auch die ausserweleten ynn yrthum fallen . Eben
also thut er mit euch auch itzt zu Halle:] (WA 23:405.30–407.5). LW 43:147 fails to
retain the repetition of preposition with [mit] in Luther’s tripled ‘false’, omitting the
first ‘with’ [doubt] altogether.
luther’s martyrological literature 123

[ gehorsam]’ four times, the crucial time in the close paraphrase of Phil.
2:8. Second, he reasons that because George’s actions were obedient
to Paul’s words in Rom. 13:1, he was obedient to the word of God
and, therefore, died in the Lord.134 Third, Luther argues that Winkler’s
previous record of loyalty to the bishop speaks loudly that he ‘loved his
superior’ and was ignominiously ‘rewarded’ for that.135
Goal (C) of the petitio is that Luther expose further the details of
what happened to George. Therefore, he proceeds to narrate a brief
account (18 lines) of the capture and murder.136 His report emphasizes
the plotting and deviousness of the villains, over against the vulner-
ability and innocence of George. Speaking entirely in third person,
Luther brackets the story by his interpretation of motive (“had to
defend themselves so that no further inroads would be made”)137 and
outcome (“earning for themselves a crown in hell, in so far as they do
not repent, and they and their masters will be crowned in hell by the
devil himself ”).138 Far different from his detailed account of the burn-
ing of Henry at Dithmarschen two years earlier, Luther’s account here
has little direct evidence of witnesses to rely on, so he does not give
names but rather attributes blame to four categories of participant in
the planned capture and killing (Satan, Bishops, unknown attackers
and accomplices, a traveling companion).139 At the end of the narrative

Luther’s use of singen harks back to the hymn commemorating the burnings of
Henry and John (1523), and he has here changed the plural of Rev. 14:13 (‘blessed
are they . . .’) to a singular, to apply directly to George.
Luther’s irony turns to bitter sarcasm: “People like him are supposed to be mur-
dered by the church officials, but whores and knaves ought rather to be honored by
them” [Solche leute sollen von geistlichen stifften ermordet werden, Aber huren und
buben sollen dafur geehret werden] (WA 23:411.8–9).
WA 23:411.15–413.2).
“. . . das nicht weiter einriffe” (WA 23:411.14).
“ . . . Und haben die hellischen kron, wo sie nicht bussen, verdienet, welche
yhn auch werden wird sampt yhren herren und dem teuffel ynn der helle” (WA
23:411.32–413.1). He uses several descriptive terms to accentuate the stealth of the
deed: ‘secretly and treacherously [heimlich und verretherlich],’ Winkler was summoned into
‘another diocese, Mainz [ein anders, als Mentz ist],’ where he was tricked into ‘ambush
[Anschlag],’ detained ‘alone [allein],’ and directed into the ‘trap of the concealed mur-
derers [bestelleten Strauchmördern].’
The first evidence Luther uses that George is better off (as people say today),
is a blend of reasoning and authority. As he prepares for his textual support, Luther
uses balanced, parallel clauses (with anaphora), preceded and followed by rhetorical
questions: “For what is certain in this life? Today we stand; tomorrow we fall. Today
one has the true faith; tomorrow he falls into error. Today one hopes; tomorrow he
despairs. How many good people fall into the error of the enthusiasts? How many will
fall in the future through such sectarian errors?” (LW 43:160). Three remarks of Luther
124 chapter three

Luther climaxes the account of the capture with a precise, sobering, and
ironic statement: “And so, about two miles from Aschaffenburg, these
great heroes and papal knights set upon this good man and stabbed
him to death . . .” (WA 23:411.31f.).140
IV. Apologia: Prior to completing the last two goals of the Petitio, next
is Luther’s defense for the orthodoxy of communion in both kinds, a
case that I shall omit.
V. Petitio, continued: As Luther ends his discourse on communion
in both kinds and returns to his petitio, he picks up the point he had
left—goal (C)—which, we recall, started out to establish the cause for
which George was killed, an essential point for the legitimacy of his
martyrdom. As with previous transitions, Luther reminds his readers
that his purpose is to provide comfort; he has already given five such
reminders.141 Now comes the sixth, which reconnects to the earlier
argument that George’s obedience to the Word equals dying in the Lord:
“Let us return to ourselves and to pastor George, comforting ourselves
all the more and rejoicing that Christ has found him worthy to die for
his word and his truth” (WA 23:423.6–8).
(Goal D) Yet Luther goes much farther in this point than merely
arguing that George’s killing equals authentic martyrdom. His point
is that George would not want to live again, that his death results in a
valued good for him, especially when considered against the fragility
and tragic nature of life on earth. This is very consistent with Luther’s
earlier point about Satan’s domain as a prince of this world. Luther
even uses hypothetical dialogue from Winkler himself to argue that “If
you loved me you would certainly rejoice that I was permitted to go
from death to eternal life in this way” (WA 23:423.13–17), an argument
commonly still used nowadays to bolster the spirits of grieving rela-

make clear that he was being cautious with his evidence: “It has been reported to me
that . . . [Denn also bin ich bericht]”; “he is supposed to have said . . . [er gesagt sol haben]”;
“That is as much as I have learned about the matter [So viel hab ich dauon erfaren]” (WA
23:411.17 413.2).
“Also haben sie bey zwo meilen von Asschenburg auff den guten man gerannt
und yhn erstochen.”
“[ I ]t has long been my intention to write to you to admonish and comfort [Ver-
manung und Trost] you” (LW 43:145); “But you and we, dear friends, may take comfort
and satisfaction [trosten und zu friden]” (LW 43:146); “Let this be the first fact of our
comfort [Trostes]” (LW 43:147); “A second comforting fact [trostet] in this murder is”
(LW 43:149); “I am compelled, to discuss the matter . . . for our own strengthening and
comfort [zu Stercke und Trost]” (LW 43:151).
luther’s martyrological literature 125

tives.142 The authority and wisdom of both St. Cyprian and the Psalter
are invoked, as Luther even alludes to the language of 1 Peter 5:8 in
warning readers of the dangers awaiting believers today.143 Speaking
in first person—both singular and plural—Luther models the desired
attitude by: (1) giving thanks; and (2) singing the “beautiful and com-
forting words from Sapi [entia] 4 [:10–15, 17–18]” (LW 43:161f.).144
So, again, Luther has reminded his readers of his goal—comfort—and
he has tried to demonstrate its origin (the Word of God) and model
its activity (he sings).145
Goal (E) for Luther is to argue that such murders are a ‘sure indica-
tion’ that God is preparing a great catastrophe for unbelievers. In both
His acceptance of the death of the one who pleased him (Wisdom of
Solomon) and with His permitting disaster to fall, God is in control.
Luther argues that God removes his own for their own protection, and
he invokes the stories of Lot being taken from Sodom (Gen. 19), Noah
and his family surviving in the ark (Gen. 8), and King Josiah being
buried peacefully before the Chaldeans overthrew Jerusalem (2 Chron.
35). Luther summarizes the principle at work in these examples: “In
this way he has at all times first saved his own from among the god-
less, and then let loose his anger mightily upon the unbelieving” (WA
23:427.11–13).146 As he then finishes the petitio, Luther moves toward
his concluding exhortatio. The purpose is to urge readers to mourn and
pray for the tyrants who did this, a response both difficult to do and

“Denn was ist yn diesem leben sichers, heute stehet einer, morgen ligt er, heute
gleubt einer recht, morgen fellet er ynn yrthum, heute hofft einer, morgen verzweifelt
einer. Wie gar viel seiner leute fallen itzt teglich ynn der Schwermer yrthum, Wie viel
wird yhr noch fallen durch dieselbigen und andere kunsstige rotten.”
LW 43:160 fails to record Luther’s citation (wie der Psalter klagt) at WA 23:423.21
and does not catch the language of 1 Peter 5:8 (‘roaring lions’ [die grimmigen Lewen]) as
the Weimarer Ausgabe editors do.
Luther’s own words, prior to the quotation, are poetic: und singe von hertzen den
schonen tröstlichen spruch (WA 23:425.19–20).
The quotation from Sapientia (Wisdom of Solomon) is lengthy and speaks
obliquely of ‘one who pleased God’ through his innocence, God having removing
him from an evil environment, leaving others to misunderstand what has happened.
The quotation seems to provide an allegory that interprets Winkler’s blessed fate and
survivors’ confused feelings as expected and normal for a legitimate martyr. The final
line of the quote (WA 23:425.30) nicely effects the apparent paradox, through inclusio
(syntactically arranging the opposing terms at the beginning and ending of the sentence),
clear only in German and literal translation: Sie sehen und achten sein nicht, Aber der Herr
spottet yhr (“They see and understand him not, but the Lord mocks them”).
“Und so fort an hatt er allewege die seinen zuvor aus dem Gottlosen hauffen
geriffen und darnach lassen gegen seinen zorn uber die Gottlosen mit aller macht.”
126 chapter three

perfectly consistent with the previous arguments, especially with the

line we just quoted above.147 Forthrightly insisting, in first person plural,
that ‘we must do the same,’ Luther quotes Matt. 6:12 in the Lord’s
Prayer. His language in this part (18 lines) contains seventeen uses of
the first person plural pronoun; only six of them are found in Bible
quotations. He concludes the petitio with a rhetorical question that he
answers with a series of doublets.148 This appeal to exceed the forgiv-
ing and quid pro quo behavior of sinners is without question something
Luther got from Luke 6:32–34, where ‘sinners’ is used four times in
3 verses, as Jesus makes three comparisons of sinners’ and believers’
behavior (‘love . . . do good . . . lend to . . .’).
VI. Exhortatio (LW 43:164–165): Luther concludes the letter of com-
fort with 35 lines that appeal to readers, in second person, to guard
their attitudes and to work toward the repentance of their persecutors.
In the previous 66 lines, while he spoke of the events being a sign of
impending calamity for unbelievers, Luther did not utter the words
murder or assassin. Now, with his fifth endearment of the document
(lieben Herrn und Freunde), he implores his struggling readers to follow
his scriptural admonitions. His opening line is very similar in meaning
and style to Paul in Rom. 12:1.149 Luther’s recommendation is two-fold:

In a volley of doublets, Luther outlines the response he wants: they should ‘praise
and thank God [Gotte loben und dancken]’ since he has called martyrs away in such a
‘wonderful and merciful fashion [wunderbarlich und barmhertziglich holet]’; they ought not
become ‘angry and impatient [zurnen und ungedültig]’ with the ‘tyrants and mercenaries
[Tyrannen und Wueterichen]’ but rather ‘pray and weep [bitten und uns yhr jamern]’ (WA
23:429.9–12). Luther’s proof texts not only provide authority and precedent for such
behavior, but they contain doublet language as well: immediately after ‘pray and weep,’
Luther follows with ‘as Christ teaches us in Matt. 6’ (LW 43:163). Both LW 43:163 (in
the text) and WA 23:429.11 (in the margin) cite Matt. 5:44, while in the text Luther
plainly cites Matt. 6. I believe both editors are incorrect and that Luther cited the
wrong text. The text I think Luther really had in mind is Luke 6, for his quote is a
conflation of Luke 6:27 and 6:35. These two verses, when put together, allow Luther to
juxtapose the striking responses he advocates alongside—actually to precede—the bad
behavior done by the enemy: pray for . . . those who wrong and persecute; bless . . . those
who curse; do well . . . to those who hate.
He urges readers to exceed the forgiveness of ‘heathens and sinners [Heiden und
sunder],’ even ‘murderers and criminals [Morder und allerley Buben],’ by forgiving more
than just ‘friends and decent people [Freunden und guten gesellen].’ They are to forgive
their enemies’ debts (Feinden Schuld vergeben), pray for them and do good to them ( fur sie
bitten und dazu wolthun), for this is the ‘true Christian virtue [eine rechte Christliche Tugent]’
(WA 23:429.17–23).
In fact, it is stronger: ‘Accordingly, I beg and exhort you . . .’ [Dem nach bitte auch
ich und vermane euch] (WA 23:429.25). In acknowledging their suffering (“this disturbing
matter, which rightly pains and grieves you so [diese verdriesliche sache, darynn euch billich
luther’s martyrological literature 127

pursue a righteous cause and take consolation from Matt. 5:10, which
he paraphrases, “ ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteous-
ness’ sake.’ ” Luther’s closing paragraph of the exhortatio, as with the first,
uses a form of the word ‘exhortation [Vermanung],’ and he appeals for
his readers’ acceptance of his advice, based on his invoking of Christ’s
suffering on the cross: because He suffered, we should not escape suf-
fering; God gets to decide who suffers, when, and how. Luther’s ending
invokes the same ‘Christ our Lord and Savior’ as did the salutatio.

IX. To Leonhard Kaiser (20 May 1527)

A native of Raab, in Upper Austria,150 Leonhard Kaiser (also Kaeser,

Käser, Keyser; ca. 1480–1527) was a Lutheran pastor who was jailed
and eventually burned for his beliefs.151 In late 1524, while a vicar
at Waizenkirchen,152 Kaiser was forced by authorities of the Passau
diocese to abandon his evangelical preaching. So he moved to Wit-
tenberg and began to study at the University, from which he spread
Luther’s message back to his homeland via books and letters he sent
to acquaintances. When he received news in early 1527 that his father
was gravely ill, Kaiser returned home to Raab, helped bury his father,
and remained with his mother for five more weeks. During this time he
was openly preaching about his convictions and was arrested in March.
After imprisonment and interrogation by an imperial commission that
included Luther’s opponent at the Leipzig debate in 1519, Johann Eck
of Ingolstadt (1486–1543), Kaiser was charged. When word reached
Wittenberg, Luther requested that Saxon Elector John the Steadfast
and Margrave Casimir of Brandenburg intervene; however, not even
they could prevail. Luther wrote a letter of consolation on 20 May,
and on 16 August Leonard Kaiser was executed in Schärding.153 After
the execution, Kaiser’s death was the subject of exchanges from both

wehe und leid]”), he advises them—through double authority—to leave vengeance to

the one who judges justly (da recht richtet), “as Saint Peter teaches [1 Pet. 2:23], which
Christ has done [wie S. Petrus leret, das Christus gethan hat]” and steer a middle course
between wrong extremes (WA 23:429.26f.).
About 25 kilometers southeast of Schärding.
WABr 4:204. At the time, this area was part of Bavaria.
Innviertel; another 25 kilometers further east, toward Linz.
Tappert, 213f.; Martin Brecht, Martin Luther, 2:349f.; OER, s. v. “Kaiser, Leon-
hard,” by Robert Kolb.
128 chapter three

sides, including those from Eck and Luther.154 Luther’s is an expanded

edition of a description of Kaiser’s death, which saw nine editions in
six cities by the end of 1527.155
What we examine here is Luther’s short letter (28 lines)—filled with
scriptural language, especially Paul’s—intended to encourage Kaiser.
Luther blames no one but Satan for this imprisonment, and he says
nothing about praying for the captors (Tappert, 214f.; WABr 4:205).
Since there was still hope for Kaiser’s release, it makes sense to have
made no accusations. Given that the letter focuses exclusively on the
imprisoned reader’s state of mind, it would seem that Luther believed
that death was probably imminent for Kaiser: three times he mentions
being ‘free’ (lines 9 [twice], 23), and none of them speaks plausibly of
tangible release. Moreover, four times referring to it specifically (lines
4, 8 [twice], 23), Luther most assuredly placed Kaiser’s fate—whatever
it be—in the will of God.
The salutatio (lines 1–3) is noteworthy for three reasons: (1) Luther
omits his name until the end of the letter, thus consistent with his pat-
tern of having abandoned classical form in the early part of the decade;
(2) abundant epithets surrounding Kaiser’s full name (D. Leonhardo Keyser)
identify not only the reader’s roles, but also the respect and affection
with which Luther holds him;156 and (3) the typical Pauline greeting
(‘grace and peace’) is bolstered with an expression that proves signifi-
cant for the body of the letter: ‘grace, strength [ fortitudinem], and peace
in Christ.’ Although Luther does not remind his reader here that his
name literally means ‘lion-hearted,’ the notion of strength is a dominant
feature of the petitio/exhortatio.157 As with “To Lambert Thorn” (1524),
the endearing greeting in the vocative—‘my Leonhard’—is not part of
the salutatio but is embedded in the first sentence of the narratio.
The narratio (lines 3–7) in this letter to a prisoner awaiting execution
is not a reiteration of the facts of the case—particularly of the reader’s
situation—but rather is an interpretation of what the facts mean. Avoid-
ing any mention of details of Kaiser’s arrest and imprisonment, Luther

Kolb, ibid.
Von Er Lenhard Keiser ynn Beyern, umb des Euangelii willen verbrandt, Eine selige geschicht
(WA 23:452–476; Benzing, Nr. 2444–2452).
‘[ V ]enerable brother in Christ [Venerabili in Christo fratri],’ ‘his faithful servant
and beloved prisoner of Christ [vincto Christi et servo eius fideli et charo],’ ‘his in the Lord
[suo in Domino].”
Later Luther does this, when writing about the death of Kaiser; cf. WABr
4:270.1–17, cited by Martin Brecht, Martin Luther, 2:350.
luther’s martyrological literature 129

tries to encourage his reader by offering a prophetic prediction of the

outcome of the case. He does so by stringing together expressions in
Pauline language.158 That Kaiser’s body is imprisoned is in accord with
the will and calling of Christ, and Luther says this has happened so
that Kaiser might be redeemed and become Christ’s ‘brother and joint
heir of eternal life,’ language of Paul’s from Rom. 8:17.159
The petitio/exhortatio (lines 7–21)—the bulk of the letter—argues that
Luther and his colleagues are grieved because of Kaiser’s plight and
are working and praying for his release. But the greater cause is not
for Kaiser’s sake alone but for others and for God’s glory. This larger
purpose obviously means that Kaiser might not be released, something
Luther puts in God’s hands.160 He reminds Kaiser that he should be
free in spirit, even if not released. However, he must remain strong,
and for help in reaching that goal, Luther gives Kaiser promises from
Scripture and assurances in the language of ‘strength.’161 Luther assures
Kaiser that Christ is with him in the cell and will remain with him in
all his ‘afflictions [tribulatione].’ Presumably, he means that Kaiser must
be bold in his prayers, for especially there Satan would hinder him.
For the matter of Satan’s capabilities, Luther assures Kaiser that the
devil not only cannot harm him but virtually loses power the more he
threatens. Luther’s assurance (‘in the certainty that’) is expressed by a
single term (certus), set off by commas and placed in the very center of
his sentence: fourteen words precede certus, and thirteen words follow
it. Then, for clinching proof, Luther quickly strings together a series
of three Scriptures, for only one of which he cites Paul, making this
the only explicit scriptural attribution in the letter. The three Scrip-
tures together offer a tidy inclusio—matching beginning with ending,
forming a pair of ‘book-ends’: [A] a rhetorical question (RQ ) that

“That your old man [homo tuus vetus] should be a prisoner” borrows Paul’s ‘old
self ’ phrase (there speaking of all Christians) from Rom. 6:6. “[ F ]or you and your
sins [Christ] also offered up his new man [novum suum hominem]” uses Paul’s expression
from Eph. 4:24.
In Rom. 8:15–17 Paul speaks of being ‘children of God,’ ‘heirs,’ and ‘fellow heirs
with Christ’; thus, Luther’s doublet (‘brother and joint heir of eternal life’) is not only
faithful to the context but also consistent stylistically with Paul’s diction in v. 17.
The idea of the earlier doublet (the ‘will and calling of Christ’) now comes up
again, this time as ‘if it be his will [si ipse voluerit]’ and ‘if it be the will of heaven
[voluntas est in coelo].’
He must be ‘constantly overcoming the weakness of the flesh [constanter infirmitatem
carnis vincas]’ and should ‘patiently endure with the strength of Christ [toleres saltem per
virtutem Christi].’
130 chapter three

would be all too real for Kaiser and which ‘tests’ whether Luther is
right about Satan’s lack of power; [B] a ‘syllogism’ (Syl) that proves
the answer to the rhetorical question; and finally [A1] a prolepsis (Pr),
another ‘test’—complete with refutation—put to the argument applied
to Kaiser’s situation:
[A] (RQ): If God is for us, who can be against us? Answer: The devil?
[No, because . . .]
[B] (Syl): Maj. Prem: God has put all [created] things under Jesus’ feet
(Ps. 8:6).
Min. Prem: [Satan is a created thing] (Implied).
Conclusion: God has put Satan under Jesus’ feet.
[A1] (Pr): Does Jesus’ ability ( potest) to succor (auxilio esse) extend to those
(like Kaiser) who might succumb to the temptation to doubt
his power? Yes, for even Jesus experienced, and defeated, such
a temptation (perhaps in Gethsemane?).
The context of Heb. 2 supports the argument that Luther implicitly
is making.
Luther’s final appeals in the petitio/exhortatio are injunctions from
Paul to ‘my dearest brother [mi charissime frater],’ a superlative endear-
ment that sweetly elevates the intimacy of the earlier venerabili in Christo
fratri (the more formal epithet of the heading) and mi Leonharde, the
more personal, endearing apostrophe of the salutatio.162 Luther then
embellishes this quotation with his own variation on Paul’s text.163 The
Benediction—along with the Place, Date, and Signature—has in fact
already begun with the final appeal of the previous section, which ends
with ‘according to his riches in grace and glory. Amen’: ‘In him fare
well, and pray for us, too.’ The signature is the simple Martinus Luther,
the place is Wittembergae, and the date is 20 May 1527.

Luther’s first injunction comes from Eph. 6:10, to which Luther attaches results
that Kaiser should desire. Luther’s quotation uses all the same key terms as the Pauline
text in the Vulgate: ‘be strong [confortare]’ in the Lord, ‘and be robust [et esto robustus]’—
which Luther adds—‘in the power of his might [in potentia virtutis eius].’
Instead of elaborating on the ‘armor of God [arma Dei],’ as Paul does in Eph.
6:11ff., Luther drops all mention of the enemy (indeed, his last use of Sathana was in
line 16), and he finishes the exhortation with a rich array of positive terms: “so that,
whether or not you are set free, you may acknowledge, bear, love, and praise the
Fatherly will of God with a good heart [sive libereris sive minus, paternam Dei voluntatem in
te agnoscas, toleres, ames ac laudes bono corde].” Note that, despite the fact that translation
requires that ‘Satan’ still be mentioned after line 16, Luther does so only through
relative pronouns.
luther’s martyrological literature 131

X. Conclusion

Just a few short years ago, what Brad Gregory had argued eloquently
that same year, Heiko Oberman affirmed: “The modern interpreter
of the martyr’s baffling willingness to die is bound to hit the brick wall
of total incomprehension unless he is willing to respect certain alien
modes of seeing the world.”164 In this richly heterogeneous ‘genre’
Luther’s consolation strives mostly to embolden receivers’ faith, so
they can endure persecution they may face (or doubts about their own
faith or the rightness of their cause). He offers less ‘sympathy’ (if by
that term we understand acknowledgement of feelings) than we will
see in the consolatory letters, whose recipients do not necessarily face
imminent death. Two principal ways to embolden readers are to offer
eulogistic narratives of the heroic deeds of the martyred and to use
Scripture to remind readers of the promises they have in Christ. In the
martyrological literature Luther uses the letter, the song, the narrative,
and the exposition of Scripture to comfort his readers and celebrate
Christ’s victory.

Heiko A. Oberman, “Varieties of Protest,” 41; Gregory, Salvation at Stake,



The life spans of people in industrialized countries have witnessed the

contemporary transformation—particularly in English-speaking coun-
tries—of the sacred funeral into a secular memorial.1 Even within the
walls of some Protestant churches, many services are now dominated
by eulogies and testimonials of friends and family, where the focus is
not on the human role in the divine plan, but rather on the personal
significance of the decedent—her or his virtues, relationships, and
accomplishments.2 This transformation parallels the rise of the modern
therapeutic culture, whereby death is a phenomenon rarely experienced
by many adults who, unlike their ancestors, seldom plead, “Protect us,
oh Lord, from plague, famine, and war!”3 For the most part, caring for
the dying is the domain of the medical profession alone, which has con-
fined its efforts—almost exclusively devoted to extending life—primarily
to the hospital. The mental health professions have claimed as their
domain the study of death and dying, grief and bereavement processes,
which focus on the normalcy of death and grief, and the clergy have
studied at their feet. Through acknowledging the magnitude of the
loss, establishing the significance of the decedent, recognizing the stages
of grief along paths toward ‘recovery,’ laypersons are assisted in their
grief ‘journey’ by professionals and support groups, who valiantly try to

Tony Walter, “Secularization,” in Death and Bereavement Across Cultures, ed. Colin
Murray Parkes, Pittu Laungani and Bill Young (London, 1997), 166–190.
“Even if using religious language, the funeral should be what the Australians call
life centred [Tony Walter, Funerals, 20]. Without necessarily going to the extreme of the
deceased participating through tape or video recorded messages, he or she should be
present to the extent that mourners go away saying ‘Jill would have approved of that
service’ or ‘Jack would have enjoyed that.’ Increasingly, people want to do the funeral
in a way that honours the deceased as a unique individual, not the undertakers’ way,
or the crematorium’s way, or the religious way”; Tony Walter, The Revival of Death, 33;
Kathleen Garces-Foley and Justin S. Holcomb, “Contemporary American Funerals:
Personalizing Tradition,” in Death and Religion in a Changing World, ed. Kathleen Garces-
Foley (Armonk, N.Y., 2006), 207–277.
Arthur E. Imhof, Lost Worlds: How Our European Ancestors Coped with Everyday Life and
Why Life is So Hard Today, trans. Thomas Robisheau (Charlottesville, Va., 1996), 162.
134 chapter four

offset the loss of family and community systems that have succumbed
to pressures that value ‘getting over it’ and ‘moving on.’
Among scholars of early modern Europe there is a resurgence of
interest in death rituals, including the funeral sermon.4 Throughout
Christian history the funeral sermon has played a key role in the ritu-
als of burying the dead, and it derives from the traditions of both
the laudatio (eulogy) and consolatio (speech of comfort).5 Much recent
research has been done on the traditions of the Lutheran funeral sermon
(1550–1750), but little is known about funerals and their sermons during
the early years of the German Reformation.6 While the traditions of
the Leichenpredigten are said to stem from Luther’s own funeral messages,
it has yet to be shown how, or in what ways, that influence occurred.
For whatever reasons, we have only four extant funeral messages from
Luther, and they derive from two funerals, both of them for heads of
state—Frederick the Wise (1525) and John the Steadfast (1532).7
We need to know much more about these messages, for Luther also
addressed a ‘paganizing’ influence that would minimize the power and
legitimacy of grief.8 At the same time, however, he was not shy about

Donald L. Deffner, “Proclaiming Life in Death: The Funeral Sermon,” CTQ 58
(1994): 5–24, especially 6, 16; John P. Ferre, “Last Words: Death and Public Self-
Expression,” in Quoting God: How Media Shape Ideas about Religion and Culture, ed. Claire
H. Badaracco (Waco, Tex., 2005), 129–142.
Siegfried Bräuer, “The Genesis and Transmission of the Texts,” in “Vom Christlichen
abschied aus diesem tödlichen leben des Ehrwirdigen Herrn D. Martini Lutheri”: Drei zeitgenössische
Texte zum Tode D. Martin Luthers (Stuttgart, 1996), 116. For background see John M.
McManamon, “The Ideal Renaissance Pope: Funeral Oratory from the Papal Court.”
Archivum Historiae Pontificiae 14 (1976): 9–70.
Rudolf Lenz, De mortuis nil nisi bene? Leichenpredigten als multidisziplinäre Quelle unter
besonderer Berücksightigung der Historischen Familienforschung, der Bildungsgeschichte und der
Literaturgeschichte. Marburger Personalschriften-Forschungen 10 (Sigmaringen, 1990);
Studien zur deutschsprachigen Leichenpredigt der frühen Neuzeit. Marburger Personalschriften-
Forschungen 4 (Marburg, 1981); Leichenpredigten as Quellen historischer Wissenschaften
(Cologne, 1975); “Leichenpredigten: Eine bislang vernachlässigte Quellengattung.”
Archiv für Kulturgeschichte 56 (1974): 296–312. Cornelia Niekus Moore, Patterned Lives:
The Lutheran Funeral Biography in Early Modern Germany. Wolfenbütteler Forschungen 111
(Wiesbaden, 2006).
LW 51:231–255; The 1525 sermon is found in WA 17I:196–227. Marius, Martin
Luther, comments on the 1525 sermon on pages 428–430.
Eileen T. Dugan, “The Funeral Sermon as a Key to Familial Values in Early
Modern Nördlingen,” SCJ 20 (1989): 634, considers the text to be only verses 13–14
and argues that Luther used the deceased “as an example of a model Christian in
life and death.” Robert Kolb, “Burying the Brethren: Lutheran Funeral Sermons as
Life-Writing,” in The Rhetorics of Life-Writing in Early Modern Europe: Forms of Biography
from Cassandra Fedele to Louis XIV, ed. Thomas F. Mayer and D. R. Woolf (Ann Arbor,
1995), 99, maintains that the sermons “presented a model of sober textual exposition,
with little mention of the deceased at all.”
luther’s 1532 funeral sermons 135

urging Christians to moderate their grief. For Luther, the comforting

resources of Christ and the immeasurable hope of resurrection out-
weighed any amount or severity of grief here on earth. As scholars
studying the social and theological dimensions of death practices, we
must constantly reexamine what threats and fears persist at time of
death. In what follows I examine Luther’s 1532 funeral sermons, to show
how he takes a medieval concern for the decedent’s soul and directs
it toward the faith of survivors.9 In order to do that he must get his
listeners to think about living as a dying—to sin and with Christ. For
Luther, the recent death of a Christian is a concrete instantiation of
the prospect of every man’s death, something that is a subject of every
gospel sermon. As Sin’s apparent victory over the gospel, a Christian’s
death is really the soul’s sleep as it awaits the resurrection call. Rather
than representing a genre of sermons (or the promulgation of a genre)
designed solely for responding to the threat that death brings to family
or community, these sermons reveal characteristics more consistent with
Luther’s textual sermons in general. Later Lutheran funeral sermons
that respond to a need to establish the significance of the decedent
by praising personal virtues derive that feature from other antecedent
traditions (or contemporary influences) more than from Luther’s own
burial messages.

I. Context and Scope of the Sermons

The backdrop of the sermons can be appreciated by applying Bitzer’s

concept of rhetorical situation—a natural context of persons, events,
objects, relations, and an exigence that strongly invites utterance.10 If
we examine the situation surrounding these funeral sermons accord-
ing its three constituents—exigence, audience, and constraints—we see
discourse ‘invited’ by a rhetorical situation. Exigence is an imperfection
marked by urgency, some flaw we want fixed; a rhetorical exigence is one
that can be completely or partially modified by discourse. When Elector
John died unexpectedly on 15 August 1532, Saxony lost a champion of

For an outline of the medieval funeral, see Joachim Whaley, “Symbolism for the
Survivors: The Disposal of the Dead in Hamburg in the Late Seventeenth and Eight-
eenth Centuries,” Mirrors of Mortality: Studies in the Social History of Death, ed. Joachim
Whaley (New York, 1981), 80 –105, here at 82f.
Lloyd F. Bitzer, “The Rhetorical Situation,” Philosophy and Rhetoric 1 (1968):
136 chapter four

the Reformation.11 The woodcut illustration on the cover of one edition

of these sermons shows the head of John the Baptist being delivered on
a platter.12 Indicating the degree of loss felt by the people, the woodcut
is also revealing in how it symbolizes Elector John as a hero of the
faith. Additionally, any concerns for the status of John’s soul and its
progress through purification would probably have been absent in the
Wittenberg of 1532. Held in the Schloßkirche, the funeral would be—we
might expect—a kind of state funeral that tried to reassure the people
that their government will continue.13 The funeral message would then
address the issues of the loss of the head of state and protector of the
Reformation. We also expect that the message responded to listeners’
concerns about their own mortality; the new Elector John Frederick
had requested of Luther that he preach not only on Sunday, 18 August
(Twelfth Sunday After Trinity), but also the following Thursday, 22
August, using the same text (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18), a text he had
used only in his funeral messages.14 If the speaker’s discourse somehow
ignored these needs or failed to offer relevant words to help listeners
adapt to the loss, the exigence would remain.15

Three Tabletalk entries by John Schlaginhaufen (LW 54:164f.) bear the date of
18 August 1532, the date of Elector John’s funeral: No. 1738 has Luther saying, “How
forsaken this great prince was when he died! Neither a son, nor a cousin, nor any relative
was there. Physicians say that he died of a heart seizure.” In no. 1747 Schlaginhaufen,
after the burial on 18 August, writes that the Elector died in Schweinitz (at his hunting
lodge, according to the LW editors), on 15 August of an apoplectic spasm. In no. 1751
Luther is recorded to have said to Katy, after the burial service, that he also wanted to
die in the same way as the Elector. When she protested, Luther answered, “Ah, dear
Katy, it happens to a person quickly, as we’ve seen in the case of our prince.”
Zwo Predigt vber der || Leiche des Kurfur= || sten Herzog IO= || HANS zu Sachs-
sen. || D. Mart. Luthers || Wittemberg, || M D XXXII. [Schlußschr.:] Gedruckt
zu Wittemberg / durch || Nickel Schirlentz / im jar MD XXXII. 24. Bl., dav.das
letzte leer. 80 (40) UB Marburg XIX d B 1034d, XIII, 10; cited by Uwe Bredehorn
and Rudolf Lenz, p. 498. According to Benzing, p. 355, there were 5 editions of the
sermons printed in 1532–1533. The above edition seems to be Benzing, no. 3028,
designated as ‘A1’ by WA.
Donovan Ochs, Consolatory Rhetoric: Grief, Symbol, and Ritual in the Greco-Roman Era
(Columbia, S.C., 1993); Heinz Zahrnt, “Luthers Predigt am Grabe: Dargestellt an seiner
Leichenpredigt für Kurfürst Johann von Sachsen 1532,” Luther 29 (1958): 106–114.
Apparently in November 1544, the 25th Sunday after Trinity, Luther preached
on 1 Thess. 4:13–18, found in Cruciger’s Sommerpostille, Po. 302.
Craig M. Koslofsky, The Reformation of the Dead: Death and Ritual in Early Modern
Germany, 1450–1700 (New York, 2000), 109: “The gradual spread of the funeral sermon
was promoted by church ordinances which required pastors to preach at funerals when
asked to do so. The authors of these ordinances recognized the emotional force of the
funeral sermon: the church ordinance for Halle (1573) noted that although it was not
possible to provide a sermon at all funerals, pastors should not refuse to give funeral
luther’s 1532 funeral sermons 137

Audience members are the ‘change agents’ that hear, weigh, and
act upon discourse that responds to the exigence facing audience and
speaker. With his discourse, the speaker assists the audience in under-
standing the exigence and responding to it. Constraints are those beliefs,
attitudes, documents, facts, traditions, images, and motives that are
part of the situation because they have the power to constrain decision
and action needed to modify the exigence. When the speaker and his
speech enter the situation, his character, his proofs, and his style become
additional constraints.16
From the way Luther began the sermon, what he and his audience
believed and wanted to practice about death rituals emerges to reveal
elements of exigence and constraints:
My dear friends, since this misfortune has happened to our beloved sov-
ereign prince, and the habit and custom of holding masses for the dead
and funeral processions when they are buried has ceased, we nevertheless
do not wish to allow this service of worship to be omitted, in order that
we may preach God’s Word to the praise of God and the betterment of
the people. For we must deal with the subject and also do what is right
on this occasion, since the Lord our God has again taken unto himself
and graciously summoned our beloved head (WA 36:237.14–21).17
Thus Luther recognized a need to preach a sermon, for that task con-
stitutes the heart of corporate worship—indeed, not only the “greatest
divine service, but also the best we can have in every situation” (WA
36:237.30f.).18 He wanted to address grief and uncertainty, occasioned
again (abermal ), just seven years after burying John’s brother Frederick
the Wise, who had reigned for forty-one years. These elements of
exigence and constraints reside not just in participants’ minds but also

sermons, ‘because they are indeed powerful and effective sermons: when God strikes
us down they go to the heart more than others.’” The ordinance from which the quote
comes is found in Emil Sehling, ed., Die evangelischen Kirchenordnungen des XVI. Jahrhunderts
(Leipzig, 1902–), 2:442. Such ordinances were not in effect in 1532, however.
Bitzer, op. cit., 8, cf. Neil R. Leroux, “The Rhetor’s Perceived Situation: Luther’s
Invocavit Sermons,” RSQ 28 (winter 1998): 49–80.
“MEin lieben freunde, weil sich der fall jtzt also mit unserm lieben Landsfürsten
zugetragen, und die gewonheit und weise mit den Seelmessen und Begengnissen, wenn
man sie zur erden bestetiget hat, abgangen ist, Wollen wir dennoch diesen Gottes dienst
nicht lassen nach bleiben, das wir Gottes wort predigen, Dar jnn Gott gepreiset und
die leute gebessert werden, Denn wir müssen, da von handeln und der zeit auch jr
recht thun, Weil unser Herr Gott abermal unser liebes haubt zu sich genomen und
mit gnaden gefoddert hat.”
“. . . grösseste Gottes dienst, sondern auch unser bestes, das wir haben können
jnn allen fellen.
138 chapter four

derive from the scriptural text, for Luther took his proofs not only from
human experience but also chiefly from divine authority. He found
among the Thessalonians those “who held that it was a manly virtue not
to grieve or weep when a good and loved friend died,” as well as those
contemporaries who “try to make sticks and stones of us by alleging
that one must eliminate the creature altogether and not accept anything
that is natural” (WA 36:238.15–19, emphasis added).19
As the Reformation matured, church visitation ordinances, visitation
instructions, and visitation reports addressed the matter of how clergy
and parishioners should act in response to death—their own manner of
dying, mourning, and funeral and burial procedures. Through argument
and exhortation, Luther’s funeral sermons present what people should
think and feel about death. Since vigils, masses for the dead, and other
forms of intercession had apparently fallen away, what can be done
about death—as a discursive response to a rhetorical situation—pertains
not to the deceased but to the living. Instead of a mass that performs
a work intended to provoke God to act on behalf of the dead—thus
rectifying the exigence of an endangered soul—Luther’s funeral ser-
mons comfort and encourage listeners to adjust their thinking about
death and life, in order to grieve properly and live victoriously. If the
discourse ‘works’ for the audience, the exigence consisting in a threat
to the truth of the gospel’s message, the efficacy of one’s faith and
the stability of the realm is favorably modified. Amy Nelson Burnett
summarizes the important differences of a funeral sermon from other
preaching occasions:
To begin with, it was not limited to the preacher’s regular parishioners.
The funeral of a prominent individual could attract a large audience
from outside the parish boundaries. Moreover, the pastor needed to
offer consolation and comfort specifically tailored to the circumstances
of death and the emotional state of the bereaved. Last but certainly not
least, the finality of a funeral service presented the pastor with a unique
opportunity to instruct his hearers in the Christian response to existential
questions of suffering and death.20

“. . . die es da für hielten, es solt ein manliche tugend sein, sich gar nicht beküm-
mern noch weynen, wenn einem ein gutter und lieber freund stürbe. . . . wolten eitel
stein und klötzer au suns machen, gaben für, man müste die Creatur gar aus ziehen
und sich der nature gar nichts annehmen.”
Amy Nelson Burnett, “ ‘To Oblige My Brethren’: The Reformed Funeral Sermons
of Johann Brandmüller,” SCJ 36 (2005): 37–54, here at 38.
luther’s 1532 funeral sermons 139

Let us entitle the sermons, “A Good Death: Fitting Grief for the New
Man.” They follow a two-step progression, whereby the first mes-
sage (LW 51:231–243; WA 36:237–254) expounds 1 Thess. 4:13–14,
acknowledging audience grief over the Elector’s death as proper and
godly and directs that focus onto Christ’s death. The second message
(LW 51:243–255; WA 36:255–270) develops verses 15–18, taking the
focus on Christ’s death and discussing the ‘new man.’ Luther shows how
God cares about the dead, explicating the Christian hope in the return
of Christ. Through several comparisons, both sermons emphasize the
power of words, especially God’s Word, to overcome not only fear of
death but death itself. To help his listeners succeed at that, Luther tries
to show that people must dwell on how faithful God is, rather than how
good they think they are. Thus, in using a text whose context is human
fears about their dead, Luther’s preaching shows the text to emphasize
the trustworthiness and power of God’s Word (‘by the word of the Lord
[1 Thess. 4:15]’) and to be based on the already accomplished fact of
Christ’s death and resurrection, leaving no room for the efficacy of post
mortem human efforts to aid the dead. Undercutting any preoccupation
with the state of the dead, Luther establishes their jurisdiction—that the
dead in Christ are in God’s hands and that God is faithful to deliver
them instantaneously—and he admonishes his audience to comfort
one another. Therefore, these messages stress horizontal relationships
among, and responsibilities to, the living.21
The first sermon’s introduction (LW 51:231–233; WA 36:236–239) is
uncharacteristically lengthy, for it not only states the reason for the occa-
sion and the sermon and shares the Scripture text (1 Thess. 4:13–14);
in addition, immediately drawing upon v. 13, Paul argues that grief
is godly and proper behavior for the Christian. The conclusion (LW
51:242f.; WA 36:254) concurs that survivors should outwardly grieve
the Elector, for they do not know the Lord’s reason for taking him but
must be ready for death by believing in, confessing, and dying with
Christ. Binding these ends together is a three-part argument, wherein
only the second part dwells on the Elector. First, Paul helps focus on
Christ’s death, which, compared to ours (= only sleep), is real and has
power to cover ours (LW 51:233–236; WA 36:240–244). Luther shows

For discussion of Luther’s writings on dying, see Jared Wicks, “Applied Theol-
ogy at the Deathbed: Luther and the Late-Medieval Tradition of the Ars moriendi,”
Gregorianum 79 (1998): 345–368.
140 chapter four

the superiority of Christ’s death over ours, amplifying his argument

through comparisons derived from 1 Corinthians 15, on which he had
preached the previous Sunday.22 Second, Luther thanks God for the
Elector’s being ‘in Christ’ (LW 51:236–239; WA 36:244–249). Here, his
‘virtue’ is that he was a devout, forgiven sinner; his failings in govern-
ment should be considered in light of our own shortcomings. Having
died in Christ, which covers sins, he is therefore among those who
sleep in Jesus Christ. Third, we too want this death and its resurrection
(LW 51:239–242; WA 36:249–254). Luther makes a glorious compari-
son of our righteousness with our death, making the Christian death
something different when seen with Christian, scriptural eyes. Included
in this section is prolepsis, as he considers objections to the argument
(LW 51:240f.; WA 36:250f.), responding to the devil’s onslaught against
our confidence. When we depend on our own righteousness, the devil
always tops it, making deadly the reliance on one’s goodness. Luther’s
dialogue with the devil celebrates victory when one refuses to compare
personal righteousness but relies on Christ’s righteousness.
The second sermon begins with an extended introduction (LW
51:243–245; WA 36:255–257) that quickly recaps the previous message
and immediately proceeds to a new theme: our grief is different because
the Christian is a new man. Neither death nor suffering is the worst
ordeal for a Christian since, for him, death has lost its power. Luther
then exhorts his audience to believe that in 1 Thess. 4:13 Paul meant
that Christians are different. Luther develops his argument in four parts.
First, he shows that the Old Testament testifies of those who hoped in
Christ and manifested proper grief (LW 51:245–248; WA 36:257–262).
Using the example of Abel’s death (plus selected Psalms), Luther argues
in strong language that many people suffered harsh deaths but that God
cares more for dead saints than he does for the living! By identifying
who are God’s saints and the promise to raise them up again, Luther
assures his listeners that the Elector is among those saints. Second,
Luther argues that the text teaches that our new grief is held in hope
(LW 51:248–250; WA 36:262–264). He claims that we must act like
heavenly men, drawing strength from God’s word, even though still stuck
in the old Adam and having to withstand the devil’s attacks. Third,
Luther moves into the remaining verses of the text (14–18) to expound

On 11 August Luther preached on 1 Cor. 15:1–7; the series continues for seventeen
sermons (to 27 April 1533); see WA 36:478–696.
luther’s 1532 funeral sermons 141

on Paul’s declaration that God will raise us up (LW 51:250–252; WA

36:264–267). We must trust God’s word, not our senses, and believe
that He will raise us up in an instant, just as Christ was raised. Paul’s
text assures that the dead in Christ will be raised with us, their bodies
restored, in a glorious resurrection like unto Jesus’ own. Fourth, Luther
discusses verses 16–18 on how the Lord will come (LW 51:253–255; WA
36:267–269). God will orchestrate a simultaneous resurrection of both
living and dead saints, who together respond to the power and beauty
of the Lord’s voice, which is greater than sickness and death. Our joy
at witnessing such a coming will be as great as that of the first advent
shepherds, and this joy brings a comfort that we must now share with
one another. Comfort comes from confidence in God, whose Word and
Presence are much better than what this life holds. A conclusion (LW
51:254f.; WA 36:269f.) holds that our hope for the Elector is precisely
and confidently expressed in today’s text.

II. Analysis of Sermon One

A. Introduction (LW 51:231–233; WA 36:237–239)

Luther states the reason for the occasion and the sermon, shares the
Scripture text (1 Thess. 4:13–14), and argues that grief is godly and
proper behavior for the Christian.23 Accordingly, for the beginning of
the introduction, Luther employs the same kind of solidarity with his
audience as Paul, using an abundance of first person plural pronouns (9
pronouns in 8 German lines). While Paul balances the ‘we’ and ‘you,’
Luther uses a much higher proportion of ‘we,’ for he stands along with
his audience in their grief. Paul, on the other hand, stands with the
other Apostles in affirming the certainty of Christ’s return to troubled
Thessalonian readers.24
A second prominent feature of the introduction’s opening paragraph
reveals another strong tendency in both funeral sermons: (1) a frequent
reference to the scriptural text with a rather full citation formula, and (2)

As is typical for how he begins a sermon, Luther opens with an endearment (‘My
dear friends [MEin lieben Freunde]’) that is faithful to his text, for Paul also uses apostro-
phe (ἀδελφοί), although in middle position in v. 13. Yet in his 1522 New Testament
Luther himself has Paul say “lieben Bruder.”
It should be noted, however, that several of Luther’s first person plural pronouns
are not inclusive but rather editorial.
142 chapter four

the prolific use of doublets—some are simple and others are extended.
As it happens, Luther’s use of doublets in these sermons—although
completely characteristic of his style—corresponds with Paul’s doublet
in the text, ‘that Jesus died and rose again [das Jhesus gestorben und auffer-
standen ist],’ which becomes a crucial and oft-repeated declaration in
these sermons, especially the first. As he initially identifies our beloved
sovereign prince, whom God has ‘taken unto himself and graciously
summoned,’ Luther explains that the ‘habit and custom’ of holding
‘masses for the dead and funeral processions [Seelmessen und Begengnissen]’
has ended. Still, God’s word must be preached to the ‘praise of God
and the betterment of the people.’25
Following the reading of his text (1 Thess. 4:13–14), Luther’s next
move (WA 36:237.28–238.27) is to begin to explicate v. 13 by arguing
that his listeners have every right to grieve, for this is one of those sol-
emn occasions of sorrow for which the greatest divine service—grossest
Gottes dienst (used twice in successive lines)—is preaching. Yet he wants
to limit the first sermon to vv. 13–14, so as not to overburden (uberlade)
‘myself and you.’ Luther’s case for grief ’s legitimacy is based on his
argument that God made us so: only pagans and heathens of Paul’s
time and sectarians of Luther’s time hold that it is a manly virtue not
to ‘grieve or weep’ when a ‘good and loved’ friend dies. Such is an
‘artificial virtue and a fabricated strength’ that would make ‘sticks und
stones’ of God’s creatures, eliminating what is natural. To proceed
with ‘dry eyes and a serene heart [trocken Augen und stillem Hertzen]’ in
the face of even such losses as that of ‘father, mother, son, daughter’
shows no virtue but rather that one has a hard heart, that one never
did have a ‘real liking or love’ for the deceased, and that God is not
pleased. Thus Luther has added longer series and dialogue to his sty-
listic weapons of exposition.
Having essentially expounded upon ‘those who have no hope,’ the
remainder of Luther’s introduction argues for the legitimacy and natu-
ralness of Christian grief. The first step (WA 36:238.28–239.16) is to
bolster his previous assertions with evidence from Scripture. He builds
his case around his quotation of v. 18: ‘Therefore, comfort one another,’

Luther introduces the text with: “Therefore we shall take as our text what St.
Paul says to the Thessalonians in the fourth chapter” (LW 51:231) [ Darumb wollen
wir den text Sanct Paulus für uns nehmen, da er also sagt zun Thessalonichern am
Vierden Capittel:] (WA 36:237.21f.).
luther’s 1532 funeral sermons 143

omitting ‘with these words.’26 He brackets the quotation with doublets

and triplets, blasting the opposing view—this ‘fabricated sectarian and
heathen [rottengeisterische und ertichte heidnissche]’ virtue we ‘condemn and
say that it is not right.’ Using what we might call a progressive antithesis,
Luther claims that examples from not only (nicht allein) the holy fathers
but also (sondern auch) the word of God in the Scriptures declares how
‘right and fitting, even godly’ it is to mourn (betrüben) a good friend.27
Rather than disapprove of this grief, Paul—so Luther asserts—urges
that it be ‘Christian and in moderation.’
In what is still the same paragraph in WA 36:239 (lines 16–31), Luther
then uses two more Scriptures, reasoning from the human condition
of personal relationships to argue that grief is good.28 His texts are
Phil. 2:27 and John 11:33. Both texts stress the emotional needs of
human beings: Paul’s heart was grieved (Leid ) over the grave illness
(= anticipated loss) of his servant Epaphroditus, so God had mercy
(erbarmet) on both men, restoring Epaphroditus’s health, so that Paul
would not have sorrow upon sorrow (ein Trawrikeit uber die ander). Even
Jesus was deeply moved (erbrimmet) at the death of his friend Lazarus.
Luther closes this introduction with a return to inclusive first person
plural pronouns: “These and similar examples are to us far more sure
and better than this unprofitable chatter which would make stones and
sticks29 [Stein und Holtz] of us and forbid us to weep or sorrow [weynen
noch betrüben] over the deceased.”

B. Part One (WA 36:240–244)

Paul helps focus on Christ’s death, which, compared to ours (only sleep),
is real and has power to cover ours. Luther shows the superiority of
Christ’s death over ours, amplifying his argument through comparisons
derived from 1 Corinthians 15, on which he had preached the previous

Luther prefaces his quote with another full citation formula, “as Paul himself
indicates [anzeigt] at the end of this chapter.”
Luther reasons from his quoted text (v. 18) that comfort implies ‘sorrow, grief
and mourning [trawen, kümmernis und klagen]’ on the part of Paul’s Thessalonian read-
ers, people who were—we can safely assume—“Christian people, who were pleasing
to God and possessed of the Holy Spirit [Christen leut gewesen, die Gott gefallen haben und
den heiligen Geist gehabt].”
For whatever reason, Luther makes no reference to the fact that in v. 18 Paul
uses an imperative (παρακαλεῖτε), which Luther here renders Tröst euch, omitting So
(Thus, Therefore).
LW 51:233 wrongly reverses the doublet.
144 chapter four

Sunday. In this part of the sermon Luther expounds both v. 13 and

v. 14. Here he is not contradicting his earlier justification of grief, but
rather trying to put into proper perspective—to make it ‘Christian.’
A. Exposition of v. 13: Luther begins by providing a transition from
his previous remarks, which he calls a ‘preface and introduction [Vorrede
und Eingang].’ As he moves to exposition, Luther provides another very
full citation formula: “Now let us listen to the text as he comforts us. This
is what the beloved Paul says” (WA 36:240.12f.).30 Luther then quotes v.
13 again, the same way as before, using ‘dear brethren.’ Following the
quote, he then uses dialogue to expound upon Paul’s words in v. 13.
First he names, acknowledges, and praises his readers for their grief;
then he discriminates—employing antithesis and chiasmus—between
[A] Christian and [ B] heathen death. Luther employs concrete epithets
to heighten his exposition, claiming that Paul puts in some good sugar,
mixing the bitterness with the sweetness. The dialogue speaks directly
to the listener:
You are sorrowful and grieving over those who have died. It is true that it
hurts to lose a good friend. I do not reproach you for this; I praise it, for
it is a sign that these are good hearts that are thus concerned about the
deceased. But you must discriminate [unterschiet] between [A] your death
and [ B] the death of the heathen, between [A1] your sorrow and [ B1]
that of the heathen. They have [ B2] no hope after this life, but you know
[A2] that you do not die but only fall asleep (WA 36:240.18–25).31
In the next paragraph (WA 36:240.29–241.20) Luther adds no addi-
tional texts but rather keeps using dialogue and doublets, especially
antithetical doublets, to amplify Christ’s death—and its power—over
against human death—and its being merely a sleep. Luther begins with
another formula, though not a citation formula but rather a meta-com-
munication—that which calls attention to the process of communica-
tion. He calls attention to the text by pointing out what Paul does not
say—namely, that Christ fell asleep (entschlaffen ist). Luther declares that
Paul says (1) of us, that ‘we do not die, but only fall asleep,’ that he

“Nu wollen wir den text hören, wie er uns tröstet, Also sagt der liebe Paulus.”
“Jr seid trawrig und bekümmert euch uber den verstorbenen, Es ist war, es thut
wehe einen guten freund so verlieren, Jch straffe es nicht, sondern lobe es, denn es ist
ein zeichen, das es gute hertzen sind, die sich der verstorbenen so annehmen, Aber
macht gleich wol ein unterschiet zwisschen ewrem sterben und der Heiden sterben,
zwisschen ewer trawrikeit und der Heiden, Jhene haben nach diesem leben keine
hoffnung, jr aber wisset, das jr nicht sterbet, sondern nur entschlaffet.”
luther’s 1532 funeral sermons 145

calls our death ‘not a death, but a sleep’ and (2) of Christ, that His
death has such exceeding power that we should consider our death a
sleep. Realizing that this consideration takes effort on our part, Luther
nevertheless claims this is the right way to give comfort, by taking our
death as far as possible from our eyes, at least according to the spirit,
and looking straight at the death of Christ. Because Paul speaks more
sternly of Christ’s death, Luther uses Christus Tod or Tod Christi 5 times
(in 18 lines) and says twice more that Christ died (gestorben). Moreover,
three more times he calls Christ’s death real (recht), while ours is far less
by comparison (WA 36:240.38–241.20).32
As Luther continues to contrast our death to Christ’s, he retreats
somewhat from calling ours a sleep, and he continues to use dou-
blets—particularly, extended ones—to amplify the magnitude of Christ’s
death. Using some more dialogue, he argues that our ‘sorrow and grief ’
over the loss of good friends should prompt us to look to Christ and
‘mingle, yea, cover’ with the death of Christ all other human deaths;
we should so magnify His death so that other deaths are only sleep in
In the next paragraph (WA 36:242.10–23), as Luther continues to
champion the death of Christ, he calls attention to Paul’s goal, “to
turn us around and draw us into the death of Christ,” so we can see
how immeasurably great it is. Using anaphora to pose two rhetorical

Using an abundance of first plural pronouns (7 in 10 lines), Luther sharply
discriminates between ‘our’ death and Christ’s. This distinction is Paul’s, for he is the
one who calls (heisset) Christ’s death real, who attributes (gibt) such power to it that we
should consider ours, by comparison (da gegen), a sleep. Luther is using a metaphori-
cal, not metaphysical, argument, one which the Passion evokes, for there Christ died
“as no one else dies or ever will die [als nimmer mehr keiner so stirbt noch sterben wird ].”
Luther’s dialogue reveals the comparison, where he has Paul say: “Why do you think
so much about your death? Look at him who is really dead, compared with whom
all the other dead are as nothing. They did not die, but he died. Therefore, if we are
going to grieve, we should also grieve over Christ’s death. That was a real death, not
only in itself, because it was so bitter, ignominious, and grandiose [bitter, schmehlich und
gros], but also because it is so potent [krefftig] that it has baptized all the other dead,
so that now they are called [heissen] not dead, but sleepers [nicht Todten, sondern Schlef-
fer]” (WA 36:240.38–241.20). [ Was denckt jr viel an ewren tod? Sehet hie den an, der
ist recht tod, gegen welchem alle andere todten nichts sind, die sind nicht gestorben,
sondern er ist gestorben, Darumb wolten wir uns bekümmern, solten wir uns ja auch
umb Christus tod bekümmern, das hat ein rechter tod geheissen, nicht allein jnn sich
selbs, das er so bitter, schmehlich und gros gewesen ist, sondern auch des halben,
das er so krefftig ist, das er alle andere todten getaufft hat, das sie sollen nicht todten,
sondern schleffer heissen].
146 chapter four

questions that invite affirmation, Luther says that when we indeed grieve
over a good friend, we should use the following soliloquy:
Here you are grieving [bekümmerst] so much over our friend, who would
surely have to die some day anyhow; why don’t you also grieve over this
death? Why aren’t you also weeping and lamenting [weynest und klagest]
over your Lord Christ, whose death was so much greater and more hor-
rible than that of all other men?33
It is clear that Luther’s strategy for putting normal grief into perspective
is not to deny grief ’s legitimacy, for he thoroughly dispatched that pagan
position earlier; rather, one is to magnify the importance and power of
Christ’s death. Indeed, turning to comparatives and superlatives, Luther
goes on to indicate that the beloved apostles experienced the passing
(abscheiden) of Christ, thinking he would remain dead, which is what,
according to the senses, we would also think. But when we contemplate
this death of Christ, and see how ‘mighty and glorious’ it now is, and
that it devours all other deaths, becoming the ‘most grievous and cruel
of all [schwereste und grewlichste],’ we receive no better comfort.
B. Exposition of v. 14 (WA 36:232.24–244.26): Although Luther has
already introduced this verse and has developed the truth, significance,
and magnitude of Christ’s death, he has not yet fully shown how this
information can produce comfort. He has begun such a process, par-
ticularly through dialogue that strengthens the teaching of Paul and
introduces the process of one’s allowing Christ’s death to put all other
deaths into perspective. Now Luther moves the comforting process closer
to home, especially relating it to the death of Elector John, whose lifeless
body—though in full view for now—will soon be returned to the earth
from which it came. For comfort must always move beyond theory to
practice, must take the principle of comfort in loss to the nexus of the
loss one is now experiencing; comfort is not very satisfying as merely
an abstract concept.
In the first paragraph of this section (WA 36:242.24–243.19) Luther
quotes v. 14, turns again to dialogue put into Paul’s mouth, to show
how the text can encourage. There is no easy way for us today to know
where the dialogue ends, where Paul stops and Luther resumes speak-

“Ey bekümmerst du dich denn so hoch umb deinen freund, der doch zuletzt
ein mal hat sterben müssen, Warumb bekümmerst du dich nich auch umb diesen
tod? Warumb weynest und klagest du nicht auch uber deinen HERREN Christum?
Welchs tod so viel grosser und elender gewesen ist denn aller andern menschen?” (WA
36:242.13–17). LW 51:234 reverses the doublet deinen HERREN Christum.
luther’s 1532 funeral sermons 147

ing. This is a feature of Luther’s sermons that is not unusual, and here
it seems that his understanding of God’s comfort inheres in listening
carefully to the biblical author. The comfort comes, not by minimizing
our loss, but rather by realizing fully its scope. He makes absolutely no
attempt to distinguish among listeners as to who has greater or lesser
sorrow (e.g., family and close friends). Rather, the political and social
uncertainty of losing a head of state is something Luther suggests all
share in, though he does acknowledge that some are not as concerned
as others. He has Paul saying (through more rhyming doublets) that
this means a new ‘ruler and government [Regent und Regiment]’ will take
over, and the uncertainty may well make us ‘afraid and distressed.’ Even
calloused audience members need to know that shifts in power were
not an easy matter; ‘changing and improving [endern und bessern]’ are
not the same. The matter of improving is entirely God’s doing (stehet
allein bey Gott, in final position).
In his next paragraph (WA 36:243.20–31) Luther continues to argue
that Paul’s text shows that one’s devastation over the loss of the Elec-
tor, and the concomitant fear of one’s own impending death, can be
overcome by concentrating on the death of Christ, thus receiving the
best consolation.34 In overcoming what ‘our reason and five senses’ tell
us when a corpse lies in front of us, Luther admonishes one to say with
St. Paul, “Beloved, look not at this dead body; you have something
higher and better to contemplate, namely, the death and resurrection
of Jesus Christ.” Using anaphora and extended doublets, Luther argues
that such contemplation will enable one to see ‘where you will go and
where those will go’ that remain alive when Christ returns. God will
bring ‘you and all others’ who are ‘baptized and have fallen asleep in
Christ,’ because he has “wrapped them in Christ’s death and included
them in his resurrection.”
In the next paragraph (WA 36:24332–244.37) Luther continues
to argue that we must allow our faith to overcome what our senses
report. He uses a new quote—a condensed paraphrase of 1 Cor.
15:42–50—that acknowledges explicitly the contrast, even paradox,
between all the negatives that the corpse suggests and all the positives
that faith embraces. In contrast to today’s tendency in funeral messages

Luther uses more dialogue, this time intended as soliloquy, that his listeners can
summon and use to bolster their own faith. Notice how Luther’s dialogue treats the
listener ever so gently, employs visual verbs, and uses the second person singular.
148 chapter four

to ignore the obvious—viz., to avoid talking about the corpse—Luther

uses metaphors and then blunt, concrete language for what horrifies the
senses as well as what delights our faith. He says the Holy Spirit mingles
the sour vinegar of death with the ‘honey and sugar’ of comfort, so
that our faith may ‘soar up to God and learn to see the dead,’ not in
the ‘grave and coffin’ but (sondern) in Christ: though the carcass (Ass)
be ‘foul and stinking,’ it matters not; turn the ‘eyes and nose and all
five senses’ away and remember (gedencke) what St. Paul says in 1 Cor.
15, Luther says.35 His closing explanation sums up nicely what he has
been saying is God’s project and Paul’s strategy: to have us turn from
the senses to the mind (heart), from the deceased to Christ:
Thus he is constantly turning our hearts, because he cannot turn our eyes,
away from that which the eyes see to that which God is saying and to
Christ, so that we may have no doubt that he will bring us with Christ.
So anyone who can believe this will have good comfort in his own death
and the death of other people (WA 36:244.33–37).36

C. Part Two (WA 36:244–249)

Luther thanks God for the Elector’s being ‘in Christ.’ Here, his ‘virtue’
is that he was a devout, forgiven sinner; his failings in government
should be considered in light of our own shortcomings. His ‘real’ death
occurred at the Augsburg diet two years previous and was better than
his present ‘baby’ death—a mere going to sleep—because it swallows
up death. Thus, having died in Christ—which covers sins—the Elector
is therefore among those who sleep in Jesus Christ. Let us examine this
part in what seem to be four sequential components. The first two are
similarly brief; the latter two are twice as long as the first two.
A. Luther begins his praise of the deceased, something that is stan-
dard fare in later Lutheran Leichenpredigten and especially prominent in

“Wie Sanct Paulus jnn der Ersten zun Corinthern am funfftzehenden Capitel
sagt” (WA 36:244.17f.). In his paraphrase, Luther essentially follows the four para-
doxical progressions of the body (corper) in vv. 42–50: (1) buried in all dishonor (aller
unehre), yet will rise again (widder auffstehen) in all glory (aller Herrligkeit); (2) ‘buried and
sown [begraben und gesteet]’ as perishable (verweslich), rising as imperishable (unverweslich);
(3) sown (gesteet) in weakness (Schwacheit), rising in power (Krafft ); and (4) sown a natural
body (naturlicher Leib), rising a spiritual body (geistlicher Leib).
“Also füret er jmmer unser hertz (weil er die augen nicht kan so füren) von dem,
das die augen sehen, jnn das, das Gott redet, und jnn Christum, das keinen zweivel
dar an sollen haben, er werde uns mit Christo füren, Wer nur das also gleuben könde,
der hette einen guten trost jnn seinem eigen sterben und ander leute sterben.”
luther’s 1532 funeral sermons 149

the classical Latin laudatio. Yet Luther’s ‘praise’ is constrained by the

premise already established—namely, that only the death of Christ bears
any transformative comfort in death. Thus, Luther’s praise of John is
‘Christianized’: (1) Our beloved elector, thanks to God’s grace, has been
“included in the death of Christ and embraced in his resurrection.”
Luther’s evidence is John’s participation in the Augsburg Diet (1530);
(2) he was a sinner, like us all, but holding fast to the forgiveness of
sins. Luther prefaces this step with reprehension, wherein his departure
from classical tradition is characterized by his unwillingness to praise
the deceased for his great virtues; (3) again calling John ‘our beloved
lord,’ Luther continues his remarks on virtues with more reprehension,
wherein he then proceeds to use descriptors in a series of triplets—three
positive, three negative, three positive traits—that forms an inclusio.37
B. A second move relates to John’s public deeds, rather than personal
character—certainly fitting the exigence of a state funeral. The argu-
ments appeal more to experience than to Scripture. Luther’s dealings
in this step are brief and laudatory of John’s actions; it is clear that
the perspective Luther offers is that of John as lonely leader. His use of
inclusive first plural pronouns allows Luther to include himself among
an audience of those who were quick to criticize and slow to under-
stand. This move, therefore, opens with an appeal to shame; it closes
with rebuttal, making the entire step a prolepsis. Obtaining agreement
from his audience in the Schloßkirche—no doubt consisting of many city
and territorial officials—on John’s faith and virtue, Luther may elicit
sympathy for the plight of a harried prince. As to his occasional fail-
ings in governing, Luther asks, what can be said? Notice all the ‘we’
pronouns in Luther’s summarizing remark as he transitions back to
Scripture, with a paraphrase that refers back to today’s text:
So nobody can do right as far as we are concerned, and if we look at
ourselves we have never yet been right. All this we shall pass over now
and we shall stick to praising him, as St. Paul praises his Christians, say-
ing that God will bring with him those who are in Christ, and we shall
not look upon him according to his temporal death [zeitlichem Sterben],

While not altogether pure (gar rein), John was a ‘very devout, kindly man, free of
all guile [seer fromer, freundlicher man gewesen ist],’ completely lacking—in his own lifetime,
Luther declares—‘pride, anger, or envy [Stoltz, Zorn noch Neid]’ and able to “bear and
forgive . . . and was more than mild [tragen und vergeben . . . mehr denn zu viel mild].” With a
third reprehension, Luther declares that he is now finished with discussing virtues (LW
51:236; WA 36:244.27–245.20).
150 chapter four

but according to Christ’s death and his spiritual death [ geistlichen Sterben],
which he died in accord with Christ (WA 36:245.26–32).38
Thus, Luther has defended his praise of John by first identifying him
as a Christian; hence he serves as exemplary of all who would die as
Christians (WA 36:245.21–32).
C. The longer third step of two full paragraphs (WA 36:24611–
247.21) is one of developing what was involved in John’s ‘spiritual
death’ in Augsburg. Luther explains and celebrates the significance of
what the Elector did for his people and the faith, and he does so using
several comparisons and ending with yet another Scripture from 1 Cor.
15. He characterizes what occurred at Augsburg: Our beloved elector,
Christ’s death and resurrection, before the whole world ‘openly con-
fessed and stuck to it.’ With a pair of rhyming doublets that progress
from professional to personal, Luther claims John staked his ‘land and
people [land und leut],’ indeed, his own ‘body and life [leib und leben]’
upon his confession. He continues to amplify the significance for this
death (Dis sterben, in first position) and this confession, arguing that they
merit praise (rhumen, used twice in four lines), overshadowing any lack
there might be in John’s character. “Such insignificant sins in such a
great person [solche geringe sunde jnn so grosser Person]” pale in comparison
to his confessing ‘Christ’s death and resurrection,’ by which Christ
swallowed up ‘death and hell’ with all sins. John’s confession, to which
he remained steadfast, ‘covers and swallows up’ many sins as a great
ocean swallows a spark of fire (Füncklin Fewers). Luther concludes the
first paragraph thus: “Therefore all other sins are as nothing compared
with this one thing, that Christ’s death and resurrection be not denied,
but openly confessed” (WA 36:246.26f.).
In the second paragraph of this move Luther makes his case for
how the knowledge of John’s confession at Augsburg should bring
comfort (trösten). He does so by characterizing John’s ‘two deaths’ as so
different from one another that the easier death is obviously preferable.
We should be comforted, Luther argues, by two facts: (1) that Christ
died and our beloved prince is ‘caught up and fallen asleep’ in Christ’s
death, and (2) that John suffered a far more bitter death (viel einen

“Das uns also niemand kan recht thun, und wenn wir uns selber ansehen, sind wir
selbst noch nie recht worden, Dis alles lassen wir jtzt faren und wollen da bey bleiben,
das wir jn loben, wie Sanct Paulus seine Christen lobet, das jn Gott mit Christo füren
wird, und wollen jn nicht ansehen nach seinem zeitlichem sterben, sondern nach Chris-
tus sterben und seinem geistlichen sterben welches er Christo nach gethan hat.”
luther’s 1532 funeral sermons 151

herbern Tod ) at Augsburg than now. That Luther is speaking of comfort

not only for the loss of their prince but also for contemplating their
own mortality is clear from how he then connects John’s confession at
Augsburg to what all listeners must do. Luther argues that the bitter
death is one that we must suffer ‘daily and incessantly’ from the ‘tyrants
and sectarians.’ Indeed ( Ja auch wol ), Luther interjects as correction,
our own ‘conscience and the devil’ inflict this real death, whereas the
other—physical death—is but a passing away in bed, only ‘a childish
death and an animal death [ein kinder Sterben und ein vihe Sterben].’ He will
return to the metaphors of the lesser death (childish, animal) in a few
sentences, but now Luther wants quickly to turn to the real death, the
bitter death, which he then names twice in four lines as ‘real, manly’
death, ‘manly and real’ death. What typifies this greater death is that
(1) it still faces us, and (2) it is one where we would rather risk our neck
than deny Christ. Luther then quotes 1 Cor. 15:31, “By our pride in
you, which I have in Christ Jesus, I die daily.”39 This is the heroic dying
motif, but it is not the battle of fleshly military, for Luther concludes
his paragraph of comparisons thus:
The other death is only when the reason and the five senses die, the eyes
no longer see, the ears do not hear, the hands no longer feel, etc. So a
cow also dies; it is only an outward dying away of the body and a poor
bag of worms; it is only a childish death compared with the other death
(WA 36:247.17–21).40
D. In the fourth and final move of this second part of sermon one,
Luther continues to discuss ‘our beloved prince’ (used twice), and yet his
goal is to have his hearers find comfort about their own future deaths,
as they are reassured about John’s. He has now passed away, and we
can feel that his was only a childish death, “for our Lord God had so
caught him up in His death.” What Luther then assures his listeners is
what he himself cannot have known empirically about John’s death, for
he was not there. But what Luther believed was the blessing of every
Christian, if one only claims it, is that for John there was no buffeting

LW 51:238, perhaps following Paul too closely, wrongly translates Luther’s quote,
in which he uses ‘our’ pride, not ‘my’ pride; Luther is consistent here with his transla-
tion in SeptBib and in his sermon of 1532.
“Der ander to dist nür, wenn die vernunfft und funff synn sterben, das die augen
nicht mehr sehen, die oren hören nicht, die hende fülen nicht 2c. So stirbet ein kue
auch, Jst nur ein eusserlichs absterben des leibes und armen sacks, es ist ein kinder
sterben gegen ihenem.”
152 chapter four

(Püff keine gelitten), no disputing with the devil, no despair (Verzweivelung)

at the end. Luther employs doublets and a quadruplet with anaphora
to claim that John avoided what others often suffer: the grievous
thought of “sin, the last judgment, hell, and the like,” as well as “cold
sweat breaks out and they are almost paralyzed.” As readers today, we
naturally have noticed Luther’s inconsistency with the expression ‘real
death.’ For he has used it first of John’s confession at Augsburg—and
also of the daily courage one must have—and now he uses ‘real death’
to speak of one’s death struggle with temptation, regret, and despair. He
is grasping for metaphors in order to distinguish between the difficult
and the easy, and he wants to call the death of the body easy—when
one belongs to Christ and has been swallowed up already by His death.
Luther’s own explanation here, with yet another pair of metaphors,
helps clarify his point:
But when it happens, as it did with our beloved prince, that the body
merely lies upon the bed and there is no fright and trembling, because he
was called into Christ’s kingdom through baptism and afterwards openly
confessed Christ and listened with all diligence, with the whole heart to
God’s Word, and thus only the five senses died away—then this is the
least of death and only half of death, when a man struggles only with
physical death, even though we untempted folk think it the greatest (WA
In a second paragraph of the fourth move, Luther completes his assess-
ment of John’s Christian death and how it is one in which listeners can
take comfort, chiefly because it foreshadows their own death. Luther
ends his move, before summarizing the entire argument of part two,
with dialogue that he says God speaks: (1) as soliloquy to Himself,
regarding His plans for John. These remarks bolster by echoing what
Luther has already said; (2) as direct communication to every believer.
Acting in tandem with what was already verified about John, these
remarks testify as a second witness to the comfort believers derive from
this argument about death in Christ as only a sleep in Christ. Luther
concludes that the kind of death John met was comforting (tröstlicher)

“Wenn es aber so zu geht, wie es mit unserm lieben Fürsten hat gangen, da nur
der leichnam auff dem bette bleibet, on alles schrecken und zittern, darum das er
zum reich Christi durch die tauff gefoddert und darnach Christum frey bekennet hat
und Gottes wort mit allem vleis, von gantzem herten gern gehöret, Das also nur die
funff synn dahin sterben, Das ist das geringst sterben und nur die hülfen vom tod,
da man allein mit dem leiblichen tod ringet, Wie wol es uns unversüchte leute das
grösseste düncket.”
luther’s 1532 funeral sermons 153

and gentle (sanfft ), his five senses simply dying away. Notice the terms
of contemplation—which express themselves in commands to see—as
Luther argues that this comfort can be found when one looks upon
his own death rightly, for when he passes on so wrapped in our Lord
Christ’s suffering, our Lord God says to him (8 second person singular
pronouns in 5 lines):
I will allow the devil to destroy you only physically; therefore do not look
so steadily at your death, but look at the fact that my Son died for you
and the fact that you have already been spiritually killed. So now I will
send death to you only in the sense that you will die as far as your five
senses are concerned, as in a sleep (WA 36:248.27–31).42
As he summarizes this second part of the sermon, we recall that the
focus is not on the legitimacy of grief—as in Part One—but rather on
the status of the deceased, Elector John. While Luther has praised him
for his confession of faith, he has frequently acknowledged frailty in
his prince. In this summary Luther works in all of the key expressions
thus far as he distinguishes personal righteousness, which he will not
make the focus of our judgment of John, from group membership, as
it were—viz., all that Christ has done. He begins with John’s strengths:
We shall, Luther concludes, reckon our beloved sovereign among those
who sleep in Jesus Christ, since he did not depart from his confession
of the death and resurrection of Christ, suffering much ‘injury and
affront [Schaden und Schmach]’ for it. Moving to the other side of the
ledger, Luther acknowledges that we will not make John a living saint
and that any sin having crept in can be dismissed, allowing him to be
human. He finishes with a rhetorical question that invites the audience
to agree with the implied answer (Nothing!): “For what can the devil
bring up against his personal righteousness, since Christ is standing there
alongside him and for him with His death and resurrection, which is
more than the sin of the whole world? (WA 36:249.15–18).43

“Jch wil dich den teuffel allein leiblich lassen würgen, Darumb sihe du nicht so
hart auff deinen tod, Sihe dis an, das mein Son für dich gestorben ist, und du vor hin
auch geistlich gewürget bist, So wil ich dir nu den tod so zuschicken, das du allein
sterbest jnn deinen funff synnen, wie jnn einem schlaff.”
“Denn was wil der teuffel auff bringen widder seine personalem iusticiam, weil
Christus neben und fur jn da stehet mit seinem tod und aufferstehen, welchs mehr ist
denn der gantzen welt sunde?”
154 chapter four

D. Part Three (WA 36:249–254)

Luther argues that we too want this death and its resurrection. He makes
a glorious comparison of our righteousness with our death, making the
Christian death something different when seen with Christian, scriptural
eyes. Included in this section is prolepsis, as he considers objections to
the argument, responding to the devil’s onslaught against our confidence.
When we depend on our own righteousness, the devil always tops it,
making deadly the reliance on one’s goodness. Luther’s dialogue with
the devil celebrates victory when one refuses to compare personal righ-
teousness but instead relies on Christ’s righteousness. Luther makes his
argument in three moves, each successively much longer than the one
before it. In the first move he uses a series of images—both metaphor
and simile—to set forth the goal for every listener: to experience the
same kind of death as John—one that transforms shame into glory. In
the second move Luther urges his listeners—with several commands—to
take up a new attitude toward Christian death, one that follows the lead
of John and derives great comfort from the words of Christ. In the
third move Luther engages in prolepsis, a lengthy series of dialogues
with the devil, intended to expose every kind of temptation he puts
before us that would make us fear death, mistrust our faith in Christ,
and cause one to despair.
A. Luther’s first move (WA 36:249.18–30) is brief and filled with
inclusive first plural pronouns (12 in 12 lines), for death is one foe before
which every person stands in need of encouragement. Luther uses no
Scripture, only three doublets, and yet he works in two key expressions
and several important images, some of which we have heard him use
already. His hope is that we too die as John did, bringing with us to
heaven a poor sinner—meaning one’s self, for Luther frequently called
himself a poor Drecksack; his final written words (1546) were the bilingual
Wir sind Pettler, hoc est verum (“We are beggars, this is true”).44
B. In a second move (WA 36:249.31–250.30) Luther turns to impera-
tives as he begins to exhort his listeners to adopt a new image of
Christian death and to draw comfort from the Scriptures. He begins by
staying with similes—humorous ones—that can disarm an audience’s
fears and help them relax. Using antitheses, Luther urges that one look
at Christian death with different eyes, but not as a cow staring at a new

Recall that Luther referred to the body as a poor bag (armen Sacks) at LW 51:238
(WA 36:247.21).
luther’s 1532 funeral sermons 155

gate. With a different nose we must smell [Christian death], but not
as a cow sniffs grass. We must learn ‘to speak and think’ of it as the
Scriptures do; we must no longer consider (rechne) deceased Christians
as ‘dead and buried’ people. ‘With these words’ (first position in the
sentence), Luther commands his hearers:
Learn to comfort [trösten] yourselves . . . and instill [bildets] in your hearts
the fact that it is far more certain that Duke John of Saxony will come
out of the grave and be far more splendid than the sun is now,45 than
that he is lying here before our eyes. This is not so certain as the fact
that he will live again and go forth with Christ. The reason? Because
God cannot lie (WA 36:250.19–23).46
C. Luther’s third and final move (WA 36:250.31–254.20) in this third
part of the sermon is where he engages any doubters. Here he may
have in mind conservative believers holding to the Catholic faith, or he
may be interested mostly in bolstering the faith of Reformation believ-
ers who still need encouragement at such a time as the death of their
prince. No matter who, they all can profitably ponder Luther’s argu-
ment. Moreover, the predominant strategy here is prolepsis, the rebuttal
of objections. Their voice is gentle in the ear of a troubled listener:
“My dear, who knows whether God will consider you to be good?”
(WA 36:250.31f.).47 Luther interrupts immediately with a blunt report.
Moviegoers who saw Luther (Till, 2003) will recall similar scenes:
[ H]e often tries it on me. He asks me how good and how evil I am and
can make his masterful use of the Scriptures and the law. ‘You must
do this and that [Das und das]. You must be good and keep the law.
But you have not kept it? How are you going to get out of that?’ (WA
Luther knows very well how skillfully the devil argues, for he has cre-
ated—in the devil’s mouth—a conundrum, wherein if one accepts

Recall that Luther was preaching at 7 AM in August, so the sun could very well
have been shining brightly when he uttered this remark.
“Mit solchen worten lernet euch sein trösten und bildets euch wol ein, Das es viel
gewisser ist, das Hertzog Hans von Sachssen wird widder erfür komen aus dem loch
und viel schooner denn die Sonn jtzt ist, denn das er hie für unsern augen ligt, Das
ist nicht so gewis als jhenes, das er widder leben wird und mit Christo da her faren,
Ursach: Gott kan nicht liegen.”
“Lieber, wer weis, ob dich Gott auch für from halten wil?”
“. . . er an mir auch offt versucht, Fraget mich, wie from und wie bös ich sey und kan
sein meisterlich die Schrifft und das Gesetz da zu brauchen: Das und das solt du thun,
Solt from sein und das Gesetz halten, Aber du hast es nicht gehalten, Wo aus?”
156 chapter four

the premise of having to keep the law, one is ultimately caught in the
conclusion that she or he is in violation of the law, for the devil has
reminded her or him of particular sins. Then Luther rushes to the
rescue, with a precise and concrete declaration: “I make haste and
seize hold [lauff ich denn und ergreiff ] of the article of the forgiveness of
sins through Jesus Christ, who died and rose again for my sins.”49 He
is, of course, speaking of Article IV of the Augsburg Confession, to
which Luther has taken the occasion of this funeral message to offer
a commendatory tribute.50 Turning the corner—from amplifying the
objections to rebutting them—Luther strongly exhorts his listeners to
resist the devil (and any person unwittingly assisting him). Indeed, late
medieval artwork and literature was rife with images of demons and
angels lurking under and hovering over the deathbed. Accordingly,
Luther gives listeners some of their own dialogue to shout back to the
But by all means take care not to let anybody persuade you of this on
your deathbed; for then the devil is not far away; he can throw in your
face a little sin which reduces all such fine virtues to nothing, so that you
come to such a pass that you say: ‘Devil, rage as much as you please,
I do not boast of my good works and virtues before our Lord God at
all, nor shall I despair on account of my sins, but I comfort myself with
the fact that Jesus Christ died and rose again, as the text here says’ (WA

“Da lauff ich denn und ergreiff den artikel der vergebung der sunde durch
Jhesum Christum, der für meine sunde gestorben und widder aufferstanden ist” (WA
“Also they teach that men cannot be justified before God by their own strength,
merits, or works, but are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they
believe that they are received into favor, and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s
sake, who, by His death, has made satisfaction for our sins. This faith God imputes
for righteousness in His sight. Rom. 3 and 4”; Concordia or Book of Concord: The Symbols
of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (St. Louis, 1952), 12–13; “IV. DE IUSTIFICATIONE.
Item docent, quod hominess non possint iustificari coram Deo propriis viribus, meritis
aut operibus, sed gratis iustificentur propter Christum per fidem, quum credunt se in
gratiam recipi, et peccata remitti propter Christum, qui sua morte pro nostris peccatis
satisfecit. Hanc fidem imputat Deus pro iustitia coram ipso. Rom. iii et iv.” in Documents
Illustrative of the Continental Reformation, ed. B. J. Kidd (Oxford, 1911), 263.
“Aber bey leib hute dich da für, das man dirs am tod bett nicht ein bilde, Denn
der teuffel ist nicht weit da von, der kan dir ein kleine sunde für rücken, die solche
schöne tugent alle zu nicht macht, das man doch endlich da hin komen uns sagen
mus: Teuffel, sey so zornig du jmmer wilt, Jch rhüme mein gute werck und tugent gar
nichts für unserm Herr Gott, wil auch meiner sunder halben nicht verzweiveln, Sondern
tröste mich dam it, das Jhesus Christus gestorben und widderstanden ist, wie der text
hie sagt.” In a second full paragraph (WA 36:252.14–253.15) of this third part of the
luther’s 1532 funeral sermons 157

With another reference to the text of the sermon (1 Thess. 4:13–18),

Luther claims once again that the purpose of Paul’s text is to bring
comfort, and that a step in deriving comfort is learning to ‘defend myself
from the devil and say. . . .’ Note the simplicity, the frequent negatives,
the sarcasm, and even the rhyme:
Even though I have sinned, it does not matter; I will not argue with you
about what evil or good I have done. There is no time to talk of that
now; go away and do it some other time when I am being a bad boy
[böser Bube bin], or go to the impenitent and scare them all you please.
But with me, who have already been through the anguish and throes of
death, you’ll find no place now (WA 36:252.20–25).52
In the third and final paragraph (WA 36:253.16–254.20) of this last
part of the sermon Luther continues to hammer away at the devil, for
his attempt to trick Christians into looking away from Christ’s death
and resurrection, the key expression of the sermon—found in 1 Thess.
4:14 and one which he has repeated now about 15 times, and he will
use it three more times yet, two of which are shouted back at the devil.
Notice how personal is this discourse, as it appropriates (I, my, for me,
etc.) Christ’s comfort:
Devil, you’re coming at the wrong time. No devil is going to argue with
me now, but rather I shall talk with my Lord Jesus Christ, that I may learn

sermon, Luther resumes more dialogue with the devil. It is probably inaccurate to call
what he wants his listeners to tell the devil ‘dialogue,’ for that term implies a reciprocal
communication process, and Luther’s goal is to shout the devil down. This paragraph
makes it clear that Luther is now on a very significant point for him: that at the root
of anxiety and despair lies sin, and that, for the Christian, sin has been taken care of
by Christ. However, in order to experience victory over temptation to doubt, one must
in one’s heart believe in the “death of Christ and the power he has wrought [Tod Christi
und seine Krafft, die er gewircket hat].” When I do that I have the greatest treasure (höchste
Schatz) and hence will concern myself less with what I have done (ich gethan habe) and
more on Christ’s death. Luther’s discourse to the devil is framed in first person singular,
for he wants every listener to employ such bold invective: “Therefore, devil, be gone
with both my righteousness and sin [meiner Gerechtigkeit und Sunde]. If I have committed
some sin, you go eat the dung; it’s yours. I’m not worrying myself about it, for Jesus
Christ has died” [Darumb Teuffel, fare hin, beide mit meiner gerechtigkeit und sunde,
Habe ich etwas gesundiget, so fris du den mist da von, der sey dein, Jch bekümmere
mich nichts darumb, denn Jhesus Christus ist gestorben] (WA 36:252.16–19).
“Ob ich schon gesündiget habe, das schadet mir nicht, Jch wil nicht mit dir da
von disputiren, was ich böses odder gutes gethan habe, Es hat jtzt nicht zeit davon zu
handeln, Gehe hin und thu es zur andern zeit, wenn ich ein böser bube bin. Odder
gehe zu den verstockten, da schrecke, wie du wilt, Aber bey mir, de rich vor jnn engsten
und todtes nöten bin, findest du jtzt keinen platz.”
158 chapter four

that he suffered for me and died and rose again for my sins, and that God
will bring me with him on the last day (WA 36:253.24–28).53

E. Conclusion to Sermon One (WA 36:254.21–35)

Luther provides a brief summary of what the text ‘is,’ and he prefaces
the content of his summary with the endearment ‘dear friends,’ similar
to his introductory ‘my dear friends.’ The summary is not pure exhor-
tation, for there is only a single imperative. In his summary Luther
brings together an understanding of what has happened to Elector
John, then moves on to an appeal to the mortality of all listeners, then
to the promise that is possible in Christ. Three declarations, then: (1)
that sorrow (Bekümmern) over our beloved ruler is right, according to the
outward man; (2) that all listeners should soberly consider their own
mortality;54 and (3) that all use their ruler’s example at Augsburg.
Clearly Luther has kept the audience remembering whose funeral it
is, for he has referred specifically to the deceased 16 times, with nearly
as many different epithets.55 Yet he has taken great pains not to praise
the deceased for his virtues, for the real topic of the sermon is the death
and resurrection of Jesus, stipulated explicitly as a phrase 21 times, and
mentioned in other ways at least double that. That makes this funeral
sermon much like any sermon of Luther’s, as Gerhard Sauter concludes
about Luther’s weekly Sunday afternoon sermons on 1 Cor. 15, begun
a week before this first funeral message:

“Teuffel, du kompst zu unrechter zeit, Es sol jtzt kein teuffel mit mir disputiren,
sondern mein HERR Jhesus Christus, das ich lerne, wie er für mich gelidden und für
meine sunde gestorben sey und widder aufferstanden, wie mich Gott mit jm füren
wird am jüngsten tage.”
Here Luther uses three doublets to amplify the implication—initiated by the
rhetorical question—that everyone ought to regard seriously her or his guilt before
God. He tells his audience that we are all ‘wicked, ungrateful villains [böse, undanckbare
Buben],’ that ‘both young and old [beide Jung und Allt]’ are utterly wanton (gar mutwillig)
and lacking ‘discipline or fear [Zucht noch Schew].’ With a striking word play, he warns
listeners that God’s manifesting (erzeiget) himself in removing the head (heubt), not even
sparing a prince, surely means every ‘head’ (Kopff ) is vulnerable. These statements
prompt Luther to call upon every listener to ‘humble yourself and better your life
[demütige dich und besser dein Leben],’ in order to be able to celebrate ( feiest) among those
who ‘suffer and die [leiden und sterben]’ with Christ.
[O]ur beloved sovereign prince; our beloved head; our head, the beloved sovereign; our sovereign
prince, our beloved lord and father; our beloved elector (2x); our beloved lord/our beloved ruler; our
beloved prince (3x); the good prince; our beloved sovereign; Duke John of Saxony; our beloved lord
and prince; my ruler.
luther’s 1532 funeral sermons 159

Arguments and counterarguments characterize every evangelical sermon,

not only a sermon on the resurrection. The proclamation of the resur-
rection of the dead as the promise of life with God is the heart of every
sermon; it is not one theme among others, which may be brought forth
when the need arises. The evangelical sermon is not meant to teach a
more successful way of life, or better management of one’s life, or a
mastery of responsibilities for others. These things reasonable people
can find of their own accord; for such things no preaching is needed.
Preaching is needed because it leads us out of the ‘vale of tears’ into
the future life.56

III. Analysis of Sermon Two

The second sermon, preached four days after the first, uses the same
text (1 Thess. 4:13–18) and eventually develops vv. 15–18. However, that
exposition does not begin until well past the midpoint of the sermon.
Prior to that, Luther moves in the direction of a new theme, yet one
he derives from v. 13: our grief is different because the Christian is a
new man. Thus Luther fits the previous message about grief—that it
is normal, God-given, and finds consolation in the Gospel—with its
complement: that grief should be moderated and appropriate. He begins
with an introduction (LW 51:243–245; WA 36:255–257) that quickly
recaps the previous message and proceeds immediately to the new
theme. Neither death nor suffering is the worst ordeal for a Christian
since, for him, death has lost its power. Luther then exhorts his audi-
ence to believe that in 1 Thess. 4:13 Paul meant that Christians are
different. He develops his argument in four parts.
First, he shows that the Old Testament testifies of those who hoped in
Christ and manifested proper grief (LW 51:245–248; WA 36:257–262).
Using the example of Abel’s death (plus selected Psalms), Luther argues
in strong language that many people suffered harsh deaths but that
God’s care for them is made plain in Scripture. By identifying who are
God’s saints and the promise to raise them up again, Luther assures

Gerhard Sauter, “Luther on the Resurrection,” in Harvesting’s Martin Luther’s Reflec-
tions on Theology, Ethics, and the Church, ed. Timothy J. Wengert (Grand Rapids, 2004),
99–118, here at 99f. Sauter’s essay was originally published as “Die Verkündigung
des Auferstandenen als Zusage des Lebens bei Gott,” in Relationen-Studien zum Übergang
vom Spätmittelalter zur Reformation: Festschrift zu Ehren von Prof. Dr. Karl-Heinz zur Mühlen,
ed. Athina Lexutt and Wolfgang Matz (Münster, 2000), 383–398, and in its English
Translation (by Austra Reinis) in LQ 15 (2001): 195–216.
160 chapter four

his listeners that the Elector is among those saints. Second, Luther
argues that the text teaches that our new grief is held in hope (LW
51:248–250; WA 36:262–264). He claims that we must act like heav-
enly men, drawing strength from God’s word, even though still stuck
in the old Adam and having to withstand the devil’s attacks. Third,
Luther moves into the remaining verses of the text (14–18) to expound
on Paul’s declaration that God will raise us up (LW 51:250–252; WA
36:264–267). We must trust God’s word, not our senses, and believe
that He will raise us up in an instant, just as Christ was raised. Paul’s
text assures that the dead in Christ will be raised with us, their bodies
restored in a glorious resurrection like unto Jesus’ own. Fourth, Luther
discusses verses 16–18 on how the Lord will come (LW 51:253–255; WA
36:267–269). God will orchestrate a simultaneous resurrection of both
living and dead saints, who together respond to the power and beauty
of the Lord’s voice, which is greater than sickness and death. Our joy
at witnessing such a coming will be as great as that of the first advent
shepherds, and this joy brings a comfort that we must now share with
one another. Comfort comes from confidence in God, whose Word and
Presence are much better than what this life holds. A conclusion (LW
51:254f.; WA 36:269f.) holds that our hope for the Elector is precisely
and confidently expressed in today’s text.

A. Introduction (WA 36:255.15–257.35)

Using the inclusive first plural (3 pronouns in 4 lines), Luther opens
with a statement of status and intent, indicating that it is still the week
of mourning and that we have already begun to comfort ourselves. The
source of comfort is God’s word from St. Paul’s Epistle; the goal is to
“speak on and the chosen text fully expound [redden und den fürgenomen
text vollend aus füren]” (literal translation).
In a second paragraph (WA 36:255.19–256.17) Luther begins his
thesis about the New Man, starting with how Christians differ from
others in their grief and view of death. With abundant doublets and
some triplets, Luther asserts half of his distinction (the world)—iden-
tifying Christians as ‘new’ four times (and three more times in the suc-
ceeding paragraph). In the third paragraph (WA 36:256.18–29) of the
introduction, he gives the contrary category—the Christian. Employing
correction, Luther asserts that as a new person, one is made to have
‘far different, yes even completely opposite’ thoughts. Luther finds
luther’s 1532 funeral sermons 161

grounds for this claim in Rom. 5,57 arguing that one can then ‘boast
and be happy or rejoice’ at hardship. The new, living man begins now
at death. Using some form of ‘new’ a total of 10 times in the last two
paragraphs, here is how Luther summarizes:
In short, he must gain a completely new heart and courage and thereby
make all things on earth new, and thus begin here a prelude [Vorspiel]
to the life to come, when all things will become as new, manifestly and
visibly, as he now imagines and conceives [erscheffpt und erdenckt] them by
faith according to his new nature (WA 36:256.26–29).58
In the fourth paragraph (WA 36:256.30–257.22) of the introduction,
Luther turns up the emotional level, as he argues that the newness he
is describing is not in us but in Christ. Luther insists that He alone,
meaning Christ, has made all things new already in this ‘manifest and
visible’ life. The Christian will never die again, for death has no ‘power
or dominion’ over him; all death’s capabilities—even physical—are
removed, so it can no longer ‘bind nor imprison nor torment’ him with
‘hunger, thirst, and wounds.’ Hearing Luther’s precise Summa—as he
draws in his audience with first plural pronouns—is worthwhile:
In short, it [= death] has all its venom, cords, spear, and sword, and
whatever evil it possesses lost to Christ. In this Man we too should
allow ourselves to think even now that all things have become new and
accustom ourselves to the strong thoughts of faith, keeping ever before
the eyes the beloved image of the dead and risen Christ and carrying it
with us against the old nature, which still assails and confronts us and
tries to frighten us with misery and distress, misfortune, poverty, death,
and whatever else there may be (WA 36:257.15–22).59

“(wie Sanct Paulus zun Romern am funfften saget)” [WA 36:256.19f.]. LW 51:244
cites Rom. 5:3, looking ahead to Paul’s ‘rejoice’ (καυχώμεθα)—rhumen for Luther. WA
cites v. 2 in the margin of line 30, referring to the ground for rejoicing, which is bet-
ter found in v. 2.
“Und Summa, das er eitel newe hertz und mut gewinne und alle ding auff erden
mit jm new mache und also hie ein vorspiel ansahe des zukünfftigen wesens, da es
alles am tage und für augen so new werden wird, wie ers jtzt erschepfft und erdenckt
durch den glauben nach seinem newen wesen.”
“Summa: Er hat alle seine gifft, strick, spies und schwert und was er böses hat,
an Christo verloren, Jnn dem selbigen man sollen wir uns auch bereit an lassen düncken,
das es alles new worden sey, und uns gewehnen jnn die starcken gedancken des glaubens
und das liebe bild des gestorbenen und aufferstanden Christi stets jnn die augen fassen und
mit uns tragen widder das allte wesen, so uns noch ansichtet und unter augen stösst und
uns schrecken wil mit jamer und not, unglück, armut, tod und was es sein mag.”
162 chapter four

In the final paragraph (WA 36:257.23–35) of the introduction, Luther

brings his argument about the new man back to the text of 1 Thess.
4:13, from which he claims to derive the theme. Using dialogue for the
first time in this sermon, he puts discourse into Paul’s mouth to stress
repeatedly the notion of difference (anders). Whereas the distinction he
made in the introduction of sermon one was regarding the legitimacy
of grief—our citizenship in humanity—here he emphasizes our citizen-
ship in Christ’s kingdom. We notice the doublets and other series, and
that throughout his paragraph Luther—then Paul—uses the second
person plural (9 pronouns in 13 lines), gently engaging his listeners
directly. He will end, though, in first plural, appropriating the benefits
of his case for all—including him—in boldness. All this because Christ’s
resurrection ensures that He will take ( fetzete) us with him, away from
death and into ‘life and eternal glory.’

B. Part One (WA 36.257.36–262.17)

Luther shows that the Old Testament testifies of those who hoped
in Christ and manifested proper grief. Using the example of Abel’s
death (plus selected Psalms), Luther argues in strong language that
many people suffered harsh deaths but that God will not allow them to
remain in death. By identifying who are God’s saints and the promise
to raise them up again, Luther assures his listeners that the Elector is
among those saints. Thus, in this part Luther prepares his listeners for
a return to the text of 1 Thess. 4, in Part II.
In laying out his thesis about the dear patriarchs, Luther’s goal is
to make his readers feel modestly ashamed—though proud of the
patriarchs for their faith—yet self-consciously wanting more of that for
themselves. Luther asserts that the patriarchs had not yet seen what his
listeners have now heard so much about. They saw the resurrection
through a ‘blue, dark cloud,’60 whereas we have the ‘clear, bright sun’
shining in the eyes.61 Turning to parallel spatial metaphors, Luther
depicts their dependence (hengen) on Christ from afar as having required
them to soar up to the comforting thought ( jnn die tröstlich Gedancken
erschwingen) that in the resurrection they would ‘rise up from death and
live with him.’ Luther then quotes three Psalms in succession, identifying

LW 51:245 wrongly translates the doublet eine blawe dunckel Wolcken as ‘dark blue
LW 51:245 does not translate jnn die Augen scheinet, where Luther may be alluding
to 1 Cor. 13:12.
luther’s 1532 funeral sermons 163

the latter two, but quoting the first (the uncited one) in both Latin and
then German; it becomes the thematic text of his argument, for he
quotes it again near the end of Part I: “Precious in the sight of the Lord
is the death of his saints” (Ps. 116:15).62 The next two Psalms (72:14
and 9:12)—‘Precious is their blood in his sight’ and ‘He who avenges
blood is mindful of them’—together form an inclusio: Jr Blut . . . jrem
Blut (LW 51:245; WA 36:257.36–258.21). Both Ps.116:15 and Ps. 72:14,
which begin with ‘precious,’ are examples of hyperbaton—where special
emphasis is given to a predicate by placing it first in the sentence—as
in “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians” (Acts 19:28, 34).63
Luther then turns to dialogue to develop a rich vocabulary that
describes the power and function of the claims of the three quoted
Beloved, you may well think otherwise and to your eyes it looks as if the
death of the saints is pure defeat and destruction and it appears as if
they now were utterly forgotten and silenced, as if they had no God to
befriend them, because he did not befriend them while they were living
and allowed them to perish so miserably as those who are torn, devoured,
burned, and pulverized [zu rissen, zu fressen, verbrand und zu pulvert sind ]. So
no rational mind can say anything else but that their death was a pitiful,
miserable, shameful [ jemmerlich, elend, schendlich] thing. But before God (say
the patriarchs) you must take it as sure truth that when a saint (which
means every Christian) dies, then there is offered to him excellent, precious,
costly sacrifice, the loveliest and sweetest odor of incense and the best,
highest worship that can ever be given to him (WA 36:258.26–36).64

“ ‘Preciosa in conspectus Dominj mors sanctorum erus,’ ‘Wie theur und werd
ist für Gott der tod seiner heiligen’ ” (WA 36:258.17f.). Ps. 115 Vulgate reads Gloriosa,
not Preciosa.
For discussion of that sentence in Acts, see R. H. Carpenter, “Essential Schemes
of Syntax: An Analysis of Rhetorical Theory’s Recommendations for Uncommon
Word Orders,” Quarterly Journal of Speech 55 (1969): 161–168, here at 164.
“Lieber, es düncket dich wol anders und ist für deinen augen an zu sehen, das
der Heiligen tod sey ein lauter untergang und verderben, Und scheinet, als sey jr nu
gar vergessen und geschwiegen und haben keinen Gott, der sich jr anneme, weil er
sich jr bey jrem leben nicht hat angenomen und so elendiglich da hin sterben lassen,
als die zu risen, zu fressen, verbrand und zu pulvert sind, Das keine vernunfft kan
anders sagen, denn es sey ein jemmerlich elend, schendlich ding umb jren tod, Aber
für Gott (sagen die lieben Veter) solt jrs gewislich da für halten, wenn ein Heiliger (das
ist: ein iglicher Christen) stirbt, das jm geschehe ein trefflich theur köstlich opffer, der
lieblichst und sussest geruch von wieb rauch und der beste höheste Gottes dienst, so jm
widderfaren mag.” Observe the elevated style of Luther’s dialogue, with its doublets,
triplets, and concrete language—all in the third person narrative of the patriarchs’
‘arguments’—about what is apparent and what is real—yet spoken lovingly (as Luther
would) to the listener.
164 chapter four

Moreover, what Luther means by the highest worship offered to a saint

who dies—the preaching of the Gospel of Christ—we have already
learned in Sermon One.
At the midpoint of his argument about how the Christian is a new
man, as seen through dead saints, Luther makes a startling and pro-
vocative statement. He asserts that God does not care so much for the
living saints as he does for the dead. The remark seems to contradict
somewhat his previous emphasis on the preaching to the living. However,
Luther is being provocative here, playing up the paradox of how God
can have so much good awaiting those whose physical presence suggests
loss and shame. Now, such a bold assertion as Luther has just made,
must be supported, for one cannot assume—at a funeral, especially
one of a prince—that it is self evident that God is still in control and
that the deceased (and ultimately everyone in attendance) is still in His
care. Luther supports his claims in a series of four moves.
First, he provides a concrete example (WA 36:259.23–260.21) of
God’s care for His dead saints—the story of Cain and Abel (Gen. 4).
Luther extends this example, through the use of quotes from the Genesis
text—which includes, of course, those haunting rhetorical questions of
the LORD to Cain—and through his own vivid commentary on the
story and how it exemplifies the principle of the three aforementioned
Psalms (116, 72, 9). Luther finds the principle in the blood of Abel,
made even more precious through murder by his brother.
Second, Luther argues (WA 36:260.21–34) that the dear patriarchs
took the example of God’s concern for Abel’s blood and derived their
teachings (Spruch) about the precious nature of dead saints in God’s sight.
Both key terms (dead, saints) must be explicated in the argumentation.
His argument contrasts the dire existence of saints while alive with a
more glorious one after death. Yet Luther’s argument also upholds the
value of what God’s saints already have—before death—to whatever
sin and the world offer, and which they have forsaken.
Third (WA 36:260.35–261.19), Luther addresses more explicitly
the second key term (saints), which he has just uttered in the assonant
phrase—‘called God’s saints [heissen Gottes Heiligen]’—and which he has
previously defined as ‘every Christian,’65 and here specified with the
modifiers Baptism, Faith, Word. His explication is not an argument per se,
in that he offers no quoted scriptural evidence, nor does he appeal to

LW 51:246; WA 36:258.33.
luther’s 1532 funeral sermons 165

life experience as analogy. Rather, he reminds his listeners of what—he

presumes—they already know from the Bible, yet he does so using the
rhetorical device of expeditio, wherein he successively removes com-
peting definitions and then—turning via antithesis—celebrates his own
surviving definition. Scripture teaches that saints are not: (1) those in
heaven above, as the pope makes saints, “whom one should invoke, their
days one should observe with fasting, and whom one should choose as
mediators”; (2) Nor those who sanctify themselves and try to be holy
in their deeds—namely, the “Carthusians, the barefooted friary, and
other monks or pilgrims and such like devils.” Rather (Sondern), to be
saints means:
Those whom God has sanctified, without any of their works and coop-
eration, by reason of the fact that they are baptized in Christ’s name,
sprinkled and washed clean with his blood, and with his dear Word and
gifts of the Holy Spirit endowed and adorned. All of which we have not
engendered and cannot engender, but [sondern] must receive from him by
pure grace. But he who does not have this and seeks some other holiness
is a stench and abomination to the Lord, because he denies that this bath
of the blood of the innocent Lamb does not make one holy and clean
(WA 36:261.12–19).66
Fourth, Luther returns (WA 36:261.20–31) to the theme of ‘the dead,’
and what specific promise of Scripture—viz., Ps. 11:15, which he
quotes—dead saints have from God. The promise, moreover, is nestled
within a series of threats Luther poses. In other words, no matter what
manner of death one experiences, God will emerge victorious.
Following the four moves, Luther returns to his main theme—we are
not like those ‘who have no hope’ because we are new men. He then
summarizes all that God will do for him—specifically, Elector John,
whose funeral this is.

“Sondern die Gott geheiligt hat on alle jre werck und zuthun, da durch, das sie
jnn Christus namen getaufft sind, mit seinem blut besprenget und rein gewasschen
und mit seinem lieben wort und gaben des Heiligen geists begabt und gezieret, Welchs
alles wir nicht erzeugt haben noch erzeugen können, sondern aus lauter gnaden von
jm empfahen müssen. Wer aber solchs nicht hat und andere heiligkeit süchet, der ist
eitel stanck und grewel für Gott, als der da leugket, das solch bad des unschuldigen
Lemblins blut nicht heilig und rein mache.” I have underlined the repeated preposi-
tions to show Luther’s use of anaphora. Whereas LW 51:248 translates “without any
of their words or cooperation whatsoever” (my emphasis), there is no justification for
‘whatsoever’ in Luther’s sentence.
166 chapter four

Though we have lost him according to the body and the old nature, he is
not lost and not forgotten [unverloren und unvergessen] before God in Christ,
who has received him and brought him to rest, so that now he is safe
from the devil and all enemies, and on the last day will bring him and
all the saints with him before our eyes and the eyes of the whole world
(WA 36:261.35—262.16).67

C. Part Two (WA 36:262.17–264.11)

Luther argues that the text of 1 Thess. 4:13–18 teaches that our new
grief is held in hope. He claims that we must act like heavenly men,
drawing strength from God’s word, even though still stuck in the old
Adam and having to withstand the devil’s attacks. Luther thus returns
to the text of the two funeral sermons, not to expound them but to
use them as a basis for encouraging his listeners, for he argues that
that is precisely what Paul’s intention is with his readers. Luther’s cita-
tion formula shows this: “Behold, this is what St. Paul is trying to do
with this text.” To bring about this comfort, he will make three moves,
only the last one of which cites any additional Scripture (or quotes
any Scripture at all). Moreover, he returns to the inclusive first plural
pronoun for exhortation.
Prior to the three moves, he lays out his thesis (WA 36:262.17–21),
which he draws from Paul: that the Thessalonians are to comfort one
another, and with that same text we are to comfort ourselves as they
comforted themselves.68 Further, Luther admonishes his listeners to
thank God when the body of a believer is carried off, for that person
is in the knowledge of his Word, despite the fact that the outward man
still has ‘grief and sorrow.’
In his brief, first move (WA 36:262.21–27) Luther amplifies his
noncontroversial claim about inward / outward, now / not yet, and
he does it all in first plural, resorting again to graphic language: We
are still stuck in the ‘muck and mire’ of our old Adam, who still (noch)
‘befouls himself, hawks and snuffles.’
Second (WA 36:262.27–263.19), Luther takes more time to amplify
what is not so obvious–that beyond and above the grief should be faith

“. . . ob wir jn wol leiblich und nach dem alten wesen verloren haben, Aber für
Gott jnn Christo unverloren und unvergessen ist, der sich seiner angenomen und jn
zu ruge bracht, das er für dem Teuffel und allen feinden sicher ist und jn am jüngsten
tag emit allen Heiligen für unsern und aller welt augen mit sich füren.”
“. . . wie sie sich getrösten haben” (WA 36:262.18f.). Luther is using periphrasis,
while LW 51:249 abbreviates: “as they did.”
luther’s 1532 funeral sermons 167

that Christ ‘died and rose again.’ Turning to visual tactics, he uses
anaphora to contrast what the world and its reason sees (grief ) with
what God sees—new hearts and new thoughts. The visual metaphors
and similes are also bolstered by the Word, which, Luther contends, we
do not see but rather hear spoken.69 He asserts that Christ’s death and
resurrection was for the sake of Christians; that their death is a ‘noble,
precious treasure.’ Faith will help us distinguish (unterscheiden) “between
the world’s eyes and God’s eyes, between reason . . . and faith.” Reason
tells us the old man stays buried.
Luther’s third (WA 36:263.20–264.12) and final move of Part Two
is to reassure his listeners that what 1 Thess. 4:14ff. teaches remains
true, reliable, and applicable to them. He makes no mention of Elector
John. Luther’s strategy is to rally his listeners around Christ’s promise
by helping them unite against the common foe. He cites the author of
Hebrews (2:14) for proof of his case against the devil as the ‘master
and author’ of death. In addition to doublets, Luther uses triplets and
longer series—the longest yet of these two sermons—to generate emo-
tional response in favor of Christ and against the devil. Then Luther
uses epithets to make the ultimate accusation:
[ H ]e employs all kinds of plagues, war, sword, fire, water, pestilence,
syphilis, apoplexy, dysentery, etc., which as the Scripture says, are all
his weapons, arrows, armor, and equipment, by which he accomplishes
nothing less than to kill the Christians. For he is the master and author
of death, who first introduced death, says the Epistle to the Hebrews
[Heb. 2:14], and the chief hangman to destroy the believers. And he also
honestly pursues his craft throughout the whole world and kills us all in
the end, as he also killed Christ, so that every Christian owes his death
to him (WA 36:263.31–264.12).70

“. . . das wir nicht sehen, sondern allein da von hören sagen jnn dem Wort” (WA
“. . . schleicht jn tag und nacht nach und hat nicht ruge, bis er sie mordet und weg
reumet, Und brauchet da zu allerley plage, krieg, schwerd, fewer, wasser, pestilentz,
frantzosen, tropff, rote rhur 2c. welchs sind all zumal, wie die Schrifft saget, seine wof-
fen, pfeil, harnisch und rustung, da mit er nichts mehr aus richtet denn die Christen
zu tödten, Denn er ist des tods meister und ursacher, der den tod erstlich eingefuret
hat, spricht die Epistel zun Ebreern, und der oberst hencker, die fromen zu würgen,
drumb treibt er auch sein handwerck redlich durch die gantze wellt und todtet uns
doch alle, wie er auch Christum getödtet hat, das jm doch ein jglicher Christ einen
Marterer schuldig ist.”
168 chapter four

D. Part Three (WA 36:264.13–267.17)

Luther turns to the remaining verses of the text (14–18) to expound
on Paul’s declaration that God will raise us up (WA 36:264–267). We
must trust God’s word, not our senses, and believe that He will raise us
up in an instant, just as Christ was raised. Paul’s text assures that the
dead in Christ will be raised with us, their bodies restored in a glorious
resurrection like unto Jesus’ own. Luther’s argument, which he bolsters
with evidence from 1 Cor. 15 and a return to the use of dialogue, can
be seen as a series of five moves.
First (WA 36:264.13–27), he turns back—from his recent focus on
the devil—to Christ, and to the promise of 1 Thess. 4:15, on the manner
of Christ’s return for His own, having spent all of the previous sermon
and the first half of this one on the fact of Christ’s return. The more
detail one can give to a promise, the more probable and tangible it
seems. Listen to Luther’s depiction, both of what happened to Christ
and what will happen to believers:
Just as Christ also, though he lay in the grave, yet in a moment he was
both dead and alive and rose again like a lightning flash from heaven.
So he will raise us too in an instant, in the twinkling of an eye, out of
the grave, the dust, the water, and we shall stand in full view, utterly pure
and clean as the bright sun (WA 36:264.17–21).71
Second (WA 36:264.28–265.12), Luther begins to comment upon the
text of v. 15, which will occupy him for all of the rest of Part Three.
His first task—which takes him through the second, third, and fourth
moves—is to vouch for the veracity and authority of the Word of God.
He begins, in this second move, by calling attention to the opening clause
of v. 15, what he calls a preface (Vorrhede). Paul—the dear Apostle—is
concerned (Sorge), lest his message (Predigt) “be considered too slightly
and not be taken as the Word of God.” Luther supports his claim that
Paul was not an impressive figure in person with Paul’s own testimony
in 2 Cor. 10:10.72 The accusation posits a distinction between Paul’s
credibility in writing versus face-to-face speech. Luther magnifies the

“Wie auch Christus, ob er wol im grab lag, doch war er jnn einem augenblick
tod und lebendig und fur widder eraus wie ein blitz am himel, So wird e runs auch
jnn einem nu eraus rucken, ehe wir uns umb sehen, aus dem sark, pulver, wasser, das
wir da für augen gantz lauter und rein stehen wie die helle Sonne.”
LW 51:251 cites vv. 7–12 (the broader context), whereas WA 36:264.35 cites only
v. 10 (Paul’s actual statement about the accusations of the Corinthians).
luther’s 1532 funeral sermons 169

difference between writer and speaker by exaggerating both forms of

credibility, explicitly attributing them to Paul:
He himself says that the Corinthians were saying of him that he preached
and wrote as if he were a god and yet was such a small, insignificant
person, with a thin and dried-up [durres und magers] body, which was the
reason why the false apostles proudly despised and belittled him (WA
Luther has misconstrued what 2 Cor. 10:10 says, for there the accu-
sation was that both Paul’s physical presence and oral speech were
weak. Whether he found it incredible that Paul’s oral address be found
wanting, nevertheless his point here is that the messenger, especially
one some find weak, can complicate people’s perception of a message’s
authority. So Luther takes more time in the next move to develop his
argument that Paul has taken great pains in 1 Thess. 4:15 to attribute
his authority to the Word of the Lord.
In the third move (WA 36:265.12–266.21), then, Luther’s commentary
on Paul’s Vorrhede (1 Thess. 4:15a)—“For this we declare to you by the
word of the Lord”—employs nearly every stylistic and reasoning tool
he has used thus far: dialogue (for the first time in this sermon), anal-
ogy, simile, doublets, triplets, and a frequent repetition of the expres-
sion Gottes wort.74 Paul, Luther implies, is taking no chances on God’s
word, which derives from all the Apostles, being mistakenly seen as
‘one man’s opinion’:
So he says, ‘I know very well that I am speaking of things so high that
the world and reason is offended. Therefore I beg and admonish [bitte und
vermane] you not to look upon us, nor to accept as our word what we are
saying to you, but rather to forget our person and listen to it as the word
of the divine majesty spoken from heaven (WA 36:265.12–16).75

“Er predigte und schriebe da her, als were er ein Gott, und were doch so ein
kleine geringe person, durres und magers leibs, Daher jn die falschen Apostel stoltziglich
verachteten und verkleineten.”
Luther explicates that term to mean the speaking power that inaugurated creation
and still sustains it ever anew. His first instance of dialogue is to create a speech for
Paul to use in explaining why he insists that his word is from God. Filled with doublets,
the speech is almost entirely in first person; there are only two ‘you’s, and it culminates
with a pregnant periphrasis for ‘the word of the Lord.’
“Darumb spricht er: Jch weis wol, das ich so hoch ding rede, das sich die wellt
und vernunfft dran ergert, Darumb bitte und vermane ich, jr wolt nicht uns ansehen
noch als unser wort annemen, was wir euch sagen, sondern unser person vergessen
und so zuhören als der Göttlichen maiestet wort von himel gesprochen.”
170 chapter four

Luther’s fourth move (WA 36:266.22–35) takes up the remaining part

of 1 Thess. 4:15, or that which Paul, by the word of the Lord, says:
We shall all go thither together at the same time, both those who have died
previously and those who have lived until Christ’s coming and that thus
all will soar up together in an instant and see one another again . . . [ W]e
shall be drawn upward with open eyes and still be living in the body,
whereas the others have long since decayed and, to our minds, become
nothing and even though it would seem that we, who are still living,
would be the first and would see the Lord much sooner than the dead.
But he would have it that the dead would all rise with us in the same
moment and have eyes as pure and fine as ours to see as well as we do.
(Reason calls this ridiculous, but he [= Paul] tells me that he is speaking
the Word of God.) (WA 36:266.25–35).76
Luther’s fifth and final move (WA 36:266.36–267.17) of this Part Three
completes the exposition of v. 15, moving beyond the timing—which he
has just done—to the beauty of Christ’s coming. In so doing he pulls
images from 1 Cor. 15. What binds this exposition together is Christ
as prototype and agent; thus, it would seem that Luther is exegeting
the concept of ‘Lord’ from v. 15, while at the same time anticipating
the drama of vv. 16–18, which he addresses explicitly in Part Four. As
he ends this Part Three, Luther takes up Paul’s voice: “He who will
not believe this cannot believe us either. It’s one and the same thing”
(WA 36:267.16f.).77

E. Part Four (WA 36:267.17–269.27)

Luther discusses verses 16–18 on how the Lord will come. God will
orchestrate a simultaneous resurrection of both living and dead saints,
who together respond to the power and beauty of the Lord’s voice,
which is greater than sickness and death. Our joy at witnessing such
a coming will be as great as that of the first advent shepherds, and

“Wir werden alle zu gleich mit einander daher faren, beide, die zuvor gestorben
und bis zu Christus zukunfft gelebt haben und also jnn einem augen blick alle semptlich
da her schweben und uns zu gleich widder sehen . . . ob wol wir mit offenen augen da
hin gezückt und noch bey lebendigem leibe sein werden, jene aber lang verweset und
unserm düncken nach nichts mehr sein werden, Das es scheinet, das wir, die noch bey
leben sind, solten die ersten sein und viel ehe den HERRn sehen denn die todten,
Aber er wils so machen, das die todten alle jnn dem augen blick mit uns erfür komen
und so rein und schön augen haben und sehen sollen als wir.” The final line (Ratio
ridet. Dixi me dei verbum dicere) is from Rörer’s text, line 9.
“Wer dan nicht wil glewben, der darff auch uns nicht gleuben. Das ist eines.”
luther’s 1532 funeral sermons 171

this joy brings a comfort that we must now share with one another.
Comfort comes from confidence in God, whose Word and Presence
are much better than what this life holds. In this part Luther uses a few
additional Scriptures as examples of God’s power of command over
the natural world—including death—demonstrated at other times. He
uses only one brief instance of dialogue, in the second of three moves,
wherein the middle one is the longest.78 However, his argumentation is
not discretely divided, as the distributio suggests; rather, it flows almost
First (WA 36:267.28–37), Luther says everything will happen at once
(zu gleich), that one should not think that we who are living will ‘arrive
and see Christ sooner [ehe komen und Christum sehen].’ Rather (Sondern), we
will be caught up together with him, all in one moment, and we shall
be changed (verwandelt) and they made alive again from the ‘grave and
dust’ in the self-same moment. And thus together, wherever we may be
found, we shall fly straightway into the air, most beautifully clothed.79
Second, Luther uses his longest move (two paragraphs) to expand
on the means of Christ’s return, by discussing the cry of command,
archangel’s call, and trumpet of God. Since all three mechanisms are
vocal and auditory, Luther’s listeners hear a variety of terms for sound.
Paul used, Luther avers, language normally reserved for describing a

Note that there is both triplet and doublet, strung together syntactically, in Paul’s
own words: “For the Lord himself—with a cry of command and the archangel’s call
and with the sound of the trumpet of God [mit einem Feld geschrey und Stimme des Ertzen-
gels und mit der Posaunen Gottes]—will descend from heaven. And the dead in Christ will
rise first; then we—we who are alive and are left [die wir leben und uberbleiben]—shall be
caught up together with them in the clouds, the Lord to meet in the air; and so we shall
be with the Lord always. Therefore comfort ye now, with these words, one another”
(LW 51:253) [‘Denn er selbs der HERR wird mit einem feld geschrey und stimme des
Ertzengels und mit der Posaunen Gottes ernider komen von himel, Und die todten
jnn Christo werden aufferstehen zu erst, darn ach wir, die wir leben und uberbleiben,
wrden zu gleich mit den selben hin gezuckt werden jnn den wolcken, dem HERREN
entgegen jnn der lufft, Und werden also bey dem HERREN sein alle zeit. So tröstet
euch num it diesen worten unter einander’] (WA 36:267.20–27).
Closing this move with two polysyndetic triplets—the second one parallel to the
triplet structure of 1 Thess. 4:16—Luther declares (in third person) how ‘he, the Lord
himself [er, der HERr selbs]’ will come in his own person, as a Lord in his majesty.
No longer sending “apostle or preacher or John the Baptist [Apostel odder Prediger odder
Johann den Tauffer],” he will come with a great “shout of command and the voice and
trumpet [Feldgeschrey und Stimme und Posaune]” of the archangel. Since Luther ends that
statement with ‘etc’ (2c.), he clearly refers to the whole context of vv. 16–18. Moreover,
by invoking three human mediators—and through the use of antithesis (sondern)—he
unmistakably implies the finality and superiority of this visitation over all previous
ones. That superiority he explicates next.
172 chapter four

‘grand, magnificent march of an army [herlichen prechtigen Herr Zug],’

the kind used in a royal parade of triumph, with ‘lifegards, banners,
trumpets, and canisters,’ in order that all may hear the arrival. This
is Luther’s example for Christ’s coming, accompanied with shout of
command (Feldgeschrey) and the sounding of the trumpet, called the
trumpet of God (Gottes Posaune). Listen to the rest of Luther’s auditory
This will be done by the archangel with his innumerable host of angels,
who will be his vanguard or forerunners and set up such a tumult that
heaven and earth will be burned in an instant and lie in a heap and
transformed, and the dead will be brought together from everywhere.
That will be quite a different trumpet, and it will sound quite different
from our trumpets and canisters on earth. But it will be his own voice or
language, perhaps Hebrew, but even if it is not a particular language, it
will be such a voice that will awaken all the dead (WA 36:268.17–25).80
Luther then develops another paragraph in this second move, employ-
ing a brief bit of dialogue that accompanies one of four quoted texts
from the Gospels. His explanation closes with an analogy:
Just as here on earth the preacher’s voice which proclaims God’s Word is
not called man’s word but God’s Word, so here the voice of the archangel
and yet the voice of the Lord Christ, as being spoken by his command
and power [Befelh und Krafft ] (WA 36:269.14–17).81
Third, Luther ends his exposition of 1 Thess. 4:16–18—although he still
deals mainly with v. 16—by returning to the theme of comfort; hence,
he uses several first plural pronouns. He argues that Paul portrayed the
coming of Jesus and the rising of the dead in grand terms, so that we
be ‘confident and bold’ and not so frightened about our loved ones,
which would include—although Luther does not say so—Elector John.

“. . . das wird thun der Ertzengel mit einem unzelichen hauffen Engel, die seine
vordraber odder fürgenger sein werden und solch geschrey ansahen, da von himel und
erde auff einen augenblick verbrand, auff einem hauffen ligen und verendert und die
todten aus allen orten sollen zusamen bracht werden. Das wird eine ander Posaune
sein und viel anders schallen dennunser drometen und büchssen auff erden, Es wird
aber sein eine stimme odder sprache, villeicht auff Ebreisch, Odder ob es nicht ein
sonderliche sprach were, so sol es doch eine solche stimme sein, davon alle todten
erwachen mussen.”
“Gleich wie jtzt auff erden des predigers stimme, der Gottes wort predigt, heisst
nicht des menschen, sondern Gottes wort, So ist auch die stim des Ertzengels und
doch des HERRN Christi stim, als aus seinem befelh und krafft.” Note the chiasmus
in “stimme des Ertzengels und doch des HERRN Christi stim.”
luther’s 1532 funeral sermons 173

His final depiction invokes the beautiful image of the first advent, which
was initially frightening but later joyous:
That the archangel will come first with his trumpets and thousands of
angels (like the angel in Luke 2 [:13] who appeared to the shepherds at
Christ’s birth with the multitude of the heavenly host) and strike up the
cry of command, with Christ suddenly striding forth, and afterwards,
when we have been raised and caught up into heaven [erweckt und gen
Himel gerückt sind ], sing everlastingly: Gloria in excelsis Deo, ‘Glory to God
in the highest’ [ Luke 2:14] (WA 36:269.21–27).82

F. Conclusion (WA 36:269.28–270.18)

Luther’s conclusion comes in two steps (and two paragraphs): first, he
applies the hope of Paul’s exhortation in 1 Thess. 4:16–18 to all his hear-
ers (4 first plural pronouns in the first 5 lines); second, he returns to the
immediate cause in the funeral sermons—Elector John’s death—assur-
ing his listeners of John’s being taken mercifully by God and exhorting
them to hope in the return of Christ. In both paragraphs, moreover,
Luther’s words exude confidence in God and—for the immediate audi-
ence—find present comfort in the words of Paul.
The first paragraph (WA 36:269.28–270.9) invokes Paul’s teaching
in 1 Cor. 15:43, as Luther uses many doublets to bring comfort. He
begins by paraphrasing Paul’s concluding words from 1 Thess. 4:18
(‘comfort one another with these words’), deviating from the syntax
of GNT, Vulgate, SeptBib (and in 1534)—all of which emphasize the
command (‘comfort ye’) by placing the verb in first position. However,
we soon see that Luther’s tactic is not to use mostly positive images, for
he launches a barrage of doublets that are both positive and negative.
The net effect is not one of mere balance, however; for, strung together,
the doublets—inspired by Paul’s own—often rhyme, and they paint a
strongly positive picture (schöne Bilde) of seasonal metaphors:
[ W ]hen out of this present winter in which everything is dead and bur-
ied he will make a beautiful, eternal summer and bring forth the flesh,
which lies buried and decayed [verscharret und verweset], far more beautiful
and glorious than it ever was before, as St. Paul says in 1 Cor. 15 [:43]:

“Also das der Ertzengel mit seiner Posaunen wird vorher zihen mit viel tausent
Engeln (wie der Engel Luce im andern Capitel, der den Hirten erschein bey werden
ansahen), und Christus flugs mit da her faren, Und darn ach, wenn wir erweckt und
gen himel gerückt sind, ewig singen: ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo’, ‘Ehre sey Gott jnn der
hohe.’ ”
174 chapter four

‘It is sown in dishonor and is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness and

is raised in power.’ For dishonor and weakness means that miserable,
shameful [ jemerlich, schendlich] form of man, than which there is no more
shameful, insufferable [schendlicher, unleidlicher] carcass on earth, which is
a great dishonor and shame to this noble creature. But this does not
matter, for it will be raised in honor and a glorious form [ehren und her-
rlicher Gestalt], just as a seed which is cast into the ground must decay
and become nothing, but when summer comes it comes forth again with
beautiful blades and ears of corn (WA 36:269.34–270.9).83
The second paragraph (WA 36:270.10–18) consists in two sentences: (1)
a brief benediction—“To this end help us, God the Father, Son, and
Holy Spirit. Amen,” preceded by; (2) a lengthy exhortative sentence that
reminds listeners of Elector John’s Christian ‘virtue’ and uses that to
invite hope for all in that same promise. “[ H ]e will, when the trumpet
of the archangel is sounded, joyfully rise in an instant from this crypt
and go to meet Christ, shining more brightly than the sun and all the
stars, with us and all Christians (WA 36:270.14–17).84 Thus, together,
the two sermons begin and end with Luther’s focus on his listeners:
‘My dear friends . . . with us and all Christians.’

IV. Prominent Themes and Strategies in the Sermons

While he reflects on the contemporary religious funeral attended by a

decidedly nonreligious audience,85 Tony Walter’s remarks are still worth

“. . . aus dem jtzigen winter, dar jnn alles erstorben und verscharret ist, einen
schönen ewigen Somer machen wird und das fleisch, das da ligt verscharret und ver-
weset, viel schooner und herrlicher erfur bringen, denn es jhe gewest ist, Wie Sanct
Paul jnn der Ersten zun Corinthern am funffzehenden Capitel da von redet: ‘Es wird
geseet jnn unehre und wird aufferstehen jnn herrligkeit, Es wird geseet jnn schwacheit
und wird aufferstehen jnn krafft’. Denn unehre und schwacheit heisst die jemerlich,
schendlich gestalt, das kein schendlicher, unleidlicher ass auff erden ist denn des men-
schen, welchs eine grosse unehre und schande ist der edlen creatur, Aber das sol nicht
schaden, denn es sol widder auff stehen jnn ehren und herrlicher gestalt, Gleich wie das
körnlin, jnn die erden geworffen, mus gar verfaulen und zu nicht werden, aber wenn
der Somer kömpt, so gehets widder erfur mit einem schönen halm und ehern.”
“. . . er werde, wenn die Posaune des Ertzengels gehen wird, gar frölich jnn einem
augenblick aus diesem loch faren Christo entgegen und heller denn die Sonn und alle
sterne leuchten mit uns und allen Christen.”
Related to the question of the modern funeral attendant, Tony Walter reviews
many studies—mostly in the U.K.—in his “Why Are Most Churchgoers Women?: A
Literature Review,” Vox Evangelica 20 (1990): 73–90. Studies that have attempted to
survey religious beliefs in the USA and how they might serve their holders are Daniel
J. Klenow and Robert C. Bolin, “Belief in An Afterlife: A National Survey,” Omega
luther’s 1532 funeral sermons 175

hearing, for he has captured the significance of the funeral sermon

especially, and its occasion. His remarks also help us contrast a preacher
less experienced with death than Luther:
In the religious funeral the celebrant can articulate the faith that the
mourners doubt they have, but would like to have. Even believers need
to have that done for them at this time of all times when faith is assailed.
Many clergy have told me what an unexpected privilege it was when they
conducted their first funeral. They always use that word ‘privilege.’ I am
sure what they are referring to is the privilege of affirming for others in
their time of need what they so desperately want to affirm, but in either
their grief or their unbelief, cannot.86
One unmistakable feature of Luther’s 1532 funeral sermons is their
treatment of grief. In the first sermon Luther’s initial argument is that
human grief over the loss of a loved one is natural, God-given, and
laudable. Since it comes within the exposition of the text, the argu-
ment is surprising, for a natural expectation is that in 1 Thess. 4:13
Paul meant that the Thessalonians, in their worries that their faithful
dead would miss the resurrection, were overdoing their grief. Luther
does address that issue, but not until the second sermon. In the first,
he gives verse 13 the opposite meaning—that Paul intended to com-
mend proper grief by the hopeful, especially since some people want
to avoid it or hide it, either instance of which, says Luther, is evidence
of unnaturalness or hypocrisy. His terms challenge what he says is an
artificial and fabricated concept of virtue (Tugend ), which heathens were
trying to re-establish, but which he condemns as not created by nor
pleasing to God. His evidence for his claim invokes and upholds the
authority of Scripture: (1) ‘Comfort one another’ (verse 18) implies that
there was sorrow and grief; (2) the Thessalonians were Christians; (3)
Paul is not disapproving of their grief; and (4) we also have exemplary
tales of Paul’s grieving at the prospect of losing his friend Epaphroditus

20 (1989–1990): 63–74; Peggy C. Smith, Lillian M. Range, and Ann Ulmer, “Belief
in Afterlife as A Buffer in Suicidal and Other Bereavement,” Omega 24 (1991–1992):
217–225. For a superb and broader study centered outside the USA see Tony Walter,
The Eclipse of Eternity. A recent USA poll is summarized in Thomas Hargrove and Guido
H. Stempel III, “Truth or Fiction? Poll: Most Don’t Believe in Resurrection,” Scripps
Howard News Service, 15 April 2006, http://www.newspolls.org/story.php?story_id=54
(accessed 21 April 2006); cf. C. Kirk Hadaway and Penny Long Marler, “How Many
Americans Attend Worship Each Week? An Alternative Approach to Measurement,”
Journal of the American Academy of Religion 44 (2005): 307–322.
Tony Walter, Funerals, 128.
176 chapter four

(Phil. 2:27) and Christ’s grief at the death of Lazarus ( John 11:33). In
addition to this sanction of grief, Luther adds his own stipulation that
Paul meant for grief to be ‘Christian and in moderation [guter massen
thun]’ and be done ‘properly [billich]’ (WA 36:239.15f.). In the second
sermon he begins his recap of the first sermon by again sanctioning
grief, but this time from the opposite angle. On that earlier occasion he
had begun by affirming the feelings and concerns of his listeners. Now
he starts with a presumption that those listeners have been sufficiently
‘admonished and comforted’ by the text, especially in the Christian
hope that should inform their grief. Hence, in order to show the differ-
ence between pagans and those in Christ, he reminds them that proper
grief will not be marked by weeping and wailing over the deceased.
Their sorrowful feelings indicate a God-given and divinely supported
humanity; at the same time, however, their behavior should charac-
terize those who understand their new nature, brought about by the
death and resurrection of Jesus. Thus, in his treatment of grief Luther
displays aspects of a sermon that seems uniquely suited for comforting
newly bereaved, yet its message contains some of the characteristic
admonitions of any gospel sermon. Ultimate grief and gratitude are
to be directed toward God and the gift of His Son.
A second feature of these sermons that clearly marks them as uniquely
designed for the funeral occasion is Luther’s frequent, endearing mention
of the deceased. However, in this regard, there are distinct differences
between the first and second sermon. In the first sermon—excluding
general references to him as a good friend, a prince, etc.—Luther uses 14
different, specific epithets, 11 of which begin with the personal pro-
noun our (and one with my). Moreover, for all but 2 of the epithets, he
attaches the adjective beloved.87 The second sermon, however, contains
only 2 such epithets of any kind—general or specific. Still, this sec-

In order of occurrence in LW 51:231–255: Our beloved sovereign prince (231); our
beloved head (twice: 231, 248); our head, the beloved sovereign (232); our sovereign prince,
our beloved lord and father (235); our beloved elector (twice: 236, 237); our beloved lord (236); our
beloved ruler (243); our beloved prince (thrice: 237, 238, 238); the good prince (238); our beloved
sovereign (239); Duke John of Saxony (240); our beloved lord and prince (242); my ruler (243);
our beloved, deceased elector (255). In WA 36:237–270: unserm lieben Landsfürsten (237.15);
unser liebes Haubt (237.21); unsers lieben Heubts (261.35); unser Haubt, die liebe Lands Fürste
(239.17); unser Landesfürst, unser lieben Herr und Vater (242.31); unsern lieben Kürfürsten (244.28);
unser lieber Kurfürst (246.16); unser lieben Herrn (245.17); unsern lieben Herren (254.21); unser
lieber Fürst (246.28; 247.22); unserm lieber Fürsten (247.29); der fromme Fürst (248.20); unser
lieben Landsfürsten (248.32); Hertzog Hans von Sachssen (250.21); unser lieber Herr und Fürst
(252.32); mein Herr (254.30); unsern liben Kurfürsten (seligen) (270.11).
luther’s 1532 funeral sermons 177

ond sermon is distinctly oriented around death as exigence, and the

initial and concluding remarks make it clear that the occasion is the
Elector’s death. Why then would Luther barely mention the Elector
in the second sermon?
First, the initial message is the principal occasion for acknowledg-
ing the deceased, the grief of mourners, and the scriptural support
for taking comfort in light of those facts (1 Thess. 4:13–14). The
second message is driven chiefly by the imperative in v. 18—‘comfort
one another with these words’—and the glorious promise of Christ’s
return for his own, in vv. 15–17. Further, excluding 1 Thess. 4:13–18,
Luther used many more Scriptures in the second message (14) than
in the first (4), even though he spent equal time quoting Scripture in
each message.88 He did so in order to support his claims about the
‘new man’ and about God’s care for the saints, especially the dead in
Christ. In the first sermon Luther used nearly three times as much
dialogue as in the second, for he often used such discourse to battle
the natural (and demonic) tendencies toward fear and doubt at time of
death, especially of a popular head of state.89 In both sermons Luther
identifies inclusively with his audience, for there is a much greater use
of the first person plural (and far less use of the second person plural)
than in nonfuneral preaching.90
In addition, his extended remarks about the deceased, Elector John,
are instructive. While there is no mention whatsoever of his deathbed
behavior, nor any comment on John’s course of life, or about his
family, Luther does develop important arguments centering on John’s
professional function and personal faith. We might expect these of the
head of state who supported the Reformation, and Luther blends these
functions to fashion John’s ‘virtues’ of faithfulness as exemplary. He
does not argue that John was perfect but that he was a “very devout,
kindly man, free of all guile, in whom never in my lifetime have I seen
the slightest pride, anger, or envy, who was able to bear and forgive

By rough count of lines of English text in LW (Sermon I, 26 lines; Sermon II,
25 lines).
By rough count of lines of English text in LW (Sermon I, 81 lines; Sermon II,
33 lines).
Somewhat surprisingly, the rate of first plural pronoun usage is higher in the first
sermon (1 pronoun per 3.05 lines of WA text) than in the second sermon (1 pronoun
per 5.02 lines). In other words, the length of each sermon is virtually identical (Sermon
I, 375 lines; Sermon II, 372 lines), but Sermon I has many more first plural pronouns
(123, compared to 74, respectively).
178 chapter four

all things readily and was more than mild” (WA 36:245.16–19).91 But
beyond his character, Luther says more about John’s efforts to lead the
nation: he sometimes failed, but few could have done better. Luther
builds a strong case for appreciating the deceased as a person under
the authority of God, and as a Christian leader who, not surprisingly,
was subject to stronger onslaughts of the devil than the average person.
In this argument Luther elevates the discussion beyond a consideration
of personal merit and onto cosmic proportions. It is God’s strength that
sees the faithful through demonic temptation. Critical in this argument
is Luther’s comparison between ‘real,’ ‘manly’ death and ‘childish,’
‘baby’ death. The former occurs when the Christian dies to sin, dies
with Christ; the latter is only the cessation of bodily functions. No
matter how menacing the latter, we have nothing to fear when our
senses stop and our body decays. Luther dwells on the signs, evidence,
and validity of John’s ‘real’ death, locating them in his baptism and
his faithful, public confession of Christ’s death and resurrection at the
Augsburg Diet. While comprising less than one-sixth of the two sermons,
these arguments about Elector John characterize this first sermon as a
distinctive, funeral message.
Yet these sermons share many important features with all of Luther’s
preaching. For example, Cranach’s painting above the Reformationsaltar
in the Schloßkirche depicts Luther preaching the crucified Christ from
the Kanzel, with the flesh and blood crucifix standing on the church
floor, between himself and his audience. The scene represents Luther’s
understanding and practice of preaching, and these sermons preach
Christ—his death, resurrection, and coming again—much more than
they preach the faith or virtue of Elector John. It is John’s identity
as a Christian, not his own virtue or success, that ensures his status as
‘among those who sleep in Jesus Christ’ (WA 36:248.32f.).92 It is ‘such
exceeding power’ that Christ’s death has that makes, by comparison,
our death a sleep.93 It is the certainty and authority of God’s Word that
alone raises the dead and which alone can be trusted to enable us to
withstand the devil’s efforts to get us to try to measure up on our own.

“. . . seer fromer, freundlicher man gewesen ist, on alles falsch, jnn dem ich noch
nie mein lebtag einigen stoltz, zorn noch neid gespüret hab, der alles leichtiglich tragen
und vergeben kunde, und mehr denn zu viel mild gewesen ist.”
“. . . unter die rechen, die jnn Jhesu Christo schlaffen.”
“. . . solche treffliche macht” (WA 36:240.34).
luther’s 1532 funeral sermons 179

In commenting on Luther’s preaching on 1 Cor. 15, beginning on 11

August 1532, Gerhard Sauter observes:
Preaching is needed because it leads us out of the ‘vale of tears’ into the
future life.94 If this does not happen, then preaching is wasted time and
a useless or even damaging enterprise. . . . What is true of faith—that it
comes from preaching (Rom. 10:17)—is equally true of hope. Preaching
is the indispensable ground of hope because hope comes from God and
cannot be invented by human beings. Preaching declares to us what we
could never tell ourselves. How else are we able to speak of resurrection,
of which we cannot discover even a trace within ourselves?95
The methods of preaching Christ on this occasion are characteristic of
most of Luther’s preaching: (1) he makes more than 20 explicit citations
of Scripture, several more allusions, and altogether calls attention to the
words of Christ, Paul, or the text more than 60 times. In these references
and the arguments they anchor Luther unashamedly admonishes his
listeners to focus on Jesus and God’s love far more than on their loss;
(2) he compares the glory and power of the good and eternal to the
futility or even disgust of what is evil and temporary. With a vividness
that today would make us wince, Luther plainly employs sensual imagery
in speaking about death and decay (quoted earlier): “When you see him
there [in Christ], then the dead body is no longer in the coffin. Even
though the carcass be foul and stinking it makes no difference; turn
your eyes and nose and all five senses away and remember what St.
Paul says in the fifteenth chapter of 1 Corinthians” (WA 36:244.16–18).
Luther uses ‘carcass’ twice more, in just as graphic ways (earlier in this
chapter). Often this earthy, concrete imagery comes in doublets: ‘fright
and trembling’ (LW 51:238), ‘abominable and horrible,’ ‘weak and
sick,’ ‘shame and ignominy,’ ‘bind or imprison’ (LW 51:244).96 Some
of the vivid language comes in longer lists, speaking about the lofty
as well as the lowly: God cared for the dead, even though some were
‘torn and devoured and burned and pulverized’ (WA 36:258.31). This
style of speaking builds emotional power, even when using so-called
abstractions: the old nature “tries to frighten us with misery, distress,

“Sed si baptisatus, ut incipiam aliam vitam, et ista praedicatio ist nicht gericht ad
praesentem vitam, sed quodmodo ex isto jamertal in futuram” (WA 36:534.17–19); LW
28:100; “Sed hoc discite, ut cor vestrum zu richten auff ein ander leben und wesen”
(WA 36:544.12–13); LW 28:108.
Gerhard Sauter, “Luther on the Resurrection,” 195, 197.
Neil R. Leroux, “Luther’s Use of Doublets,” RSQ 30 (summer 2000): 35–54.
180 chapter four

misfortune, poverty, death” (WA 36:257.21); the patriarchs saw the

resurrection from afar, through “dark blue clouds, whereas for us the
clear, bright sun is shining” (WA 36:257.37–39).
In other words, Luther’s rhetorical repertoire was not subdued for
a somber occasion. Like any other pulpit opportunity, these sermons
try to unleash the meaning in the text, using imagery and affect that
renders the proclamation of the gospel potent.



When the close relative of a friend or acquaintance dies, many people

stay away, offering the excuse to others (or themselves) that “I wouldn’t
know what to say.” Sensing social obligation and linguistic barriers, we
want to avoid the chapel visitation, the funeral service, and even the
‘sympathy card.’1 Sometimes we alter our routines in order to make a
face-to-face encounter with the bereaved less likely. It is easier to order
flowers or sign off on a group card (even beg a secretary or spouse to
handle this) than it is to talk—or write to—a bereaved person.2 ‘What
do I say?’ captures the frustration a writer of the consolatory letter feels,
and only part of that frustration can be blamed on a lack of practice
writing personal letters, a condition much older than e-mail. Authoring
a consolatory letter forces us to speak about the unspeakable, to face
severe unhappiness, to address an insoluble problem. Just what that
problem is, and how it is a rhetorical problem, is the broad subject of
this chapter. More specifically, I investigate how Martin Luther—in
whose career as a healer of souls (Seelsorger) we are interested—handled
the rhetorical problem of the consolatory letter.3

“Comfort is a lost art, except for choosing a greeting card. (Our ambivalent feel-
ings about death are reflected here, even: the manufacturers have not yet produced
personalized sympathy cards for a favorite nephew, a sister-in-law, or a dear aunt)”;
Joseph Bayly, The Last Thing We Talk About, 20. On American attitudes and behaviors
toward emotion, see Peter N. Stearns, American Cool: Constructing a Twentieth-Century
Emotional Style (New York, 1994).
The literature on grief and mourning offers differing accounts for this phenom-
enon. Geoffrey Gorer, Death, Grief, and Contemporary Mourning in Britain (London, 1965),
64, claims there are no longer rules of mourning, “so neither the bereaved nor their
friends and neighbours know how to relate to each other. Mutual avoidance is the
solution adopted by one or both sides.” Jane Littlewood, Aspects of Grief (London,
1992), suggests that individuals have strong personal norms about the proper way to
grieve, but these are not necessarily shared by their intimates. As Walter, who suggested
these sources, claims: “it may be that there are too many norms, specific to family of
origin, and not well enough understood by outsiders—including those marrying in”;
The Revival of Death, 18f.
Rudolf Keller, “Luther als Seelsorger,” Lutherische Kirche in der Welt 44 (1997):
101–118; Gerhard Ebeling, Luthers Seelsorge; idem, “Trostbriefe Luthers an Leidtragende,”
182 chapter five

After discussing briefly what kind of rhetorical problem a consolatory

letter addresses, I outline some of what the rhetorical and epistolary
traditions in the sixteenth century had to say about consolation, and
what connections Luther might have had with them. Then I present
an analysis of 20 letters Luther wrote to bereaved parents, spouses,
and siblings—all of them of the Evangelical faith. Finally, I offer some
tentative conclusions.

I. Consolatory Letter as Rhetorical Response

Proverbs 25:11 reads, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a

setting of silver” (emphasis mine). Bitzer’s notion of ‘fitting response’
requires that the rhetor address the appropriate audience, operate within
given constraints and—most important—properly assess the exigence.4
Of the constraints facing consoler and bereaved, the former has values,
beliefs, and opinions on what the bereaved needs in order to find com-
fort. Without personal bereavement experience, the consoler may think
the exigence is one of severe sadness, even depression, which requires
‘cheering up.’5 Depending on the consoler’s (and the culture’s) value
system and experiences, bereavement may be perceived as a radical
anomaly in an otherwise stable, happy life.6 Accordingly, the exigence
then would be seen as: threat to the well being of the bereaved and to

in Kirche in der Schule Luthers: Festschrift für D. Joachim Heubach, ed. Bengt Hägglung and
Gerhard Müller (Erlangen, 1995), 37–48; Herbert Anderson, “Whatever Happened to
Seelsorge?” WW 21 (winter 2001): 32–41 (The entire issue of was devoted to pastoral
Lloyd Bitzer, “The Rhetorical Situation”; cf. “Functional Communication: A Situ-
ational Perspective, in Rhetoric in Transition: Studies in the Nature and Uses of Rhetoric, ed.
E. E. White (University Park, Pa., 1980), 21–38.
“[S]ympathetic assessment of another’s suffering, not to mention the offer of
effective relief, is more likely to come from those who have suffered than from those
who have not”; D. A. Carson, How Long, O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil (Grand
Rapids, 1990), 122.
Such a perception is consistent with Aristotle’s view of the pleasant (Rhetoric 1.11,
1370a–1372a)—that Pleasure is a “movement, a movement by which the soul as a whole
is consciously brought into its normal state of being; and that Pain is the opposite.
If this is what pleasure is, it is clear that the pleasant is what tends to produce this
condition, while that which tends to destroy it, or to cause the soul to be brought into
the opposite state is painful. It must therefore be pleasant as a rule to move towards a
natural state of being, particularly when a natural process has achieved the complete
recovery of that natural state”; Aristotle, Rhetoric, trans. W. Rhys Roberts (New York,
1954), 67.
luther’s consolatory letters 183

the stability of the family and, ultimately, the surrounding community.7

However, as unavoidable and common as death is—as universal[s],
‘independent of culture’ as the ‘phases of personal bereavement’ seem
to be—not all historic periods and cultures handle consolation alike.8 If
we perceive a death as a danger to the economic and psychic equilib-
rium of the social system, our understanding of the exigence may be
somewhat at odds with how the bereaved construes it. Consequently,
the consoler may then see bereavement as an unnatural episode, a
glitch in the system—a problem to be remedied. The consoler may then
offer, as remedy, well intentioned but ill-timed efforts that are not ‘fit-
ting’ because they are not in harmony with the bereaved’s perceptions
and feelings. For example, the consoler may try too hard to cheer up,
may listen too little, offer advice too soon, or act surprised or dismayed
at the lack of ‘progress’ the bereaved is making. In other words, the
consoler’s perception suggests that modification of the exigence requires
‘fixing’ the bereaved’s sadness; while the bereaved’s perception of the
exigence is that it cannot be modified, that there is no ‘fix.’9 Possible
outcomes here, when consolation does not work and grief becomes
seen (by others) as pathological, are despair or ‘mummification,’ where
the bereaved continues not only to treasure the deceased’s memory but
also to care for a loved one’s belongings, room, etc.10 What I am sug-
gesting is that the ‘rhetorical situation’ of consoling a bereaved person,

Donovan J. Ochs, Consolatory Rhetoric, 20–25. Ochs’s book deals with funeral ritual
and discourse, and treats consolatory literature very little.
Ibid., 16; cf. Peter N. Stearns and Mark Knapp, “Historical Perspectives on Grief,”
in The Emotions: Social, Cultural and Biological Dimensions, ed. Rom Harré and W. Gerrod
Parrott (London, 1996), chapter 6. The ‘phases’ or stage-theory of grief has now come
under scholarly question; see Charles W. Brice, “Paradoxes of Maternal Mourning,”
Psychiatry 54 (1991): 1–12; Margaret Stroebe, et al., “Broken Hearts or Broken Bonds:
Love and Death in Historical Perspective,” American Psychologist 47 (October 1992):
1205–1212; C. B. Wortman and R. C. Silver, “The Myths of Coping with Loss,”
Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 57 (1989): 349–357.
Although—consistent with Aristotle’s view of the pleasant, the normal, and the
habitual—the bereaved may indeed view her grief as compulsory (i.e., forced upon her)
and therefore unnatural, grief soon can become habitual. And what is habitual—hap-
pening often, according to Aristotle—is strangely pleasant, feeling normal. In early
periods of profound grief it is common for the bereaved to feel guilty at an occasional
pleasant memory or unexpected smile. Therefore, attempts by others to help the
bereaved feel ‘better’ may be rejected as unnatural and even insulting, implying—as
perceived by the bereaved—that the bereaved’s deceased loved one has been forgotten
or is not worthy of sadness.
Paul C. Rosenblatt, Bitter, Bitter Tears, 36f.; cf. idem., Parent Grief: Narratives of Loss
and Relationship (Philadelphia, 2000).
184 chapter five

particularly through a single letter, is a complicated and delicate matter.

Even for experienced consolers, who could probably be more effective
in face-to-face interaction, the problem of ‘what to write’ is daunting.
So much so, that too often people simply put off the matter entirely.
And it is an absence of people—isolation—that the bereaved too often
have to endure.
Kenneth Burke speaks of a Symbol working—i.e., having appeal—in
several ways: (1) as the interpretation of a situation; (2) by favoring
the acceptance of a situation; (3) as the corrective of a situation.11 He
further argues that a work of literature should ‘fit’ one sort of situation
rather than another, that ‘fit’ may mean corrective to the situation, or
it may fit “simply because the situation enables it to be well received.
The two ways are not necessarily opposed, but are often opposed.”12
For letters of consolation, I believe Burke has it right: how to avoid
opposing viewpoints about post mortem survival! A crucial match of per-
ceived exigence by consoler and bereaved is necessary—first to interpret
the situation properly, then to find acceptance. Only when both have
occurred will any ‘corrective’ result. Accordingly, the Vulgate’s read-
ing of ‘fitly spoken’ (Prov. 25:11) suggests that timing is crucial: “qui
loquitur verbum in tempore suo.” In addition, the writer’s credibility
with the bereaved is essential. Therefore, I try to trace Luther’s rela-
tionship with the bereaved (and the deceased), as well as note Luther’s
increasing experiences with death in his own family.

II. Consolatory Genre in Rhetorical and Epistolary Traditions

The classical tradition has examples of consolation as one of the stan-

dard formal speeches—written for public funerals of war dead, private
individuals, etc.—but they were oral speeches or written records of what

Kenneth Burke, Counter-Statement, 2nd ed. (Berkeley, 1953; reprint ed., 1968),
Ibid., 184, n. 1. Bitzer, “Functional Communication,” 36f., quotes Burke here and
argues that the ‘corrective’ is essential. For example, one of the perplexing issues for
consolers is the paradoxical world in which the bereaved now lives: “individuals expe-
riencing different degrees of disorientation, uncertainty, and insecurity. . . . contradictory
and incompatible urges on the one hand to ‘push the dead away,’ and, on the other, to
‘keep the dead alive’”; Donovan Ochs, Consolatory Rhetoric 27, quoting Robert Blauner,
“Death and Social Structure,” Psychiatry 29 (1966): 387. The most astonishingly astute
article I have ever read, for articulating and analyzing the feelings of contemporary
bereaved parents, is Brice, “Paradoxes of Maternal Mourning.”
luther’s consolatory letters 185

might have been said by the consoler. Hardly any genuine examples exist
of private epistolary consolations in Greek, but we do have examples in
Latin.13 The themes of consolatory writers, whose task is to reconcile
the bereaved to the inevitable, are of two categories: (1) to convince
the mourner that she or he has no cause to grieve because nothing bad
has happened or is happening to the dead; (2) to advocate modera-
tion in grief. In the latter category, reason is said to ease or completely
remove grief; for example, that others have had worse to bear. Other
themes are a laudatory description of the deceased, the participation of
the consoler in the sense of bereavement, and the suggestion that the
mourner apply to himself the good advice with which he has comforted
others.14 While some of these themes show up in Luther’s letters, the
Christian tradition offered correctives to the subject of consolation: (1)
there is a need for reassurance about the deceased’s prospects in the
afterlife; (2) there is the matter of how God’s hand is at work in the
death; and (3) there is the possibility of God, Christ, the Holy Spirit,
and the Word being comforters of the bereaved.
In her work on the Renaissance letter, Judith Rice Henderson has
helped us understand the complexity of the ars dictaminis of the Medi-
eval and Renaissance humanists.15 Letter writing was a far more serious
business then than now. The distinctions we make between private and
public letter writing—and between the familiar and the official let-
ter—were more blurred for the humanists. They sometimes composed
letters that were not original, and they always paid strict attention to
the protocol of social rank—of both writer and recipient. We also
know that the humanists saw and taught letter writing as an exercise
in rhetoric. So, like the classical oration, the letter usually contained
five parts: salutatio, exordium, narratio, petitio, and conclusio. Moreover, the
humanists had views about what style to use for each type of letter.16

Hubert Martin, Jr. and Jane E. Phillips, “Consolatio ad Uxorem (Moralia 608A–612B),”
in Plutarch’s Ethical Writings and Early Christian Literature, ed. Hans Dieter Betz (Leiden,
1978), 399–401.
Ibid., 402f.
Judith Rice Henderson, “Defining the Genre of the Letter: Juan Luis Vives’ De
Conscribendis Epistolis,” Renaissance and Reformation 7 (1983): 89–105; idem, “On Reading
the Rhetoric of the Renaissance Letter,” in Renaissance Rhetoric, ed. Heinrich F. Plett
(Berlin, 1993), 143–162.
Henderson, “On Reading the Rhetoric,” 143–150.
186 chapter five

Because he recognized the letter as a persuasive exercise, Erasmus

(1466/69–1536), in his de conscribendis epistolis (1522), classified letters
under the traditional genera of the classical oration: deliberative,
demonstrative, and judicial. He also discussed familiar letters, under
which comes the letter of consolation, which is deliberative, since it
attempts to persuade the correspondent not to grieve. Most impor-
tantly, Erasmus judged that a letter should be flexible, adapting itself
to the argument, place, time, and person; that its style should likewise
be flexible. He advised that “in consoling [,] it should be soothing and
friendly.”17 Erasmus maintained that a letter is ‘a conversation between
absent friends.’18 He offers direction for the letter of consolation, by
first acknowledging its importance:
. . . no obligation arises more often than that of comforting our friends
with consoling words. Timely and friendly consolation is no ordinary act
of kindness; for in times of distress, when it is not possible to remedy the
anguish of those whom we love through deeds, it at least enables us to ease
their sufferings by words. Yet we must perform this duty skillfully. . . .19
The skill needed will involve determining the state of mind of the
bereaved, whether that person is able to receive reasonable arguments,
or whether a more indirect approach is needed. By today’s standards,
much of Erasmus’s advice is wise, especially for strategically winning the
confidence of the recipient by identifying with the pain of grief before
offering any ‘medicine’ to help ease it. In addition, Erasmus includes
what “piety and the Christian faith should demand of us.”20 This arsenal
of arguments—about how much more blessed is ‘immortality’ than the
misery of life here—adds to the persuasive repertoire.
Whether Luther had read Erasmus’s de conscribendis epistolis, or
other Renaissance humanists on letter writing, is still uncertain (my
sample of Luther’s letters begins in 1524).21 Despite their literary debate
of 1524,22 we know from letters of early 1519 that by then Luther had

Henderson, “Defining the Genre,” 98, quoting de conscribendis epistolis, I.ii.222–3.
Desiderius Erasmus, On the Writing of Letters, trans. Charles Fantazzi, in Collected
Works of Erasmus, vol. 25, ed. J. K. Sowards (Toronto, 1985), 50.
Ibid., 148.
Ibid., 162–164.
Timothy P. Dost’s survey runs only through 1522; see his Renaissance Humanism in
Support of the Gospel in Luther’s Early Correspondence: Taking All Things Captive (Aldershot,
Desiderius Erasmus, “Dialogue on Free Will” (September 1524) and Martin Luther,
“Bondage of the Will” (December 1524 [LW 33:3–295]). Both works are available in
luther’s consolatory letters 187

not only read most of Erasmus’s works but also that he had a great
affection for his work.23 We also know that by 1536 many of Erasmus’s
works were available at the University of Wittenberg library.24 Moreover,
although I have examined only a tiny sample (1%) of Luther’s letters,25
we can see many of the humanist elements in his consolatory letters,
both in form and themes. Yet we see many differences, not the least of
which are: (1) that Luther often restrains his language when speaking
to officials; (2) he often uses self-deprecating remarks; and (3) he always
speaks in far greater detail about the theological resources of Christi-
anity than merely about ‘immortality.’ His manner of speaking fondly
of the deceased, of gently affirming the loss which the bereaved has
experienced, of arguing that since the deceased was a Christian God
has both taken and protected her or him, and that God has not only
caused the grief but will also heal it, shows resources of Christianity far
beyond that which Erasmus offered. Yet Luther still urges moderation
in grieving, sometimes to the point of seeming harsh; he is especially
so to bereaved parents. His letters try to operate within an ethos that
advocates and models the fact that pain and comfort are not evils to be
avoided but are resources that especially allow us to be close to God.

III. Luther’s Letters

The twenty letters I have selected were written during roughly the last
two decades of Luther’s life (1524–1545), because for nearly all of this
period Luther was a ‘family man.’26 He married on 13 June 1525 and,
over the next nine years, became the father of six children (four of

Luther and Erasmus: Free Will and Salvation, ed. E. Gordon Rupp and Philip S. Watson
(Philadelphia, 1969).
See Luther’s 28 March 1519 letter to Erasmus, and Erasmus’s 30 May 1519 letter
to Luther in Lisa Jardine, “Before Clarissa: Erasmus, ‘Letters of Obscure Men,’ and
Epistolary Fictions,” in Self Presentation and Social Identification: The Rhetoric and Pragmatics
of Letter Writing in Early Modern Times, ed. Toon Van Houdt, Jan Papy, Gilbert Tournoy,
and Constance Matheeussen. Supplementa Humanistica Lovaniensia 18 (Leuven, 2002),
385–403, here at 396–399.
Ernest G. Schwiebert, “Remnants of A Reformation Library,” Library Quarterly
10 (1940): 494–531, here at 528.
Approximately 2,580 of Luther’s letters are extant; cf. Gottfried G. Krodel,
“Introduction to Luther’s Letters,” LW 48:xiii.
Nearly all the letters come from Tappert, Chapter II, “Consolation for the
Bereaved,” 53–81. A few letters were found in LW. I have also consulted the texts of
these letters in WABr ; other volumes cited include WATr.
188 chapter five

whom survived him). He also buried both of his parents (father Hans
and mother Margaret both died in May 1530 and 1531, respectively).
With two exceptions these letters are written to: (a) bereaved widows
(three) or widowers (eight) who had recently lost their spouses; and (b)
bereaved parents (seven) who had recently buried sons.27 The remain-
ing letters (c) were addressed to Elector John (1525), four days after the
funeral of his brother, Frederick the Wise, and to Luther’s firstborn son
Johannes, who was grieving the loss of his sister Magdalena, who died
on 20 September 1542, at age thirteen.
From the contents and strategies of the letters it becomes evident that
Luther is preoccupied with two, equally strong, forces: (1) the witness
the death of a Christian has for the world, testifying about the truth
and power of the Gospel over sin and death. This witness speaks not
only through the words and ritual of the funeral, but also through the
behavior of the bereaved; (2) the existential reality of life in Christ for
believers, who must adjust to life without their deceased loved ones.
The life of faith means living each day in the simultaneous grips of
death and life so that, as humans, we experience death in all its worldly
pain and horror. That is why we sometimes face death bravely yet still
mourn the loss of a loved one.
Unlike many contemporary societies, which find the deaths of ado-
lescent and adult children to be the most difficult from which to recover
successfully, Luther’s letters show no such tendency. He is more likely
to address the suddenness or severity of death (e.g., accident or suicide)
as meriting greater consolation than he is to indicate that a bereaved
parent needs more comfort than a bereaved spouse. Several consistent
themes emerge: that God, who knows better than we, is the one who
has taken the loved one; that God created us as feeling, loving creatures,
who naturally will grieve the loss of loved ones; that God, Christ, and
the Word are greater consolers than any human; that a faithful death
is better than a miserable life, through suffering or sinning; and that
there is, however, a need for moderation in grief. Moreover, as he ages,
Luther’s efforts to identify with the grieving through empathy and self-
disclosure continue to intensify as his own personal experiences with
grief accumulate. A brief survey of the letters bears evidence of this

Two widowers, Ambrose Berndt (1532) and Andreas Osiander (1545), had also
lost a child during childbirth.
luther’s consolatory letters 189

dual tendency: to affirm survivors in their grief experiences and to

admonish them to moderate their grief.

A. Letters to Bereaved Parents

Twice in Scripture we read that mourning ‘for an only son’ ( Jer. 6:26;
Amos 8:10) is implied to be the worst of all forms of grief. Luther
not only wrote several letters to bereaved parents but also became one
himself. Since all the following letters were written after 1528, when
Elizabeth died at 8 months, we can only speculate about how Luther
would have spoken to bereaved parents prior to becoming one as well.28
In a 1530 letter to Conrad Cordatus (1480–1546) (Tappert, 60f.),29
pastor at Zwickau and father of a three-month old son who had died,
Luther begins the body of the letter ( petitio) by skipping any exordium
or narratio (with which he would normally begin, especially when he is
the one conveying the news of death, or when he reveals who asked
him to write the letter). He uses doublets to intensify his points: “May
Christ comfort you in this sorrow and affliction [humilitate et afflictione] of
yours. Who else can soothe such a grief ? I can easily believe what you
write, for I too have had experience of such a calamity, which comes
to a father’s heart sharper than a two-edged sword, piercing even to
the marrow, etc.?” (WABr 5:273.1–5).30 This is two years after Elizabeth
had died, and Cordatus knew that, since he and his wife had then lived
with the Luthers in Wittenberg. Cordatus is a close friend, one who
had picked Luther to sponsor the child at his baptism. Luther wanted,
however, to remind him that others have felt—and still feel—such grief;
that, according to his allusion to Heb. 4:12, death wields a power that
rivals that of the Word of God. His rhetorical question (“Who else
can soothe such a grief ?”) affirms the intensity of Cordatus’s plight,
yet at the same time offers hope in Christ alone. Luther does not tell
him how to find comfort in Christ, but he assures him that through
this experience that he will learn the “power of the Word and of faith

Luther’s sister Margaret Kaufman died in 1529, leaving four children, whom
Martin and Katy then raised to adulthood.
WABr 5:273f. [Nr. 1544].
“Christo, qui consoletur te in ista humilitate et afflictione tua, mi Cordate. Quis
enim alius hunc dolorem possit mitigare? Nam facile credo, quae scribis, omnia, utpote
expertus huiusmodi casum, qui patris viscera visitat, penetrabilior omni gladio ancipiti,
pertingensque usque ad medullas etc.”
190 chapter five

which is proved in these agonies” (WABr 5:273.12f.).31 He also reminds

Cordatus that God is “more truly and properly [verior et proprior] a father
than you were” and that He preferred ‘for his own glory’ that the son
should be with him “rather than with you, for he is safer there than
here” (WABr 5:273.6f.).32 Luther’s personal friendship with Cordatus
and his own experience with bereavement help establish the ethos in
this letter that can help console him by perhaps convincing him of these
things, so that he can turn to Christ for comfort. Yet now—two years
after burying his own infant daughter, and just weeks before his own
father will die—Luther acknowledges how difficult it is to hear these
things when newly bereaved. Employing a euphemism (‘a story that
falls on deaf ears’),33 Luther tells the humanist and theologian Cordatus
that since his grief is so new, he will “therefore yield to your sorrow.
Greater and better men than we are have given way to grief and are
not blamed for it” (WABr 5:273.9f.).34 But still Luther claims it is a good
thing for Cordatus to have had this kind of trial, for he can then find
his faith tested. It seems to us, then, that grief is a natural experience,
while at the same time an instrument of God for establishing one in
the faith and testifying to him, and others who observe him, of God’s
power to console and to sustain. Finally, we note an important feature
of consolation, at the end of the petitio and continued as conclusio: that
grief is somehow easier to bear when significant others not simply notice
but care. As with most of the letters to close friends, Luther advises
Cordatus to stay busy (to ‘labor with the Zwickauers’); he tells him to
“Greet the companion of your sorrow”; and he assures him that “My
Katie and our whole household send you greeting.”35 So, not until the
letter’s end does the bereaved mother receive any attention! It is not
so unusual, however, given Luther’s personal friendship with Conrad,
that he would speak to him alone.

“. . . auae sit vis verbi et fidei, quae in his agonibus probata sit.”
“. . . qui verior et propior pater est, quam tu fueris, pro zelo suo maluerit filium
tuum, imo suum, apud se quam apud te essu.”
“. . . surdo fabula” (WABr 5:273.8). Luther may be alluding to Terence, Heauton-
timorumenos, 2.1.10 or Erasmus, Adagia 1.4.87. Cordatus will later become one of the
recorders of Luther’s Tischreden. See OER, 1:430.
“. . . auia luxerunt huiusmodi luctum maiores et meliores, quam nos sumus, nec
tamen reprehenduntur.”
“Poteris autem advolare tempore congruo. . . . Saluta sociam doloris tui. . . . Salutat
te mea Ketha et domus tota” (WABr 5:273.21–25).
luther’s consolatory letters 191

By midyear 1531 Luther has suffered the deaths of both of his par-
ents—his father Hans in April 1530 and his mother Margaret in May
1531. In a 21 October 1531 letter to Mr. and Mrs. Matthias Knud-
sen (Tappert, 61f.)36 Luther explains in his exordium / narratio that the
preceptor had asked him to write. As is characteristic in all the letters
where he is writing to people he hardly knows, and especially when the
death—as here—was that of a Wittenberg University student, Luther
uses the doublet in his first mention of the deceased, with warm, endear-
ing, familial epithets (‘your dear son of blessed memory’).37 Speaking
throughout the letter to both parents, he acknowledges their right to
grieve (“it is quite inconceivable that you should not be mourning”),
Luther quotes Jesus Sirach, “Weep for the dead, for light hath failed
him; but do not mourn much, for he hath found rest (Ecclus. 22:11).”38
This gives him the transition he needs to suggest in his petitio that the
parents not only can find solace in the Scriptures, but that they need to
grieve ‘moderately.’39 He discloses no experiences of his own grief but
rather argues that moderation in mourning is justified by ‘such a good
end’ their son had and that he has joined Jesus in ‘the eternal rest of
Christ.’40 This is a common argument that Luther makes to parents he
is consoling, as he tells them about their sons’ deaths and also—from
his recent vantage point as their academic and spiritual mentor—about
their lives. Such reassurance for the Knudsens includes what all bereaved
parents desperately what to know: how their son died (he went ‘to sleep
in Christ so peacefully’).41 In addition, Luther adds evidence in affirming
that this good death was noted by observers (“everyone marveled that
he continued steadfast to the end in his prayers and in his confession
of Christ”).42 He exhorts the parents to take solace in the fact that they

WABr 6:212f. (Nr. 1877).
“Eurs lieben Sohns seliger Gedächtnis” (WABr 6:212.2).
“Und ist wahr, dasz Euch nicht leid sollt daran geschehen sein” (WABr 6:212.6);
“Du sollt trauren uber den Toten, denn sien Licht ist verloschen; doch sollt du nicht
zu sehr trauren; denn er ist zur Ruge kommen” (WABr 6:213.9–11).
“. . . mit Masze” (WABr 6:213.12).
“. . . der ewigen Ruge Christi” (WABr 6:213.15f.).
“Susziglich und sanft schlafen” (WABr 6:213.16).
“Denn jedermann sich verwundert hat uber der groszen Gnade, dasz er mit Beten
und Bekenntnis Christi bis an sien Ende beständig blieben ist” (WABr 6:213.17–19).
The ‘good death’ is a subject too vast to be explored here. See Frederick S. Paxton,
Christianizing Death: The Creation of a Ritual Process in Early Medieval Europe (Ithaca, 1990);
Jane Littlewood, Aspects of Grief: Bereavement in Adult Life (London, 1992), Chapter 1,
“The Way We Die”; Sister Mary Catharine O’Connor, The Art of Dying Well.
192 chapter five

had a major part in raising a fine son who met such an enviable end;
they had sent him to the right school and invested their love and means
well. Further, they (and all of us) should ‘by God’s grace have such a
death.’43 Luther’s argument that their son died not only peacefully but
also victoriously assists the parents in appreciating their son’s wishes
and perspective (he is now better off, for he is ‘sleeping sweetly and
softly [süsziglich und sanst schlafen]’) as well as in focusing their adjustment
to life without him. This argument is climaxed in the conclusio with a
powerful benediction-doxology, one that includes an appeal that touches
all survivors (they will meet again):
The Lord and supreme Comforter Jesus Christ, who loved your son even
more than you did and who, having first called him through his Word,
afterward summoned him to himself and took him from you, comfort
and strengthen you with his grace until the day when you will see your
son again in eternal joy. Amen (WABr 6:213.30–34).44
It is an affirmation of hope that Luther himself can cling to, for he
looks forward to a reunion with daughter Elizabeth and with both of
his parents.45 Once again, Luther has used the doublet to make a potent
point, whether speaking of the intensity of grief, the manner of dying,
or the power of God’s love.
Luther wrote a very similar letter a year later (1532) to Thomas Zink,
the father of John Zink, who had been a student at the University for
two years and had died two days earlier in Wittenberg (Tappert, 64f.).46
Although the letter is addressed to the father, Luther speaks from the
beginning in second person plural, to both parents. The letter conveys
details of how their son died; the writer uses doublet and triplet to
express himself: In the exordium / narratio Luther reassures the parents
that nothing was spared in the way of ‘care, attention, and medicine’
in efforts to save him but that “the disease got the upper hand and he
was carried off to heaven, to our Lord Jesus Christ.”47 From the writer’s
perspective, Luther tells them how much John was loved, particularly

Solchen Abscheid durch Gottes Gnad haben möchten (WABr 6:213.25f.).
“Der Herr und höchter Tröster, Jesus Christus, der Euren Sohn lieber denn Jhr
selbs gehabt und zu sich selbs erstlich durch sein Wort beruffen und hernach zu sich
gefoddert und von Euch genommen, der tröste und stärk Euch mit Gnaden bis auf
den Tag, da Jhr Euren Sohn wieder sehen werdet in ewigen Freuden, Amen.”
Martin Brecht, Martin Luther, 2:377f.
WABr 6:300–302 (Nr. 1930).
“. . . so ist doch die Krankheit zu mächtig worden und hat ihn weggenommen und
zu unserm Herrn Jesu Christo gebracht in den Himmel” (WABr 6:301.6–8).
luther’s consolatory letters 193

by Luther himself, who often had the young man sing at mealtimes in
his home; as a student, the boy was ‘quiet, well-behaved, and diligent’
in his studies. He tells the father that all the University community
feels distress at this death; that they would have preferred to ‘save
him and keep’ him, but that God loved him and desired him more.
In the petitio—invoking the parents’ perspective—Luther tells them
what they already know but should also thank God for: that John was
such a ‘good, pious’ son; that God deems them worthy of the ‘pains
and money’ and that they must “Grieve in such a way, therefore, as to
console yourselves.”48 They have not lost their son but have only “sent
him on ahead of you,” after which Luther paraphrases 1 Thess. 4:13,
the text he had used at the 1525 funeral sermons for Elector Frederick
and which, about four months from the writing of this letter (1532),
he will use again for Elector John’s funeral sermons.49 To assist them
in that, he asks the preceptor to send “some of the beautiful words
your son uttered before his death. They will please and comfort you.”50
Luther seems confident that he knows what will comfort them, for he
continually assures the parents not only that theirs was a good son but
that his death was a testimony to all that the Reformation stands for,
particularly about death:
But let this be your best comfort, as it is ours, that he fell asleep (rather
than departed) decently and softly with such a fine testimony of his faith
on his lips that we all marveled. There can be as little doubt that he
is with God, his true Father, in eternal blessedness, as there can be no
doubt that the Christian faith is true. Such a beautiful Christian end as
his cannot fail to lead heavenward. In addition, you should also consider
how grateful you ought to be that, unlike many others, he did not have
a perilous and pitiful death. Even if he had lived a long time, you could
not, with your means, have helped him to anything higher than some sort
of office or service. And now he is in a place that he would not exchange
for all the world, even for a moment (WABr 6:301.19—302.30).51

“Darumb betrubt Euch also, dasz Jhr Euch viel mehr auch trostet” (WABr
WA 17I:196–227 (1525); LW 51:231–255 [=WA 36:237–270] (1532).
“. . . werde Euch etlich seiner schonen Wort, fur seinem Ende geredt, zuschreiben,
die Euch gefallen und Euch trosten werden” (WABr 6:302.34–36).
“Aber das soll Euch (wie es auch uns tut) auf hohest trosten, dasz er so säuberlich
und sanft entschlaffen ist (mehr dann verschieden) mit solchem seinen glauben, Ver-
nunft, Bekenntnis, dasz uns alle Wunder hat und kein Zweifel sein kann, so wenig der
christlich Glaub falsch sein kann, er sei bei Gott seinem rechten Vatter ewiglich selig;
den nein solch schon christlich Ende kann des Himmelreichs nit feilen. Wollet auch
daneben bedenken, wie viel Euch zu danken und zu trosten sein will, dasz er nicht
194 chapter five

In June 1533 Luther comforted the Wittenberg jurist and Bürgermeister,

Benedict Pauli, whose only son had died in a bird hunting accident.52
Not a letter in the strict sense, but oral remarks (thus lacking salutatio,
exordium / narratio, and conclusio), this address—delivered to Pauli person-
ally, in his home, in the company of others—is roughly twice as long
as most of the consolatory letters (Tappert, 67–69).53 It takes a much
firmer, even harsh stance towards its recipient, which is Pauli alone.
However, since others are present, these remarks take on many char-
acteristics of a funeral sermon, except that there is no Scripture text.
Luther talks about the accidental death as an evil (malum) and discusses
this death in a fashion that shows God at work, not directly in the tak-
ing of life but in the consolation process. He begins by acknowledging
the rightness of grief, supplying scriptural examples of godly fathers
who grieved; there are many examples, he says, of godly ‘patriarchs
and kings’ who mournfully wailed ( gravissime luxerunt) their sons’ deaths.
But Luther argues forcefully for ‘a certain moderation in our grief.’54
Making no disclosure of his own parental grief of five years earlier,
Luther implies that Pauli is now overdoing it. He argues that Job saw
that there is consolation in recognizing that the good we receive from
God far outweighs the bad, for even though he lost his ‘goods and
his children,’ he measured both the ‘good and the evil’ and learned
what Pauli must also learn: that ‘more and much greater [multo maiora
et plura]’ good comes from God. Indeed, Luther uses more superla-
tives and doublets to show Pauli that his present grief has blinded
him from remembering God’s “great and most excellent goods and
gifts [maximorum et praestantissimorum bonorum ac donorum].” Moreover,
several patriarchs suffered more: (1) While not even having buried
his son, Abraham had ‘more and greater [longiorem et acerbiorem]’ grief
than Pauli, by having been ordered to slay his own son; (2) likewise,
for Jacob, by having believed his son suffered a terrible death; and (3)
David, by having a rebellious son. ‘These and similar’ examples should
help Pauli compare the ‘misfortune and grief ’ of these others with his

(wie vielen andern geschicht) färlich oder jämmerlich umbkommen ist. Und wenn er
schon lang gelebt hätte, wurdet Ihr doch mit Eur Kost ihm nit hoher haben helfen
mugen, denn etwa zu einem Ampt oder Dienst. Nu aber ist er an dem Ort da er gar
ungern mi taller Welt mechslen wollte, auch nicht auf ein Augenblick.”
Pauli had served with Luther on the four-man Saxon Visitation of 1528; Martin
Brecht, Martin Luther, 2:270.
WATr 1:474–480 (Nr. 949).
“Sed tamen debet quidam modus esse lugendi” (WATr 1:475.1f.).
luther’s consolatory letters 195

own, and thus be greatly ‘relieved and lightened.’ Knowing full well
that every grief is personal, Luther uses prolepsis to anticipate how
Pauli’s grief is unique for him—in that he lost his only son, through a
tragic accident—thereby invoking typical features of grief ’s measures:
the significance of the child and the manner of death—as measures
of parental grief, both must be perceived by them and not assessed by
others. So Luther tells Pauli he may receive more sons from God.55
Realizing that he cannot guarantee that, Luther boldly uses his typi-
cal topos of consolation—God’s great love. Luther assures Pauli that,
should he remain childless and even lose ‘your wife, your fortune, and
all that you have,’ he still has Christ’s favor, God’s graciousness to him,
and spiritual gifts that remain ‘safe and everlasting’ long after even
death. However, he does acknowledge and affirm Pauli’s feelings, seen
especially in the following concessions: “But at the present time your
eyes are fixed only on the evil. . . .”; “We concede, of course, that the
evil that has befallen you is a very grave one.”56 Through paraphrase,
Luther also anticipates Pauli’s concerns, thus acknowledging them,
and then gently rebutting them with arguments: “ ‘But,’ you will say,
‘he died such a horrible death!’ ”; “Are you afraid, then, that the Lord
took your son in wrath?”; “although human nature cries out against
this and imagines that God is angry.”57 The persuasive purpose in this
message is to blend refutation of any thoughts that God’s wrath is at
work in sudden or accidental death (compare the legal term ‘acts of
God’) with the consolatory message that God is at work in the midst
of, and in spite of, tragedy, ready to comfort. Small wonder, then, that
early printed versions of this document circulated, for the message has
an enduring rhetorical appeal.58 What we may still wonder, though, is
whether Luther will be so firm once he has himself experienced the
pain of losing his favorite child.
In 1538 Luther learned of the death in Freiberg of his old and
trusted friend Nicholas Hausmann (1478/79–1538) who, according

Luther’s second son Paul was born in January 1533. Bereaved parents today are
enraged when told they ‘can always have more children.’ Such is less likely to happen
today than in the sixteenth century. Indeed, Pauli later had more children.
“Sed isto tempore in hoc tantum malum defixi sunt oculi tui (WATr 1:476.3f.); Sed
concedimus sane malum quod accidit tibi, esse gravissimum (WATr 1:476.13).
“At horribili genere mortis periit, inquies” (WATr 1:478.6); “Et times, ne succensens
tibi Dominus filium eripuerit?” (WATr 1:478.11); “. . . quamlibet reclamet natura humana
et Deum fingat iratum” (WATr 1:478.13f.).
See editor’s remarks at Tappert, 67.
196 chapter five

to Harry Haile, was ‘his chief comforter in distress,’ particularly in

letters.59 At first, news of his friend’s death was kept from Luther.
Yet even in a 1539 letter to Catherine Metzler of Breslau (Tappert,
72f.) he urges moderation in grieving.60 Like the letter to Zink, this
one reminds us of Luther’s affection and concern for his students.61
Mrs. Metzler’s husband had died nine months earlier, and now, seven
months after her son Kilian has died, Luther “could not refrain from
writing.”62 Focusing only on the loss of the son—while seldom using the
deceased’s first name—Luther here continues his practice of familial
language through endearing epithets and personal pronouns (‘your
beloved son’; ‘our dear Father’). He uses the doublet abundantly, even
in his endearing epithets; often these doublets are asyndetic, as seen
first in his salutatio: “To the honorable, virtuous Mrs. Catherine Metzler,
citizen in Breslau, my gracious, good friend.”63 Using more doublets,
Luther acknowledges her grief (‘sorely oppresses and hurts you’) and
argues that it is right and natural to grieve, especially one’s own ‘blood
and flesh,’64 that God created us this way; we are not ‘stones and sticks’
but should ‘mourn and bewail’ our dead.65 Yet he suggests to her that
“our grief should be moderate, for our dear Father is testing us here
to see whether we can love and fear both in joy and in sorrow [Lieb
und Leydt] and whether we can give back to him what he has given us
in view of his intention to give us something more and better” (WABr
8:485.11–15).66 The appeal is to duty to God—whose will is ‘gracious,

H. G. Haile, Luther: An Experiment in Biography (Garden City, N.Y., 1980), 76. Susan
Karant-Nunn also reminds us of Luther’s correspondence with Hausmann, concerning
the death of Elizabeth in 1528 (WABr 4:511, Nr. 1303); see her “ ‘Fast ware mir ein
weibliches Gemüt verblieben’: Martin Luthers Männlichkeit,” in Luther zwischen den Kul-
turen, ed. Hans Medick and Peer Schmidt (Göttingen, 2004), 49–65, here at 49, 60f.
An English translation of this letter is also now found in Luther on Women: A Source-
book, ed. and trans. Susan C. Karant-Nunn and Merry Wiesner-Hanks (Cambridge,
2003), 214f.
WABr 8:484f. (Nr. 3354). On Luther’s concern for his students see Lewis Spitz,
“Luther’s Social Concern for Students,” in The Social History of the Reformation, ed.
Lawrence P. Buck and Jonathan W. Zophy (Columbus, Ohio, 1972), 249–270.
“Habe nicht können wegern Euch zw schreyben” (WABr 8:485.4).
WABr 8:485.1f.; Tappert, 72 inserts conjunctions in both these doublets.
Tappert, 72 reverses the doublet. When she rereads the letter, Mrs. Metzler may
notice that Luther uses the same terms to describe her, her son, and God the Father.
“Hertiglich drucken wirdt vnd schmertzen” (WABr 8:485.6–10). This is precisely
the warrant for grief that Luther used in the 1532 funeral sermons of Elector John
the Steadfast.
Tappert, 72 reverses the first two doublets: “Sonderlich zu den vnsern, Doch das
es eine masse habe, Denn der liebe vater vns dadurch versucht, ob wir auch ihn konnen
luther’s consolatory letters 197

good [ gnedigen guthen]’67 but also to a motivation out of love and the
prospect of a better future. He closes the appeal by reminding her
that God bore a harder cross ‘for you and for all of us,’ making our
crosses ‘nothing or small.’68 As with previous letters of consolation,
there is also reassurance of: (1) her son’s faithful death, though it is
treated sparsely, for Luther is not conveying news but rather recalling
what his recipient already accepts but needs to be put into a context of
contrast: his ‘Christian and blessed’69 departure from wretched world;
(2) his dutiful life, as a ‘well behaved, godly’ boy;70 (3) and of God’s
desire to ‘protect and save’ from the world’s harm, given the ‘perilous,
evil’ times. Luther uses a biblical argument to invite Mrs. Metzler to
consider her suffering in comparison to a biblical character who suffered
worse (David and his rebellious son, Absalom). In this same appeal,
Luther helps his reader align her grief with others in Scripture (Elijah
and Jonah), the latter of whom said, “It is better for me to die than to
live” (1 Kings 19:4; Jonah 4:3). This appeal to count her blessings is
completed with Luther’s assertion that even ‘emperors and kings’ have
lower stations than her son now occupies. He also tells her, as he did
the Knudsens, that one can be of good cheer when comparing the
benefits of the good death to the misery of the shameful death. The
concluding benediction incorporates the words of 2 Cor. 1:3, which,
surprisingly, Luther has used only once thus far in these letters: “God,
the Father of all comfort, abundantly strengthen your faith with his
spirit. Amen.”71 Luther must believe that this is indeed possible, many
months and even years post mortem.
In December 1544, two years after his beloved daughter Magdalena
died at home at age thirteen,72 Luther had the task of bearing bad news
to Georg Hoesel, the father of another of his young students, Jerome
(Tappert, 78f.).73 As he writes to Hoesel, a mine clerk in Marienberg,
Luther reports that he is ‘reluctant’ but that “necessity requires that

lieben vnd furchten beyde jn lieb vnd leydt, auch ob wir jhm konnen wieder geben,
was er vns gegeben hat, auff das er vrsach habe, mehr vnd bessers zugeben.”
Tappert, 73 adds a conjunction.
Tappert, 73 reverses the doublet.
WABr 8:485.20.
Tappert, 73 inserts a conjunction in the doublet.
“Gott, der vater alles trostes, stercke ewern glauben mit seynem geist reichlich,
Amen” (WABr 8:485.29f.).
Luther’s niece Lene Kaufman Berndt, whom Martin and Katy had raised, lost
her husband in 1541.
WABr 10:698f. [Nr. 4049].
198 chapter five

this be done,” that he tell him “your dear son Jerome departed this life
in accordance with God’s will” (in his first semester at University).74 In
mentioning his own experience as a bereaved father, Luther uses his own
credibility gently to urge his reader to moderate his grief, based upon
the fact that Christ is savior (three times ‘Jesus’ or ‘Christ’ is paired with
‘saviour’) and that the young man was in Christ: Using two quotations
from Matthew 18, Luther makes the following argument:
Inasmuch as Christ here clearly asserts [ Matt. 18:14] that this young
man, who had a knowledge of God and was in the Church, is acceptable
to God and is not to perish, and inasmuch as Christ indicates . . . [ Matt.
18:10], you must have no doubt that your son is rejoicing with our Sav-
iour, Christ, and with all the saints (WABr 10:699.9–13).75
In the 8 lines of personal exhortation (nearly one-third of the letter),
Luther uses 9 first person pronouns, and only two of them are singu-
lar. In other words, having stipulated his own experience (I/my), he
proceeds to identify with his reader (we/us/our). Luther first reassures
him that Christ’s words prove it is not God’s will that any ‘little ones
should perish’ (Matt. 18:14), that the young man was faithful, and
now better off. Moreover, he argues that the pain must be resisted and
comfort taken in the knowledge of eternal salvation: “But our sorrow
should be temperate and not too severe.”76 The contemporary notion
of ‘grief work’ has nothing on Luther, for his recommendations imply
an active strategy of countering (or complementing) the memories of
pain with the comfort of Christ’s consolation.77 His concluding infor-

“Wiewohl ich euch nicht gerne diese traurige Botschaft zu erkennen gebe, dasz
euer lieber Sohn Hieronymus aus dieser Welt in Gottes Willen verschieden ist, so
fordert es doch die Nothdurst” (WABr 10:699.3–6).
“Dieweil dann Christus klar spricht, dasz diese Jugend, so in Gottes Erkennt-
nisz und Kirchen ist, sey Gott gefällig und sole nicht verloren seyn, sagt dabey ein
Zeichen . . . sollet ihr nicht zweifeln, er sey bey unserm Heiland Christo und bey allen
Seligen in Freuden.”
“. . . doch soll die Traurigkeit mäszig und nich zu heftig seyn” (WABr 10:699.
Paul C. Rosenblatt, Bitter, Bitter Tears, 32–40. I recommend reading this chapter
on “The Theory of Grief Work” for anyone whose knowledge of contemporary grief
theory and therapy consists only in Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s ‘stages’ of grief (1969).
Rosenblatt shows how the theory of grief work has its beginnings in Freud’s “Mourning
and Melancholy” (originally published in 1917), whose foundation was subsequently
built upon by Lindemann’s work (1944) with survivors and relatives of the Cocoanut
Grove night club fire, and by Gorer’s (1967) work on pathologies of the grief work
process. Of stage theories of grief Jane Littlewood concludes: “Grief simply does
not follow any kind of ordered linear progression. If anything [,] the experiences of
luther’s consolatory letters 199

mation in the petitio provides details about the fever that caused not
only Jerome’s death but also that of others Luther discusses. He offers
the perspective of shared suffering to bring some solace. However, the
few simple doublets offered speak exclusively of Christ’s resources—the
salutatio’s “grace and comfort of God through his only-begotten Son,
Jesus Christ our Saviour”; the conclusio’s invocation to God to ‘comfort
and strengthen.’
Our final letter to a bereaved father comes in 1545 to Caspar Hey-
denreich, a former table companion of Luther and now chaplain at
court in Freiberg, of Duchess Catherine of Saxony (Tappert, 79f.).78
The letter is brief, the exordium / narratio reporting having heard that
a little son was born and died and that “you are deeply distressed by
this because you did not even get to see the fruit of your flesh.”79 This
natural desire to see the corpse and find closure is acknowledged by
Luther, but in rather terse way: “Lay aside your sorrowing. Rejoice,
rather, because he was reborn in Christ80 and because you will see him in
glory whom you have not seen here in this wretched world.”81 Quoting
the Wisdom of Solomon (4:11, 13), Luther reminds Heydenreich that
he also knows and teaches these things. Whether or not that strategy
works, at least it acknowledges to the bereaved that he has a profession
to maintain, and work that needs him. Luther then reaffirms tenderly
the right to grieve, assuring him there is no disgrace in being moved
“somewhat by the natural, carnal affection of a father. The term ‘father’
is in itself one of sweet affection. For we are not stones, nor ought
we to be.”82 However, included in the recognition that God made us

grief are better characterized in terms of wave after wave of violently contradictory
emotional impulses. Paradoxically, the stage/phase presentation may only ever make
sense to people who have not had the experience, i.e., in all probability most young
to middle-aged health care professionals”; “Aspects of Grief,” quoted in Walter, Revival
of Death, 69. See also Paul C. Rosenblatt, Patricia R. Walsh, and Douglas A. Jackson,
Grief and Mourning in Cross-Cultural Perspective (n. c., 1976). For a very recent and tren-
chant discussion of concepts of bereavement and grief, see Philip Bachelor, Sorrow &
Solace, 23–37.
WABr 11:75f. (Nr. 4094); cf. John T. Pless, “Baptism as Consolation in Luther’s
Pastoral Care,” CTQ 67 (2003): 19–32, here at 26.
“. . . id quod te aegerrime ferre dicunt, quod scilicet fructum carnis tuae non
videris” (WABr 11:76.3f.).
Late Medieval Christians were often prohibited from burying their unbaptized
dead children in the church cemetery.
“Sed desine contristari, gaude potius, eum esse in Christo renatum, quem visurus
sis in gloria, quem hic non videris in ista miseria” (WABr 11:76.4f.).
“Si carnali et naturali affectu patris, quod nomen est dulcissimum, ex parte moveris.
Non enim saxa sumus nec esse debemus” (WABr 11:76.9–11).
200 chapter five

feeling creatures is the obligation to maintain balance: “But moderation

is necessary in these things.”83 It seems that Luther’s bereaved recipi-
ent is not so immobilized but rather capable of responding to appeals
not only to scriptural comfort and personal empathy, but also to the
eloquence of wisdom and reason.
In all these letters to bereaved parents, then, Luther affirms the right
to grieve, while in all but two (Cordatus and Zink) he admonishes par-
ents to grieve moderately. In every case he tells them they have much
to be thankful for, even though they may not be able to understand or
appreciate it now. Luther’s words about the deceased are tender, and
he assures each parent of God’s faithfulness in taking each child unto
Himself. With language that is mostly affectionate, he reminds all par-
ents that God understands their loss, and in several cases Luther briefly
recounts his own losses (including the loss of two daughters), for he
believes that knowing one is not alone and not misunderstood is some
consolation. Luther speaks constantly in familial language, and he calls
God a loving Father; indeed, more than once Luther argues that God
is a greater father than the parent he now addresses. He characterizes
eternal life with Christ as far better than anything this life offers, some-
times adding the thought that the deceased child would not want to
return. Included in what one thanks God for is the Reformation faith,
which marks believers as considerably better off than the papists, and
having less sorrow than some biblical characters.

B. Letters to Surviving Spouses

Among the eleven letters there is one from 1524 (Tappert, 53–55), thus
predating Luther’s marriage.84 This letter stands apart from the others
in that, like the 1533 letter to Pauli, it was printed in leaflet form the
same year, with the preface (in an unknown hand) stating its intention
“as a comfort for those who are mourning for loved ones who have fallen
asleep or died” (Tappert, 55).85 Appreciated by others as an exemplary

“. . . sed modus est in rebus”; the quote comes from Horace, Satires 1.l.106: “There
is measure in all things. There are, in short, fixed bounds, beyond and short of which
right can find no place [est modus in rebus, sunt certi denique fines, quos ultra citraque
nequit consistere rectum]”; H. Rushton Fairclough, trans., Horace: Satires, Epistles and
Ars Poetica (London, 1961), 13.
WA 18:1–7; the text of the letter is on pp. 5–7.
“. . . ain trost deren so sich beschmertzen vmb die verstorbenen oder schlaffenden”
(WA 18:2).
luther’s consolatory letters 201

consolation, Luther’s message focuses more on the proper Christian

position with respect to the living and the dead; it says nothing about
controlling grief, save for the exhortation to ‘cheerfully give God what is
his.’86 In fact, of all this group of letters, only one (to Ambrose Berndt
in 1528) exhorts directly its recipient to moderation. Since Luther’s 1532
(first) funeral sermon for Elector John the Steadfast stated at the outset
that “the habit and custom of holding masses for the dead and funeral
processions when they are buried has ceased” (LW 51:231), scholars
have speculated about precisely how and when such Catholic practices
came to be abandoned by Luther and his followers in the early years of
the Reformation.87 Luther’s 1 September 1524 letter to Bartholomew
von Staremberg sheds a small ray of light on this historical question,
for in two of the petitio’s three paragraphs it admonishes the Austrian
nobleman to discontinue his ‘masses, vigils, and daily prayers’ for his
wife’s soul. ‘Once or twice’ is enough, he says, quoting John 14:12–14,
for repeated asking for the same thing is a sign of unbelief, which will
anger (ertzürnen) God. Masses and vigils are unchristian and greatly anger
God; they lack earnestness and faith and are a useless mummery (unnutz
Gemürmel ), a mockery (spot) of God, a ‘shameful and terrible’ thing. Pil-
ing on the accusations—at clergy, priests, and monks—Luther offers the
antitheses that God instituted the mass as “sacrament for the living and
not an offering for the dead” and that men changed a “sacrifice for the
living into a good work and sacrifice for the dead” (WA 18:7.6–10).88
“Do not participate in this horrible error.”89 The strategy and power
of this three-paragraph petitio is its trajectory of climax, building upon
a gentle start towards a strong finish, without any personal accusation.
Indeed, in his exordium and narratio Luther clarified how he came to write
to this virtual stranger with Reformation sympathies. He acknowledges
gently the character of the deceased wife and how deserving she is of
her husband’s good works. By demonstrating his sincerity and appre-
ciation for his receiver’s needs, Luther can then begin his petitio by first
arguing—through the use of a series of balancing doublets—that von
Staremberg should accept God’s ‘just exchange and strange barter’

“Darumb gebe Got das seine fro(e)lich” (WA 18:6.15).
Craig Koslofsky, The Reformation of the Dead, 81–115.
“. . . die messz nicht für die todten sonder zu(o)m sacrament für die lebendigen; . . . ma-
chen ausz disem und andern gotes einsetzungen ein werck und opfer für die todten
ausz dem sacramentt der lebendigen.”
“. . . sich nit tailhaffttig machen dises greülichen jrtumbs” (WA 18:7.10f.).
202 chapter five

whereby a ‘dear, faithful [trewen lieben]’ God has first given, and now
taken away, a ‘dear, faithful [theüren Truwen]’ wife.90 In her death von
Staremberg has lost a ‘dear, tender [zartes liebs]’ wife and has gained a
‘dear, tender [zarten lieben]’ will of God, which must be apprehended
by faith, and it must be cheerfully acknowledged. The conclusio assures
von Staremberg of the support and best wishes of their mutual friend,
Vincent Wernsdorfer, who asked Luther to write and who supports the
aforementioned position on prayers, masses, and vigils; it is others who
would lead him astray. The benediction models the attitude Luther tries
to maintain in this letter, and it summarizes his priority for the message:
“Christ enlighten and strengthen you in true faith and in love of your
neighbor. Amen” (Tappert, 55).91
During summer and fall of 1527 Luther had severe health prob-
lems, and then plague broke out in Wittenberg. The University was
temporarily moved to Jena, while Luther and Johannes Bugenhagen
(1485–1558) remained in the city to care for the sick. Greatly shaken
by the deaths of Hanna, wife of deacon Georg Rörer (1492–1557),
and of Bugenhagen’s sister—as well as little Hans’s illness and Katy’s
pregnancy—Luther wrote Whether One May Flee From a Deadly Plague,
in response to a request from Johan Hess (1490–1547) of Breslau.92
Three months after Elizabeth died he wrote to a widow Margaret in
December 1528 (Tappert, 58f.). He focuses primarily on comforting the
woman by addressing her specific concern: whether her husband, who
had committed suicide, died in the Lord.93 Having learned of the matter
through her son, Luther reassures her that her husband was engaged
in a hard struggle—a battle between Christ and the devil—and that
Christ both ‘engaged and won’ the victory. Using more of this battle
language—that he uses in no other letter of consolation—Luther likens

Tappert, 55 includes conjunctions in the latter two doublets.
“Christus erleücht und sterck in rechttem glawben und lieb gegen dem nechsten.
Amen” (WA 18:7.19f.).
LW 43:113–138.
WABr 4:624f. (Nr. 1366). Suicides were often prohibited from churchyard burial.
See R. C. Finucane, “Sacred Corpse, Profane Carrion: Social Ideals and Death Rituals
in the Later Middle Ages,” Mirrors of Mortality: Studies in the Social History of Death, ed.
Joachim Whaley (New York, 1981), 40–60, here at 56; Craig M. Koslofsky, “Controlling
the Body of the Suicide in Saxony.” From Sin to Insanity, ed. J. R. Watt (Ithaca, 2004),
48–63. The 2003 film Luther (Directed by Eric Till), includes a fictional account of
Father Martin taking it upon himself to bury a young man who hung himself. Luther
assures the horrified gravedigger, and the onlookers, that the devil provokes suicide
and that such victims are not outside the grace of God.
luther’s consolatory letters 203

the husband’s struggle to how Christ struggled in the garden and won.
While the self-infliction is a sign of the devil’s power over the body’s
members—the devil can break ‘arms, legs, backs, and all members’—the
Christian confidence that the husband had when he died is a sign of
his coming to himself and turning to Christ’s victory. Luther quotes
several Scriptures to assure the woman that those who die in the Lord
are blessed (Rev. 14:13; John 11:25) and that there must be mourn-
ing if there is to be comfort (Matt. 5:4; Ps. 44:22 [= 43:22 Vulgate]).
Throughout this letter Luther provides mostly assurance, scarcely any
exhortation to moderate her grief, and credits God for it all.
Luther’s letter in early 1532 to a former student, Ambrose Berndt,
comforts the man after the deaths of his wife and newborn son in
childbirth, addressing almost entirely a husband’s loss (Tappert, 62f.).94
Since Berndt had studied in Wittenberg and was a friend (six years
later he would marry Luther’s niece, Lene Kaufmann), Luther’s letter,
in Latin, skips the exordium and narratio and immediately begins a four-
paragraph petitio.95 The first paragraph focuses on acknowledging the
grief by stating—as Luther has frequently done—that Berndt is a man.
However, Luther’s very first words are that he “is not so inhuman that
[he] cannot appreciate how deeply the death of Margaret distresses
you” (Tappert, 62).96 He also acknowledges that a husband’s bond to his
wife is strong; therefore, the commensurate sorrow is not displeasing to
God. Since He has implanted these feelings for a wife, it is consistent
with being both man and husband to grieve. One cannot ‘at once throw
off’ one’s grief.97 However, the petitio then develops an argument for
moderation—to keep within God’s will, ‘to put a limit to one’s sorrow
and grief ’ (Tappert, 62).98 Luther’s rationale for this argument begins
with a moving description of why Berndt should miss his wife, listing
her gifts and abilities and how they beautifully matched her husband’s
needs. Note how Luther employs doublet and anaphora:

WABr 6:279–281 (Nr. 1915). Berndt received the master’s degree in 1528 (Tap-
pert, 62).
Martin Brecht, Martin Luther, 3:238.
“Non sum adeo inhumanus, mi Ambrosi, ut nesciam, quantopere te exerceat mors
Margarethae” (WABr 6:280.1f.). Note that Tappert’s salutatio (‘My dear Ambrose,’ 62)
is actually apostrophe in the middle of Luther’s opening sentence. A second apostrophe
(“mi Ambrosi”) is found in the opening sentence of the petitio (WABr 6:280.7).
“. . . poerorem eiicere posses” (WABr 6:280.8).
“. . . eatenus tibi permitto moerorem illum, quatenus non est contra voluntatem
Dei. Necesse est enim, tandem tristitiae, et sollicitudinum quendam fieri modum”
(WABr 6:280.7–9).
204 chapter five

Wherefore you ought to reflect in this manner: You are at first wretched
in this world because your wife and son have been taken away. No hurt
so painful as this can befall a man in his domestic life. It is especially
so in your case because you had a wife who was furnished with such
uncommon gifts, who was so accommodating to you in all respects, who
was so modest and adorned with the best manners, and, what is most
important, who was able in an unusual degree to delight your heart and
move your soul with pleasant and Christian conversation. And I know
for certain that nothing makes you more wretched than the realization
that she was a gentle spirit who was well suited to your temperament
(WABr 6:280.9–16).99
The rationale continues to suggest how Berndt can orchestrate his
thoughts, stimulating him to recall that his wife died in the “performance
of her God-given duty and in the exercise of her proper calling” of
giving birth. Moreover, she faced her death with ‘resolute spirit and
a firm faith’ in Christ. Luther’s argument thus presents Berndt with
a model of how he should now think, feel, and act—by recounting
for him how the deceased died and by reciting some of the beloved’s
wishes. While there is no evidence that either Luther or Berndt wor-
ried about the medieval proscriptions against churchyard burial of
unbaptized infants,100 God’s goodness is championed, for He allowed
the baby John not only to be born, but also ‘baptized and then buried
together with his mother.’101 Hence, how can he remain sad or despon-
dent, for Luther reminds Berndt that he has the capacity to allow his
spiritual gifts and thoughts to overcome the physical loss. In attempting
to exhort Berndt to manage his grief, Luther has blended tender talk
with tough reasoning:
You should give careful thought to these two things. . . . Occupy yourself
with these thoughts unceasingly and control your grief [exerce et minue]
as much as you can. Comfort yourself with the Word of God, the pre-
eminent consolation. Learn too to thank God for the spiritual gifts that
he gave your wife, Margaret. At the same time pray that our common

“Quare ita tecum cogitabis: primum te esse miserum in hoc mundo, cum ablata
sit uxor cum filio; qua re in privatis rebus nihil potest homini acerbius accidere, max-
ime cum talem habueris uxorem, quae praedita fuit non vulgaribus donis, quae tibi
fuit morigera in rebus omnibus, item pudica et optimis ornata moribus, tum etiam,
quod maximum est, quae iucundo et christiano colloquio animum tuum oblectare et
afficere non vulgariter potuit.”
Finucane, “Sacred Corpse, Profane Carrion,” 54–60.
WABr 6:280.24.
luther’s consolatory letters 205

Father may allow you and all of us to die in faith in Jesus Christ (WABr
These sensitive and practical remarks offer some concrete help for a
grieving survivor.
Later that same year, on 3 November 1532 (less than three months
after preaching the funeral of Elector John the Steadfast), Luther
responded to the letter of a friend, Lawrence Zoch, chancellor to the
archbishop of Magdeburg (Tappert, 65–67).103 In his letter Luther deliv-
ers a personal sermon for his friend, outlining God’s action in death.
The benevolentia of the salutatio itself departs from his typical, this time
using two doublets:104 “God’s grace and peace in Christ be your com-
fort and strength. Amen” (Tappert, 66).105 The salutatio is particularly
touching—and revealing of what is to come: ‘My dear Doctor and
special Friend.’ In the exordium / narratio Luther reports his heartfelt
sorrow at learning the great ‘misfortune and grief ’ that has befallen
Zoch. While he does not elaborate with details, Luther clearly finds
God at work in the matter: “God has taken your dear wife in such a
way as to make it very hard to bear.”106 The petitio develops a coher-
ent portrayal of God’s action in death, seen in five ways: (1) God’s son
endured plenty, too—quoting key doublets from Isa. 53:4 (‘smitten of
God, and afflicted’) and Psalm 22:6 (‘I am a worm, and no man’), and
what is hard is that God himself seems to be smiting us. This paradox
(‘What must distress us most . . .’) is that God both smites and comforts
us. Meanwhile, the godless seem loved and exalted by God and the
world; using both doublet and antithesis, Luther concludes that “they
can doubly boast, and we must doubly sorrow”;107 (2) Using the qal

“Haec duo diligenter tecum considerabis, et conferes inter se bona corporalia et
spiritualia, omnino ita statueris, quod maiora sint dona spiritualia, quam illa corpora-
lia. In his assidue te exerce et minue luctum, quantum potes. Consolare te verbo Dei,
praestantissima consolatione. Tantum discito etiam in dies magnas agere Deo gratias
pro spiritualibus donis tuae uxori Margarethae concessis, simul orans communem
patrem, ut te nosque omnes in fide Iesu Christi faciat mori.”
WABr 6:382f. (Nr. 1971).
Luther’s most common salutatio is ‘grace and peace in Christ.’
“Gottes Gnad und Fried in Christo sei Euer Trost und Stärke, Amen” (WABr
“. . . dass Euch Gott Euer liebes Weib genommen hat hit solcher Weise . . . welches
sonderlich hoch beschweren musz” (WABr 6:382.3–5).
“. . . dasz die letzte Betrübnis musz den Namen gewinnen” (WABr 6:383.9f.);
“. . . auf dasz sie zwiefältig sich rühmen und wir zwiefältig trauren sollen” (WABr
206 chapter five

wachomer syntax of ‘not only . . . but also,’108 Luther amplifies the paradox
by asserting that “it appears as if God himself has now attacked you,”
while enemies boast.109 His doublets now become progressive: “This is
more than suffering and dying; it is being buried and descending into
hell.” Thus Luther characterizes the grief experience as participating
in the biblical world of Christ’s suffering; (3) Luther admonishes ‘my
dear sir doctor’ to be steadfast, for Christ had this experience and God
did not forsake him; he was raised and so will we be.110 This likens
grief to dishonor and holds out hope for honor, one day; (4) Part of
the comfort for Zoch now comes from remembering his wife’s faithful
death; but even greater comfort is in knowing he is a type of Christ,
and is being ‘punished and confounded,’ as He was, by the devil and
God, who ‘is and wishes to be’ his comfort; and (5) The paradox is
completed by recognizing that, although one’s flesh now ‘murmurs and
cries out,’ one’s spirit should be ‘ready and willing’ to cry out to God as
‘Abba, dear Father,’ just as Jesus cried out in his weakness. Luther tries
to help Zoch identify with Jesus, to find comfort in His sufferings, not
simply as companionship in pain, nor even only as model sufferer, but
as Source of Consolation. That this is Luther’s argument is clear in his
concluding benediction: “Our dear Lord and Saviour, who is also the
model of all our sufferings, comfort you and stamp himself upon your
heart that you may offer him this sacrifice of a broken spirit and give
him your Isaac willingly. Amen” (WABr 6:383.33–36).111 Luther finds
the bereavement experience to be a test of our faithfulness to God,
one coordinated (if not ordered) by Him, requiring that we give up our
right of possession of our beloved dead. In shifting the imagery from
the suffering Christ to the obedient servant Abraham, Luther urges
Zoch to identify himself in Scripture and also to relish his place in the
family of God, the father and comforter—not to turn away from God,
but rather toward Him.

There are two instances of “nicht allein . . . sondern auch” and a third of “nicht
allein . . . sondern” in this letter.
“Also hat Euch Gott nun selbs auch angegriffen, als es scheinet” (WABr
Upon release from prison for his faith, Zoch entered the service of the elector
of Saxony and became professor of law in Wittenberg; Tappert, 66.
“Unser lieber Herr und Heiland, ja auch unser liebes Furbild alles unsers
Liedens, tröste und drücke sich selbs in Euer Herz, auf dasz Jhr dies Opfer dieses
betrübten Geistes vollbringen und ihm Euren Isaac mit willigem Geist übergeben
möget, Amen.”
luther’s consolatory letters 207

John Reineck, superintendent of a foundry in Mansfeld, had been

Luther’s boyhood schoolmate there. Having himself been the one in
1530 to convey the news to Luther about the death of his father, Hans
Luther, Reineck’s wife died in April 1536. In his written response (Tap-
pert, 69f.; WABr 7:399f.) Luther’s exordium / narratio displays the affec-
tion he has for his old friend (‘Honored Sir and good Friend’), and it
reveals the endearing, familial epithets we have come to expect him to
use when referring to his recipient, the Lord, and the deceased (‘your
dear wife’; ‘our dear Lord and Father’).112 Nevertheless, God is respon-
sible for the affliction, having taken her ‘unto himself.’113 Therefore, it
is only natural to ‘grieve sorely,’ and Luther says he is ‘heartily sorry’
for this man for whom he has such ‘good, friendly’ will.114 The petitio
begins with a classic question: “How should we conduct ourselves in
such a situation?”115 The question nicely summarizes our topic, and
Luther’s inclusive language maintains an affectionate relationship with
his receiver. Luther’s argument, in response to the question, is to explain
what God is doing. Through a prolific use of doublets, he explains that
God has so ‘ordered and limited [ geordnet und gemäsziget]’ our life here
that we may ‘learn and exercise’ our knowledge of his will, so that we
may ‘test and discover’ whether we ‘love and esteem’ Him more than
things he has given us to ‘have and to love’ on earth.116 The inscrutable
goodness (unmäszige Güte) of the divine will is so ‘great and profound’
that man finds no pleasure in it, only ‘grief and lamentation [Trauren
und Klagen]’; nevertheless, we have his ‘holy, sure’ Word.117 Luther even
quotes James 1:2 (“we should count it all joy when we fall into divers
tribulations”), followed by Rom. 5:3–4 (“for tribulation works patience,
and patience, experience”), in Latin, in hoping that the Word, which
Reineck has, will help him find more pleasure in ‘God’s grace and
fatherly will’ than in the pain of his loss.118 Luther has written an
encouraging, empathizing letter to his friend. Without any real self-
disclosure of his own grief experiences, he affirms his friend’s pain

“Ehrbar, Fürsichtiger, guter Fruend! . . . liebe Gott Vater . . . Euer liebe Hausfrauen”
(WABr 7:399.1–3).
“. . . zu sich” (WABr 7:399.3).
“. . . wehe tun musz . . . herzlich leid” (WABr 7:399.4f.).
Tappert, 69 reverses the doublet and adds a conjunction. “Aber wie sollen wir
tun?” (WABr 7:399.7).
WABr 7:399.7–11.
WABr 7:399.12–15.
WABr 7:399.18–23.
208 chapter five

through inclusive language (‘we’; ‘us’; ‘ourselves’);119 in a paragraph

of six and one-half lines Luther uses 6 first plural pronouns (no first
singular), arguing that we can learn from Job and allow our spirit—not
our flesh—to praise God’s ‘will and activity’ in our ‘sorrow and suf-
fering [Leiden und Jammer].’ Using alliteration, Luther argues that when
we put aside our ‘carnal, rotten flesh [ fleischliche faule Fleisch],’ our sin-
ful carcasses, God will help us proceed to our ‘home and fatherland.’
He provides honest and accurate assessment that, over time, the pain
diminishes; healing occurs as, eventually, joy supplants the pain and as
memories continue to allow joy to be appreciated. Pain teaches spiritual
sensitivity.120 Moreover, Luther does not omit the reassurances a bereaved
seeks: reminders of his wife’s admirable characteristics, of her faithful-
ness to Christ, of her good death. He tells Reineck that he cares about
him and that God does too:
I have wished to write this hasty note to you because you are one of my
best friends, and I hope that our dear Lord Christ will be with you in his
Holy Spirit and comfort you better than I can. For he has begun a good
work in you [ Phil. 1:6] and called you to his Word. From you He will his
blessing not withdraw nor will He forsake you” (WABr 7:400.31–35).121
Three years later we find another letter to a friend—Luther’s 10 Janu-
ary 1539 letter to John von Taubenheim who, according to Tappert,
(70), was the chamberlain of Prussia.122 However, Martin Brecht gives
us more information about Taubenheim: (1) he had served with Luther
on the four-man team that conducted the Saxon Visitation of 1528,
and Luther had a deep respect for the man, both for his faith and his
fiscal responsibilities;123 (2) in addition, Taubenheim was Landrentmeister
of Wittenberg, not Prussia, and later in 1539 Katy Luther was able to
convince him to allow her purchase of a small farm near Wittenberg.124

One paragraph of the petitio contains six first person plural pronouns (WABr
Twice in his letter to Elector John (Tappert, 55f. (WABr 3:496f.) Luther refers
to the grief experience as a “school in which God chastens us and teaches us to trust
in him [die schule, darynnen vns Gott zuchtiget vnd leret auff yhn trawen]” (WABr
“Solchs habe ich mit Euch in der Eile, als mit meiner besten Freunde einem,
wöllen reden, und hoffe, unser lieber Herr Christus werde mit seinem heiligen Geist
Euer Herz gegenwärtig selbs wohl besser trösten. Den er hat angefangen und Euch zu
seinem Wort berufen; er wird die Hand nicht abziehen noch ablasseen.”
WABr 8:352–54 (Nr. 3289).
Martin Brecht, Martin Luther, 2:270; 3:241.
Ibid., 3:241. Katy’s greetings to Taubenheim are conveyed by Luther in the
final paragraph.
luther’s consolatory letters 209

Luther’s is a very gracious letter, filled with empathy and tenderness,

offering no commands to moderate grief. The salutatio itself is effu-
sive: “To the gracious, esteemed John von Taubenheim, collector of
revenues, my gracious and kind, dear sir and friend: grace and peace
in Christ,” which he then repeats (Tappert, 70f.).125 In the exordium /
narratio Luther says he is truly, heartily sorry (warlich von hertzen leid ) for
Taubenheim’s ‘loss and grief.’ In the petitio Luther compliments and
affirms Taubenheim for his love of Christ and the word, finding him
one who loved his wife and disliked vice. In contrasting him to loose
fellows (losen Leuten) who don’t mind losing their wives, Luther takes great
care to acknowledge Taubenheim’s weighty duties, tactfully comparing
his recipient’s character with his own. The rhetoric is unique among
these consolatory letters, distinguishing it as both moving and more
polite than the others:
I think that I know you very well to be one who is not hostile to Christ,
who loves his Word and Kingdom, and who dislikes all vice and dishonor
[Untugent und Unehr], as I have had occasion to experience. In short, I
esteem you a godly man about whom I am not mistaken, even as you
consider me a godly man, and God grant that you are not mistaken. My
situation is different from that of a man who deals with important matters
in the world, and consequently I should sin more gravely if God were to
withhold his help. Since I know that you are not God’s enemy, he cannot
be your enemy, for he has first enabled you not to be his enemy, and he
has loved you before you have loved him, which is the case with all of
us” (WABr 8:353.9–16).126
Luther reminds Taubenheim to allow God’s ‘rod’ to ‘smart,’ in order to
find greater comfort from His ‘gracious, Fatherly’ will.127 God’s peace
can be found in the struggle with grief, even when the flesh ‘gags and
grumbles [schlucket und mucket],’ for it is not a matter of the “five senses
or of the understanding but (sondern) goes beyond these and is a matter

WABr 8:352.1f.
“. . . das ich euch wol kenne, als der ja Christo nicht feind ist, sondern sein wort
und Reich liebet, auch aller untugent und unehr von hertzen gram ist, wie ich wol
erfaren. Jn summa, ich halt euch für einen fromen Man, daran ich nicht feile, wie jr
widerumb auch mich für from haltet, Gott gebe, das jr nicht feilet. Denn mit mir ists
ein anders, als, der in grossen Sachen stecket, und derhalb, wo Gott hand abzüge,
fehrlicher (wid dieses Standes unfall ist) sündigen müste.”
“DArumb lasset euch das Rütlein des lieben Vaters also smertzen, das jr euch
seines gnedigen veterlichen willens gegen euch viel höher tröstet” (WABr 8:353.21f.
God’s ‘rod’ (Ruten) is used earlier, at 352.5).
210 chapter five

of faith.”128 In a sincere gesture of availability, Luther commends

himself to his reader:
God knows, and I hope that you have no doubt, that I am kindly disposed
toward you and love you with all my heart. To be sure, I am nothing and
am not worth anything at all now, yet Christ must have such a poor, rusty
instrument and suffer me to occupy a corner of his Kingdom. God grant
that I may be and remain such an instrument (WABr 8:353.28–33).129
In two different paragraphs Luther tries to model the kind of submis-
sion he advocates, ending each section with a blessing: “Our dear
Lord Jesus Christ be with you”; “God grant that I may be and remain
such an instrument.”130 Even in turning briefly to matters of business,
Luther works to sustain the bereaved in his need to keep functioning in
his work: the tax collector in Wittenberg needed Taubenheim’s ‘favor
and help,’ and the prefect was an enemy,131 in the service of the ‘envy
and hate’ that ‘offend God and crucify’ His son. Thus, in this message
Luther gently but firmly urges his reader to work at his grieving, to
submit willingly and actively to his heavenly Father’s chastisement, for
in so doing his comfort will be commensurately bestowed. In closing,
Luther sends Katy’s ‘cordial greetings,’ allowing her to urge the same
kind of support: she ‘bitterly laments his misfortune’ and says God must
love him much or he would not allow such a loss.132 In the sixteenth

“. . . sondern weit darüber in glauben schweben sol” (WABr 8:353.27).
“Denn ich bin euch ja, das weis Gott, hoffe, auch, das jr daran nicht zweiuelt,
günstig und habe euch mit Ernst lieb, ob ich wol nichts bin, und auch nu schier
nirgend zu taug, So musz doch Christus ein solch arm rüstrig Werckzeug haben und
mich in seinem Reich dulden hinder der thür, und helffe Gott, das ichs werd sey und
bleybe.” Luther, of course, loved to refer to himself as ‘poor,’ a concept (and term?) he
may have picked up from the Hebraist Johannes Reuchlin (1455–1522). In a letter to
Staupitz (30 May 1518), we find Luther saying: “Besides this, I have no other answer
to my threatening friends than the word of Reuchlin, ‘He who is poor has nothing to fear;
he has nothing to lose.’ I have no property, and desire none. If I possessed any prestige
and honor—well, he who loses them now will simply continue to lose them. There is
only one thing left: my poor worn body, which is exhausted by constant hardships. If
they take this away by force or guile (in order to serve God), then they will deprive
me of perhaps only one or two hours of life. It is enough for me to have the dear
Savior and Redeemer, my Lord Jesus Christ” (LW 48:64–70 [Nr. 21], here at 69f., my
emphasis; cf. WA 1:525–527]).
“Unser lieber Herr Jhesus Christus sey mit euch” (WABr 8:353.28), where the
editors place the benediction at the beginning of the next paragraph); “vnd helffe Gott,
das ichs werd sey vnd bleybe” (WABr 8:353.32f.).
See Tappert, 71, notes 54–56. On the prefect Hans von Metzsch, see also Brecht,
Martin Luther, 3:257–259.
“. . . hertzlich grussen . . . bitterlich vber ewerm vnfal” (WABr 8:353.44f.).
luther’s consolatory letters 211

century, unlike today, accepting that characterization of God as a loving

and chastising father was quite plausible.133
In a brief letter of 8 May 1542 to Mrs. John Cellarius (Tappert, 74)
Luther includes many of the appeals used before. Moreover, he employs
many doublets and one series. In the exordium / narratio he conveys his
own sorrowful feelings about the death, twice claiming (through paren-
thesis) that the death affects him (‘us,’ probably including Katy). God
is applying his rod (Ruten), but John is now enjoying a better life—a
‘good, blessed’ rest.134 The petitio argues that her sufferings are much
less than many others who ‘suffer and endure’ much more, and that
‘all our sufferings on earth’ heaped together are nothing compared to
what the innocent Son, our ‘Lord and Saviour’ Christ135 suffered ‘for
us and for our salvation.’136 The comfort Luther offers to this woman
can be seen in the close of his petitio, with its inclusive language, its
ubiquitous doublets, its series, and its being one of Luther’s favorite
verses (Rom. 14:8):
Be therefore comforted in the Lord, who died for you and for us all, and
who is worth more than we, our husbands, wives, children, and all that
we possess. For we are the Lord’s, whether we live or die, are rich or
poor, or whatever our condition may be. And if we are his, then he is
ours, with all that he is and has. Amen (WABr 10:63.13–17).137
Having recently made out his own Last Will, elaborating this time on
the disposition of property (as well as about his own statement of faith),
Luther was at this time keenly aware of the sobering, yet comforting,
truth of Romans 14:8.138 In just four months he and Katy—who also
sends her prayers for comfort—would be sorely tested, when Magdalena
dies on 20 September.
The first consolatory letter to follow Magdalena’s death, which
Luther wrote on 26 December 1542, was to one of his closest friends,

See Steven Ozment, When Fathers Ruled: Family Life in Reformation Europe (Cam-
bridge, Mass., 1985); idem, Flesh and Spirit: Private Life in Early Modern Germany (New
York, 1999).
Tappert, 74 inserts a conjunction in the doublet at WABr 10:63.5.
Tappert, 74 reads ‘Jesus Christ.’
“. . . aller leiden auff Erden” (WABr 10:63.8 [Nr. 3751]).
“Also tröstet euch in dem Herrn, der für euch vnd vns alle gestorben, vns viel
mal besser ist, denn wir, vnsere Menner, weiber, kinder vnd alles ist. Den wir sind doch
sein, wir sterben oder leben, darben oder haben, vnd wie es gehet. Sind wir aber sein,
so ist Er auch vnser mit allem, was er ist vnd hat, Amen.”
Martin Brecht, Martin Luther, 3:243f.
212 chapter five

Justas Jonas (Tappert, 75f.).139 Born Jodocus Koch (1493–1555), Jonas

was a humanist and theologian with many ties to Luther: educated at
Erfurt, he served long on the theological faculty at Wittenberg (dean
from 1523–1533), accompanied him to the Diet at Worms (1521), and
since 1541 preached at Halle.140 The family connections also ran deep,
for Jonas had sponsored the Luthers’ son Paul at his baptism in 1533,
and their wives were close friends.141 Catherine Jonas had died four
days earlier while giving birth to her thirteenth child. One of the sons
had drowned three months earlier, but Luther does not refer to this. In
this letter Luther finds superlatives entirely appropriate. The salutatio is
revealing for, following the customary greeting (‘distinguished and excel-
lent’ gentleman) and recognition of Jonas’s official titles, Luther adds:
“my venerable brother in Christ: grace and peace in Christ, who is our
consolation and salvation. Beloved Jonas.”142 This theme of Luther’s own
grieving for the deceased becomes even more present in the exordium
/ narratio: “I have been so completely prostrated by the unexpected
calamity which has befallen you that I do not know what to write.”143
He continues along this line, describing how much he loved Jonas’s
wife; how she shared all ‘our joys and sorrows’ as her own; how he now
grieves for her, and he elaborates on her gifts: (1) the ‘chief and best’
comforter; (2) her “sweet spirit, quiet manner, faithful heart [suasvissimi
ingenii, placidissimorum morum, fidelissimi cordis]”; and (3) her ‘piety and
nobility, modesty and friendliness.’ Only fleetingly in this paragraph
does Luther refer to Jonas’s own loss (‘calamity that has befallen you’;
‘the dearest companion of your life [Suavissimam vitae sociam]’). However,
this is precisely what newly bereaved survivors treasure most: to have
loved ones talk and act out how they valued, and miss, the deceased.

WABr 10:226–228 (Nr. 3829).
OER, “Jonas, Justus,” by Robert Rosin.
Martin Brecht, Martin Luther, 3:20. Writing of the personal relationship between
Jonas and Luther, Jerome Weller addressed the senate of Halle eleven years after Jonas’s
death: “Luther took more delight in his intimacy with Jonas than with his other friends.
As often as Luther was sadder than usual, his wife, being a wise woman, immediately
summoned Jonas in secret for a meal so that he might gladden her husband with his
very pleasant conversation. For no one could revive the languishing spirit better by
conversation than he”; M. E. Lehmann, “Justas Jonas—A Collaborator With Luther,”
LQ 2 (1950): 198.
“. . . suo in Domino maiori venerabili. Gratiam et pacem in Christo, qui est salus
et solatium nostrum, optime Iona!” (WABr 10:227.2–4. italics mine).
“Quid scribam, prorsus nescio, ita me subitus iste casus tuus prostravit” (WABr
luther’s consolatory letters 213

In this fellowship of the hurting there is less pain, less isolation; the
loss seems more bearable when shared. But in his petitio Luther also
can honestly and consciously affirm his friend’s pain (“How you feel
I can easily imagine from the effect. . . on me”; “you have good cause
to mourn”).144 He then describes where consolation can be found—in
the spirit, that she’s now better off away from the ‘misery and wick-
edness [miseria et malitia]’ of this world—not in the flesh. Luther even
provides a measure of instruction for finding comfort: to remember
‘our common Christian lot,’ which includes bitter parting but also the
promise of sweet communion—‘reunited and gathered [copulatos et
congregatos]’—with Him in eternal life, secured by Christ’s own ‘blood
and death.’ He incorporates the teaching of 2 Tim. 2:11 and recalls
that unbelievers are worse off. Ticking off a list of opponents more
typical of his polemical writings—‘Turks, Jews, and (what is worse)
the papists, cardinals, Heinz and Mainz’—who not only have weeping
hereafter, but they lack the ‘goodness and mercy [meliorem misericordiam]’
of God and do not have the joy unspeakable (1 Pet. 1:6, 8) of reunion
with loved ones to anticipate. This reunion was a theme Luther often
used with bereaved parents but has seldom yet included it for spouses.
Perhaps the freshness of his own loss of a beloved daughter triggered
this, for Luther blends the mention of Jonas’s wife (‘your Cathy’) and
his own daughter (‘my Magdalene’).145 He turns the reunion theme into
a conscious musing of how world-weary and heaven-conscious newly
bereaved tend to be. The world is a hell of evils where our ‘souls and
eyes’ are constantly tormented ‘day and night.’ Luther uses the language
of Eph. 4:30 and Rom. 8:22, 26 to help Jonas (and himself ) identify
with the common task and experience they share with the Holy Spirit’s
aid in helping them live in, but not of, the world ( John 17:9–18):
[T]hey grieve the Holy Spirit so that he is displeased with the whole
creation which, together with us, groans for its and our redemption with

“Quid tibi pariat, facile possum exemplo meo aestimare. . . . Interim tu sic . . . doleas
(nam causa subest)” (WABr 10:227.13–18).
See Luther’s letter of 23 September to Jonas (LW 50:236–238 [Nr. 299]; WABr
10:149f. [Nr. 3794]), where he reports the overwhelming grief he feels at the death of
Magdalena. He acknowledges a duty to give thanks joyfully for her good death, but
the difficulty in doing so: “even the death of Christ . . . is totally unable to take away all
this as it should [ut nec Christi mors . . . penitus excutere possit, sicut oporteret].” He
asks Jonas to thank God “in our stead [ Tu ergo gratias age Deo vice nostra!]” (WABr
10:150.27–29). Here we see the supportive role of a human consoler.
214 chapter five

groanings which cannot be uttered. He who knows and understands our

groanings will shortly hear them. Amen (WABr 10:227.33–36).146
Luther does not exhort or admonish Jonas to moderate his grief, for he
finds it entirely appropriate for now. The conclusio continues to affirm
Jonas in his grief, reminding him of his wife’s good deeds and good
death—this ‘good and pious’ woman, with her ‘many godly and blessed
expressions of faith’—reassuring him that Katy is grieving too (“My
Katy was beside herself [when she heard the news], for she and your
wife were as intimately united as if they were one soul”).147 God alone is
comfort at this time, and Luther again discloses that it is his knowledge
of Magdalena’s faithful death that is ‘my great and only consolation.’148
And the conclusio offers a fitting benediction, one that matches the salu-
tatio: “May the Lord, who has suffered you to be humbled, comfort you
again now and forever. Amen” (Tappert, 76).149
Less than nine months later, while Jonas is visiting in Wittenberg,
he and Luther learn that one of the thousands who have died from
the plague raging in Jonas’s own city of Halle is Eva Heinze, wife of
organist Wolf Heinze. Luther writes a letter of consolation to Heinze
(Tappert, 77).150 The exordium / narratio reveals that Luther learned of
the death within the hour, and his affectionate epithets show—for the
deceased—how the Christian’s death means reunion with the heavenly
family: “your beloved Eva has gone to God, her Father.”151 However,
for the surviving husband, her gain means his loss. Consequently,
Luther first conveys his sincere feelings of understanding, and he does
it without explicit mention of his own recent loss:
I can well imagine how painful this parting is to you, and I assure you
that I am deeply grieved for your sake. You know how faithfully and truly
I love you. I know too that God loves you. And because you love his Son,
Jesus, your loss moves me deeply” (WABr 10:394.5–8).152

“. . . contristant Spiritum sanctum, usque ad poenitentiam creaturae totius, quae
nobiscum una gemit inenarribilibus gemitibus pro redemptione et sui et nostrum, quam
propediem exaudiet ille, qui gemitus istos scit et intelligit, Amen.”
“Mea Ketha exanimata fuit. Namque illius et sua fuit una anima unitissima”
(WABr 10:227.38f.).
“. . . magno et unico meo solatio” (WABr 10:227.44).
“Dominus, qui te passus est humiliari, soletur te rursum, hic et in aeternum,
Amen” (WABr 10:227.44f.).
WABr 10:394f. (Nr. 3912).
“. . . ewer liebe Heua zu Gott jrem Vater gefahren” (WABr 10:394.3f.).
“. . . kan ich wol sülen, wie euch solch scheiden zu hertzen gehet, vnd ist mir warlich
luther’s consolatory letters 215

Once the personal relationship is clarified, Luther uses inclusive

language (7 first plural pronouns in 7 lines) to argue what God is up
to—showing us how much we have been saved from—and that Christ
will comfort. The customary assurance that she is better off, and that
‘all of us’ desire such a ‘blessed end’ closes the petitio. Just a week short
of the one-year anniversary of Magdalena’s death, Luther writes a
brief but tender letter.
In October 1544 Luther wrote an even shorter letter to Eva Schulz,
whose husband Georg had been a student at Wittenberg and had lived
there for many years, before moving to Freiberg, Saxony, in 1535,
where he died (Tappert, 77f.).153 As he did with Heinze, Luther says
he is ‘deeply grieved’ at her misfortune, and that he “can well believe
that such parting is painful to you.”154 Surprisingly, he does not refer
to the deceased with any endearing epithet! However, he assures Eva
that grief is a sign of a warm love, that he finds Georg’s ‘Christian
and blessed’ departure, and that she knows that the parting is God’s
will for her. Shifting into first person plural, Luther argues that since
God gave his son for us, it is only fitting that we should sacrifice our
own will to his. Not only is this our duty, but also ‘great and eternal’
blessing (Frucht) and comfort (Trost) will then result. Luther thanks the
widow for sending him some mining shares. The brevity of the letter
permits little concrete detail about how Christ will comfort; through
a pronouncing benediction, it only tries to convey such reassurance
to her. Luther does not offer ‘God’s will’ as a terse, grief-deflecting
platitude; rather, he generally offers amplification about what God has
already done (sent his Son) and plans to do (reunite us with him and
loved ones) for us.
The final letter (Tappert, 80f.) to bereaved spouses is Luther’s 3
June 1545 letter to Andreas Osiander (1498–1552).155 An important
Lutheran theologian at Nürnberg, Osiander had frequently disagreed
with Luther: over baptism, over confession, even about Copernicus’s
new book on the heliocentric universe (1543), for which Osiander had

ewer hertzlich hertzleid leid, Denn jr wisset, das ich euch mit ernst vnd trewen lieb hab,
weis auch, das euch Gott lieb hat, denn jr seinen Son Jhesum lieb habt, darumb mich
ewer Leid recht wol rüret.” Tappert, 77 reverses the doublet ‘ernst vnd trewen.’
WABr 10:663f. (Nr. 4034).
“Es ist mir ewr vnfall fast leid, kans wol gleuben, das solch scheiden euch wehe
thun mus” (WABr 10:664.4f.).
WABr 11:113f. (Nr. 4122).
216 chapter five

written a preface.156 When Luther had written him back in 1538, he

found Osiander’s independent attitude on theological matters trouble-
some; he recognized his theological giftedness, but he perceived danger
in a self-possessed, pedantically arrogant, and contentious attitude.157
Yet Luther valued Osiander’s reforming work in Nürnberg, and he did
not let their differences prevent him from extending Christian charity
when it was so obviously appropriate. When Osiander’s first wife died
in 1537, Luther sent condolences. Now, eight years later, the second
wife and a daughter died about the same time. Luther’s salutatio is the
most elaborate of any from our sample: following the titles, plus the
normal ‘grace and peace in Christ,’ comes this: “who is our consolation
and is altogether ours, even as we are altogether his, for, as St. Paul
says, ‘Whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s’ [Rom. 14:8]. Excellent
and beloved Osiander” (Tappert, 80).158 In the exordium / narratio Luther
tells of having heard about the death ‘of your wife and of your dearly
loved daughter,’ which represents a cross, ‘indeed, a twofold cross.’159
Luther’s twin objectives in the petitio identify with Osiander’s grief
through self-disclosure and reconcile it in view of the cross of Christ:
First, he discloses that he ‘knows from the death of my own dearest
child’ (Magdalena, nearly three years earlier) how great Osiander’s grief
must be.160 Then, additional deep disclosure:
It may appear strange, but I am still mourning the death of my dear
Magdalene, and I am not able to forget her. Yet I know surely that she is
in heaven, that she has eternal life there, and that God has thereby given
me a true token [magnum signum] of his love in having, even while I live,
taken my flesh and blood to his Fatherly heart (WABr 11:114.9–12).161

They essentially agreed on the Lord’s Supper, however; cf. Martin Brecht, Martin
Luther, 2:327–334; 3:118.
Martin Brecht, Martin Luther, 3:312.
“. . . qui nostrum solatium est, imo totus noster est et nos toti sumus eius, sicut
Paulus ait: ‘Sive vivimus, sive morimur, Domini sumus’ . . . optime et charissime Osia-
nder” (WABr 11:113.3–6). The ellipsis represents the beginning of the next sentence,
which precedes ‘optime et charissime Osiander.’
“. . . tesse denuo mortificatum et simul duplici mortificatione, nempe morte uxoris
et filiae suavissimae” (WABr 11:114.6f.).
“Et ego exemplo filiae mihi charissimae valde et valdissime credo” (WABr
“Mirum est, quantum torqueat me mors Magdalenae meae, quam nec adhuc
oblivisci possum. Sed scio certissime esse in loco refrigerii et vitae aeternae, dederitque
mihi Deus in hac ipsa magnum signum amoris sui, qui carnem meam in sinum suum
me vivente recipit.”
luther’s consolatory letters 217

Using an abundance of doublets, Luther then argues that the love they
(he and Osiander) have for their deceased is natural love, something
‘good and human’ but which must be crucified so that the ‘good and
acceptable and perfect will of God’ (Rom. 12:2) can be done.162 Luther
asserts, using language from 1 John 1:3, that “God’s Son, through
whom and by whom all things were made, gave his very life although
this was neither deserved nor required of him.”163 Claiming that this
disclosure amounts to a testimony, Luther tells his recipient he is sure
they share the belief that “we are partakers together in your suffer-
ings,”164 that God has made Osiander a ‘true and faithful [syncerum et
fidelem] participant in our faith and doctrine.’ He closes with a biblical
exhortation, saying that Osiander must:
yield up your dear Isaac as a burnt offering and for a sweet-smelling savor
to God—not your daughter or your wife, for these live and are blessed
in the Lord, but that natural and strong affection which asserts itself too
powerfully in us. While for the Lord this burnt offering is necessary, for
us it is a consolation. But why should I try to explain these things to you
when you understand them far better than I? (WABr 11:114.19–22).165
Luther seems to have concluded that even our most profound human
relationships (with spouses and children) must be subject to our devo-
tion to God. This is the third time he has used the Isaac image (cf. ‘To
Pauli,’ ‘To Zoch’). He offers an explanation to his grieving friend that
he hopes makes sense, but he realizes that making sense takes time and
effort. It cannot be done alone; other sufferers can console. Ultimately,
however, Christ alone is the source of all comfort.

C. Letters to Surviving Siblings

Two of Luther’s letters were written to brothers who had recently seen
their siblings buried, and the letters are hardly similar. One comes from
Luther’s unmarried years (1525); he wrote the other three months after
Magdalena’s death (1542). The letter to Elector John the Steadfast
(Tappert, 55f.), brother to the recently deceased Elector Frederick the

“. . . bona, beneplacens et perfecta voluntas Dei” (WABr 11:114.14f.).
“Quandoquidem et ipse filius, per quem et propter quem omnia perire et mori
voluit, cum non oporteret nec deberet” (WABr 11:114.15f.).
“. . . nos esse participes harum tentationum” (WABr 11:114.17f.).
“Mactabis enim hunc tuum Isaac dilectissimum in holocaustum, in odorem sua-
vitatis Domino, non filiam neque uxorem, quae vivunt et salvae sunt, in Domino, sed
affectum illum naturae validum et amarissimum, qui in nobis nimis vivax est.”
218 chapter five

Wise, is a message understandably more formal than the others, with

nine instances of the epithet ‘Your Grace’ found in the letter’s body, not
counting the heading, salutation, and signature. Accordingly, Luther’s
letter is perceptively attentive to the challenging political situation fac-
ing his new Prince. Yet the letter is also filled with many of Luther’s
consoling appeals—particularly to quotations of Scripture, especially
the Psalter; of course, it lacks any self-disclosure of his own grief.166
The exordium / narratio acknowledges the gravity of his recipient’s being
suddenly thrust into power in these ‘perilous, terrible’167 times—near
the end of the Peasants’ War—and it expresses the conflict felt when
needing to write a consolation, though words are inadequate. Luther
thus identifies with John’s plight, and he defines it by putting the
words of Psalm 40:12 (39:13 Vulgate) into the voice of the Elector.
The petitio makes an argument about God’s faithfulness, by linking His
wrath with His mercy, which is available for those who trust him. They
will receive ‘courage and strength’ to bear and, ultimately, ‘ways and
means [Wege vnd Weysze]’ to escape.168 Luther cites and quotes several
Scriptures in rapid succession—Ps. 118:18 [117:18 Vulgate]; Ps. 34:19
[33:20 Vulgate]; Prov. 3:12, 11; John 16:33—following those teach-
ings, as cited by two of their authors (Solomon and Christ), with the
following argument:
This is the school in which God chastens us and teaches us to trust in
him so that our faith may not always stay in our ears and hover on our
lips but may have its true dwelling place in the depth of our hearts. In
this school Your Grace is even now enrolled. And without doubt God has
taken away our leader in order that He may himself take the deceased
man’s place and draw nearer to Your Grace to give up and surrender your
comforting and tender [trostliche und liebliche] reliance upon that man and
draw strength and comfort [Starck und Getrost] only from the goodness and
power of Him who is far more comforting and tender (Tappert, 56).
For a prince so committed to the Reformation faith as John will become,
Luther invokes the ‘Psalter and the Holy Scriptures’ as acceptable
evidence and source, not only of comfort and strength but also of
authority—even over a sovereign prince.
Luther’s letter of 27 December 1542 (LW 50:240f.) to his son
Johannes (or John or Hans, age 16) is a very brief note, one quite

Nr. 867.
Tappert, 55 inserts a conjunction in the doublet (WABr 3:496.10).
WABr 3:496.16f.
luther’s consolatory letters 219

incongruent—in many ways—with the other letters, and perhaps not

really a letter of consolation at all.169 One day after the tender and
emotional letter he wrote to Jonas—and 67 days after Magdalena’s
death—Luther writes an almost terse note to his own grieving son. As
the Luthers’ firstborn, Hans had been extremely fond of Magdalena,
and in September his father brought him back hastily from school in
Torgau so Hans could be at his sister’s side before she died.170 Now,
with the boy back at school, father Martin’s first sentence is a succinct
report on how things are going at home since Hans left: “I and your
Mother [Ego et mater tua], along with the whole house, are fine.”171 What
immediately follows are direct, concise orders from father, and indirect,
more elaborated reports of mother’s wishes that are said to be in har-
mony with father’s: to ‘overcome those tears like a man,’ so he won’t
worry his mother;172 to stay there and be educated, to come home only
if sick. “In addition, she wishes you to put aside this mourning so that
you may study in a happy and peaceful frame of mind.”173 One must
consider today that this letter stands apart from all the others in that:
(1) the writer (and his wife) are in an obviously authoritative position
over the recipient, as parents to son; (2) the grieving experiences sur-
rounding Magdalena’s death had been shared for several days already;
(3) the writer’s signature (‘Your father, Martin Luther’) differs drastically
from the previous letter to Elector John and considerably from all the
others. For all others include only name, or name and title (doctor),
or ‘servant’ / ‘willing servant’ and name; and (4) the letter’s style is
more ‘plain’ than most, with only two doublets and the crisp pair of
imperatives: ‘You see to it that . . .’ and ‘You be obedient to God . . .’174
However, additional evidence for the harsh tone and firm hand that
Luther took with his son can also be seen in his instructions, written the
previous day, to the boy’s teacher in Torgau, Marcus Crodel: “I readily
believe, my Marcus, that my son has turned soft through the words of
his mother, in addition to mourning over his sister’s death. Talk seriously
with him. . . . Order him, therefore, to curb that womanish feeling, to get

Nr. 301 (WABr 10:229 [Nr. 3831]).
LW 50:234f. (Nr. 298); WABr 10:147. Tappert, does not include it in his col-
“Ego et mater tua cum tota domo salui sumus” (WABr 10:229.2f.).
“Tu vide, ut istas lachrymas viriliter superes” (WABr 10:229.3).
“Caeterum istum moerorem vult deponi, ut laetus et quietus studeas” (WABr
“Tu vide, . . . . Tu obedias Deo . . . ” (WABr 10.229.3–6).
220 chapter five

accustomed to enduring evil, and not to indulge in that childlike weak-

ness” (LW 50:239).175 Obviously, Luther felt a weighty responsibility to
his children—especially sons—to tutor them to become strong adults,
and he took a sterner tack with them than with others he consoled.176
His message to Johannes bore a father’s ethos, a father who had both
toughness to admonish and tenderness to gather his children to wait,
together with Magdalena, for God to take her.177 In both letters—to
Elector John and to son John—the sober responsibilities of survival in,
and service to, a brutal world looms large.

IV. Conclusion

Luther’s consolatory letters only slightly adhere to the formal disposi-

tional requirements of Erasmus. There is even little thematic difference
between the Latin and the vernacular letters. While I have discussed
the letters according to each part (salutatio, etc.), Luther often omits the
exordium or narratio, using them only when conveying the news of a death
or for clarifying why he was writing. His salutatio differs markedly from
the Renaissance genre, which demanded that the names of both sender
and recipient appear.178 Luther uses consistently his Christian greeting
(‘grace and peace in Christ’) rather than the classical salutem.179 He
does, however, make productive use of epithets, and his richest ones not
only characterize the recipient (or the deceased) but also God himself.
Moreover, Luther has made even less use of the thematic resources of
the consolation genre. Unmistakably, he urges moderation in grieving,
either directly or implicitly, by arguing in detail about the richness of

WABr 10:229.
In Flesh and Spirit (268), Steven Ozment summarizes perhaps just this kind of
parental concern: “The fear has been that the young would not be properly equipped to
tackle life’s less glamorous but more essential tasks, or to fulfill society’s more modest yet
realistic dreams, both of which are vital to individual souls and the body politic.”
Speaking of Magdalena’s death, the conclusion of Steven Ozment, writing in
1983, is nevertheless overstated: “Despite the lessons of his own heart, Luther . . . con-
tinued to look upon grief as an unchristian tribute to death”; Steven Ozment, “The
Family in Reformation Germany: The Bearing and Rearing of Children,” Journal of
Family History 8 (summer 1983): 159–176, here at 172.
Desiderius Erasmus, On the Writing of Letters 50–62.
Timothy J. Wengert, “Apostolic Self-Awareness,” 77, says Paul ‘coined the phrase.’
However, while Paul’s epistles use it far more often than others, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, 2 John,
and Jude also use it. By ‘Paul’s epistles,’ of course, I mean those acknowledged thus
by Luther, not by contemporary academic New Testament scholars.
luther’s consolatory letters 221

God’s comforting resources, the blessedness of the Christian death, and

the misery that the earthly life offers. Yet we have seen him time and
again speak warmly and tenderly about the deceased and about his own
affection for them. In this respect, Luther’s attitudes and behavior fly
in the face of much criticism leveled against ‘the new Lutheran family’
as the prototype of ‘the unconditionally patriarchal and authoritarian
household.’180 What is particularly noteworthy is Luther’s own tendency
to disclose, on occasion, his own grief experiences, especially after 1542.
While he acknowledges the difficulty for a bereaved person (especially,
newly bereaved) to appreciate adequately what he is telling them, still
Luther expounds upon the comforting resources of God who, he boldly
tells bereaved parents, is more of a father to their child than they are.
He argues that God not only knows their pain but that such pain can
make them truly alive unto Him.
Such ‘advice’ differs dramatically from our contemporary grief
therapies, which, based in secular psychological grief theories, have
written God out of their prescriptions. Accordingly, much contemporary
pastoral counseling, which is derived from secular grief theories, has
eschewed the kind of counsel Luther offered, since the contemporary
Weltanschauung focuses exclusively on coping with grief, having to do so
without the resources of family, faith, church, and God. It encourages
bereaved to seek support groups of strangers for help. Consequently,
Luther’s talk about restraint and self-effacement seems disturbingly out
of fashion; wisdom about God’s chastisement seems revolting.181 Viewed
from the contemporary perspective, much of Luther’s consolation rings

Steven Ozment, Ancestors: The Loving Family in Old Europe (Cambridge, Mass.,
2001), 31. Countering the more received view that the concept of the modern family
is a post-Enlightenment phenomenon, Ozment argues that the “modern sentimental
family exists as far back in time and as widely in space as there are proper sources
to document it” (109). He further argues that such a concept is not to be lamented
but rather: “For a modern age faced with a family crisis, there is good news from the
recovered history of the family: this smallest and seemingly most fragile of institutions
is proving itself to be humankind’s bedrock as well as its fault line. Its strength lies in
the cohesion and loyalty of the parent-child unit around which the larger worlds of
household and kin, community and nation, and the global village necessarily revolve”
(111f.); cf. also, Linda A. Pollock, Forgotten Children: Parent-Child Relations from 1500–1900
(Cambridge, 1983).
Steven Ozment, Flesh and Spirit 261; cf. Susan C. Karant-Nunn, “ ‘Christians’
Mourning and Lament Should not Be Like the Heathens’: The Suppression of Religious
Emotion in the Reformation,” Confessionalization in Europe 1555–1700: Essays in Honor
and Memory of Bodo Nischan, ed. John M. Headley, Hans J. Hillerbrand, and Anthony
J. Papalas (Aldershot, 2004), 107–129.
222 chapter five

hollow. Yet, from that same vantage point, one has to be impressed with
his efforts to acknowledge the immensity of loss and to recognize the
reality of grief. Indeed, bereaved parents have probably always found
themselves having to cope with both the power of their own grief and
their concerns for their surviving children.182 As one heals, one can later
appreciate how important and necessary was advice to ‘keep going’
despite how futile, insensitive, and unwanted such counsel seemed at
the time.183 From what we have learned about Luther’s characteriza-
tions of family members and their uniqueness, we realize that family
love is indeed precious, for it schools us in the task of loving a God
who first loved us. When we grieve, Luther would have our attitudes
mirror that of the distraught father in Mark 9:24, who, with tears, said
to Jesus, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief ” (KJV).184

Jeannie Labno, “Child Monuments in Renaissance Poland,” SCJ 37 (2006):
“Even if grief is an inner psychological process, it is manifested in behaviour which
others have to live with: grief therefore is also inevitably an interpersonal negotiation”;
Tony Walter, The Revival of Death, 160.
“. . . ich glewb lieb er herr / hilff meynem vnglawben”; Luther’s “September Bible”
In Facsimile, ed. Kenneth A. Strand (Ann Arbor, 1972), XXXIIIv.


PLAGUE” (1527)

‘Fight or Flight’ is a dilemma all creatures share. For us humans, how-

ever, the anguish from advance notice of danger heightens the difficulty.
People have always feared pestilence, yet today our fears are exacerbated
by rapid communication; they are complicated by expectations that the
government ‘do something.’ Recent fears are of communicable disease
throughout the world—particularly, the H5N1 ‘bird-flu virus,’ which
has been compared to the influenza epidemic of 1918—and terrorism
using biological agents.1 Previous generations, however, faced pandem-
ics much more frequent and probably as virulent—at least as deadly,
when factoring in the state of medical knowledge.2

Tim Appenzeller, “Tracking the Next Killer Flu,” National Geographic (October
2005): 2–31. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is calling the threat
‘Avian Influenza (Bird Flu).’ <http://www.cdc.gov/flu/avian/>. (accessed 6 October
2005). Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research
and Policy, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, has continued through
all of 2005 to sound an ominous warning of impending catastrophe: “This is a critical
point in history. Time is running out to prepare for the next pandemic. We must act
now with decisiveness and purpose. Someday, after the next pandemic has come and
gone, a commission much like the 9/11 Commission will be charged with determin-
ing how well government, business, and public health leaders prepared the world for
the catastrophe when they had clear warning. What will be the verdict?” (“Preparing
for the Next Pandemic,” Foreign Affairs 84, no. 4 [ July–August 2005], <http://www.
pandemic.html>, (accessed online 6 December 2005); idem, “Preparing for the Next
Pandemic,” NEJM 352 (5 May 2005): 1839–1842; “A Weapon the World Needs,” Nature
435 (26 May 2005): 417–418. Osterholm is quoted frequently in Jerry Adler, “The
Fight Against the Flu,” Newsweek, 31 October 2005, 38–45 [cover story]; cf. Shane
Harris, “The Bug Bloggers,” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 62 (2006): 38–43; John J.
Treanor et al, “Safety and Immunogenenicity of an Inactivated Subvirion Influenza
A (H5N1) Vaccine,” NEJM 354 (30 March 2006): 1343–1351; Gregory A. Poland,
“Vaccines against Avian Influence—A Race against Time,” NEJM 354 (30 March 30
2006): 1411–1413; Katherine Hobson, “Are We Ready?” U. S. News and World Report,
1 May 2006, 57–62.
While not yet able to be transmitted from human to human, those infected by
the H5N1 virus—through contact with infected poultry blood or manure—have died
at a rate of approximately 50 per cent.
224 chapter six

In the late summer of 1527 plague struck northern Germany, arriv-

ing in Wittenberg around the end of July.3 The situation so concerned
Elector John of Saxony that on 10 August he ordered Luther and his
family to leave the city, for he had arranged to move the university from
Wittenberg to Jena; it would remain housed there until the following
April.4 Luther, however, refused to leave! He and Johannes Bugen-
hagen (1484–1558), pastor of the city church (and Luther’s longtime
confessor), and chaplains Georg Rörer and Johannes Mantel stayed to
minister to the sick and dying. Luther continued to lecture—on 1 John
and then Titus—to a small group of students who also did not leave.
Among Luther’s acquaintances, the plague claimed its first victims
within days after its arrival.5 On 19 August he wrote to Spalatin that
the wife of Bürgermeister Tilo Dene had that very day died virtually
in his arms.6
Fear of plague began to spread in the city. By mid-September, addi-
tional deaths to plague began to take their toll on the populace. In
response to reports that drunken gravediggers had been rude to grieving
family members, Luther spoke out in the pulpit, admonishing listeners
to show love for their neighbors. He also rebuked those who left their
wives because of the plague.7 In early November things got worse for
the tightly-knit circle of Wittenberg reformers: on 2 November the
Luthers were shaken by the deaths of their good friend Georg Rörer’s
wife and her newborn child.8 Bugenhagen and his family—in whose
home the Rörer deaths had occurred—moved in with the Luthers,
providing companionship as well as preserving resources and confining

WABr 4:227.14f. (Nr. 1126), Luther to Melanchthon (2 August 1527): “Pestem hic
esse persuasi sumus.” By 15 August Melanchthon reported to Joachim Camerarius
(1500–1574) in Jena that Wittenberg was definitely infested (“Urbs Witteberga infesta
est pestilitate”); cf. WABr 4:227, note 9.
WABr 4:227f. (Nr. 1127), Elector Johann to Luther (10 August 1527).
Martin Brecht, Martin Luther, 2:207.
WABr 4:232.16f. (Nr. 1130); Luther to Spalatin (19 August 1527): “Hodie Tilonis
Deni vxorem sepeliuimus, que fere inter brachia mea expirauit heri, atque hoc primum
funus in media vrbe.”
Brecht, Martin Luther, 2:207. The record of these events comes from a letter of
Urban Balduyn to Stephan Roth (15 September 1527), in Georg Buchwald, Zur Wit-
tenberger Stadt- und Universitäts-Geschichte in der Reformationszeit: Briefe aus Wittenberg an M.
Stephan Roth in Zwickau (Leipzig, 1893), 5–7.
LW 49:174, note 25; cf. WABr 4:276 (Nr. 1165), Luther to Justus Jonas (4 Novem-
ber 1527).
on whether one may flee from a deadly plague 225

the disease.9 Also staying there (and seriously ill) was Margaret von
Mochau, sister-in-law to Karlstadt. The Luthers’ year-old son Hans
was gravely ill, and Katy Luther was pregnant with Elizabeth. Luther
called his home ‘a hospital.’10
Moreover, from his former student Johann Hess (1490–1547)—leader
of the Reformation in Breslau (Wroclaw), capital of Silesia—came a
letter, written on behalf of the evangelical pastors in Breslau, asking for
advice on whether the clergy there should stay or flee the plague in their
city.11 Plague had arrived there on 10 August, a little over a week later
than in Wittenberg.12 Having written Luther about the same problem
in 1525, Hess would not get a written response for nearly two years,
due to Luther’s own health problems.13 Luther’s answer finally came in
the form of an open letter to Hess and his fellow servants (Dienern).
Johann Hess was a native of Nuremberg, who was sent to school in
Zwickau, Saxony. He became a well-educated pastor, having earned
the bachelor of arts (1507) at Leipzig, the master of arts (1511) at
Wittenberg, and a doctorate in theology (1519) at Ferrara. Upon his
return from Italy to Silesia, Hess visited in Wittenberg; hence, a lifelong
correspondence with both Luther and Melanchthon ensued.14 Always
appreciating the arts, Hess had been mentored by Johannes Turzo
(1464–1520), the humanist bishop of Breslau, who had sent him back
to Wittenberg for further study, only to send him first to Italy, where

Luther told a friend that Bugenhagen (Pomeranus) moved in “not so much for his
sake as for mine . . ., so he could be a companion in my isolation” (Salutat te Pomeranus
quam officiosissime, apud me habitans, non tam sui quam mei causa . . ., scilicet vt sotius
solitudinis mea sit); WABr 4:277.14–16 (Nr. 1166), Luther to Nikolaus Hausmann (7
November 1527), translation by Heinrich Bornkamm, in Luther in Mid-Career, 1521–1530,
ed. Karin Bornkamm, trans. E. Theodore Bachmann (Philadelphia, 1983), 562.
WABr 4:274f. (Nr. 1164), Luther to Amsdorf (1 November 1527): “In domo mea
coepit esse hospitale.”
Heinrich Bornkamm, Luther in Mid-Career, 562.
LW 43:115f.
“Die Pest” was first reported in Breslau during 10 August to 19 November 1525.
On 22 April 1526 Luther wrote to Hess that he had his request but would be unable
to answer at that time (WA 23:323).
There are about twenty extant letters from Luther and thirty from Melanchthon;
cf. OER, s.v. “Hess, Johann,” by Manfred P. Fleischer. There are no biographical
works on Hess in English; cf. Carl Adolph Julius Kolde, Dr. Johann Heß, der schlesische
Reformator (Breslau, 1846).
226 chapter six

Hess studied both theology and law.15 In 1523 Hess was appointed by
the Breslau city council as preacher of St. Mary Magdalene’s church.
This bold move in support of reformation teaching led to a public
disputation in 1524, which culminated in the council’s ordering of
evangelical teaching by all pastors in the city—despite pressure from the
cathedral chapter, Pope Adrian VI, and the king of Hungary-Bohemia,
to which Silesia belonged.16 In 1525 Hess pressured the city council
of Breslau until they provided an All Saints’ hospital for the care of
the sick and the homeless.17 On 8 September 1525 (three months after
Luther’s marriage), Hess married Sara Jopner (d. 1531), the daughter
of a Breslau city council member; in 1533 he married Hedwig Wahle.
These marriages produced six surviving children.18

I. Structure of Luther’s Book

Ob man fur dem sterben fliehen muge was a popular pamphlet of fourteen
quarto pages.19 Luther’s response to the question about behavior in

According to Manfred P. Fleischer, “Humanism and Reformation in Silesia:
Imprints of Italy—Celtis, Erasmus, Luther, and Melanchthon,” in The Harvest of
Humanism in Central Europe: Essays in Honor of Lewis W. Spitz, ed. Manfred P. Fleischer (St.
Louis, 1992), 27–107, here at 44, “Historians agree that Turzo was the only Renaissance
prince Silesia ever had.” Fleischer (63) points out Gustav Bauch’s argument that Hess
always remained under the influence of the Renaissance and followed his humanist
inclinations throughout his life, being even closer to Melanchthon in friendship than
he was to Luther; cf. Gustav Bauch, “Beiträge zur Litteraturgeschichte des schlesischen
Humanismus,” ZVGS 26 (1892): 213–225; idem, “Johann Thurzo und Johann Heß,”
ZVGS 36 (1901): 193–224; idem, “Zur Breslauer Reformationsgeschichte,” ZVGS 41
(1907): 336–352; Julius Köstlin, “Johann Heß, der Breslauer Reformator,” ZVGS 6
(1864–1865): 97–131; 181–265.
Werner Laug, “Johannes Heß und die Disputation in Breslau von 1524,” Jahrbuch
für schlesische Kirchengeschichte 37 (1958): 23–34. The disputation Protokoll can be found in
Kolde, Dr. Johann Heß, 110–121. For a Catholic view on the Lutheran takeover of Bre-
slau, see Fleischer’s discussion (“Humanism and Reformation,” 50ff.) of Kurt Engelbert’s
account; cf. also Fleischer’s “Silesiographia: The Rise of a Regional Historiography,”
ARG 69 (1978): 219–247, especially 232f. on the disputation of 20–23 April 1524; cf.
D. Erdmann, “Luther und seine Beziehungen zu Schlesien, insbesondere zu Breslau,”
Schriften des Vereins für Reformationsgeschichte 5 (1887): 1–75 (Schrift 19).
Fleischer, “Hess,” in OER.
Fleischer, “Humanism and Reformation,” 69.
Benzing, Nr. 2424–2433; WA 23:325–327 lists the ten German editions as: Ax,
Ay, Bx, By, C-H. Printed in Wittenberg in four different editions in 1527 by Hans Lufft,
the work was also published the same year in Augsburg, Nuremberg, Marburg, Mag-
deburg (in both High- and Low German), Zwickau, and Hagenau. Beginning with
a Danish edition in 1534, there were also eleven later German editions published in
the next several decades (1552–1631); Benzing, Nr. 2434–2435. WA 23:327–329 lists
on whether one may flee from a deadly plague 227

the face of a deadly epidemic provides a glimpse of several important

ethical issues of the day.20 By the time he has added to it for printing,
Luther’s document contained three parts, including the Preliminaries:
(I) discussion on the question (LW 43:120–134; WA 23:339–371) of
whether one should flee from death due to plague; this section consti-
tutes about 80 per cent of the document; (II) discussion (LW 43:134f.;
WA 23:371–373) on how one should prepare his soul for death; this
section constitutes about 10 per cent of the document and was also
added for printing; (III) discussion on burial practices (LW 43:135–138;
WA 23:373–379); this section constitutes about 10 per cent of the docu-
ment and was added for printing.
The simple organizational macrostructure of part I is: 26 lines of
preliminaries, followed by the heart of the case: A. Title, Signature, and
salutatio: five lines (LW 43:119: WA 23:339.1–4); B. Narratio: twenty-one
lines (LW 43:119f.; WA 23:339.5–25); C. Substance of the Case (LW
43:120–134; WA 23:339.26—371.4). In my analysis of the heart of the
pamphlet I shall lay out the microstructure.

II. Analysis of Luther’s Book

A. Preliminaries
The salutatio is the familiar Pauline formula that Luther often uses,
“Grace and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ”
(WA 23:339.4f.).21 In the two-paragraph narratio Luther uses the first
paragraph to state the question (Frage)22 that Hess sent to him and to
explain his reasons for the delay in answering. In the second paragraph

the eleven later editions as: ‘a’–‘l’. I have not attempted to investigate to what extent
plague activity coincided with the publication dates after 1527.
The modern edition of the document Luther wrote is found in WA 23, and in
LW 43. WA 23:339–379; LW 43:119–138, translation by Carl J. Schindler. The reader
should bear in mind that the text of WA 23 that I cite will not be of sequential pagina-
tion; rather, the text is found on p. 339, 341, 343, etc. The text is found in two separate
versions, printed on alternating pages; one version derives from Luther’s manuscript
and the other from the earliest print. I shall follow the print version, since it is more
complete, by which I mean that it contains a second section that Luther later added to
his original writing. The original section addresses the questions pertaining to plague,
about which Hess had written; the later section discusses matters of Christian burial.
This latter section was not included in the translation contained in Tappert.
“Gnad und fride von Gott unserm vater und dem HERRN Jhesu Christo.”
Tappert, 230; LW 43:119 translates Frage as ‘letter.’
228 chapter six

he supplies a rationale for why he is now writing, giving permission

also for the letter to be published.
In his first paragraph, the syntax of the opening sentence allows the
explanation for the delay to register as fittingly sincere. Yet Luther is
not merely apologizing, for he then supplies two reasons, each set forth
through doublets, why he had not responded sooner: First, God had
‘disciplined and scourged [zucht und staupe]’ him so that he was unable
to do much ‘reading or writing [lesens noch schreibens]’ (WA 23:339.10f.).23
Second, Luther appears to flatter his reader, Hess, by delineating his
gifts: he has been richly endowed with ‘wisdom and truth [Verstand und
Warheit]’ in Christ and is well qualified to ‘decide and anwer [entscheiden
und richten]’24 this matter in Christ’s ‘Spirit and grace [Geist und Gnade]’
without assistance. Yet more substantively, it is “God, the merciful
Father, [who] has endowed you so richly.” The locution der vater aller
barmhertzickeit is better rendered ‘father of all mercy’ (cf. 2 Cor. 1:3) and
becomes a key phrase in this document.25
In the second paragraph Luther relents, acknowledging that Hess has
humbled himself by seeking Luther’s view. Luther then reciprocates,
agreeing humbly to submit his own opinion for Hess and all devout
Christians who ‘desire or use [begeren und brauchen]’ his instructions.26
As a meaningful conveyance, the doublet is a natural stylistic tool,
since Luther’s scriptural proof text for agreeing to supply an answer
is a two-fold expression gleaned from Paul that is itself an extended
doublet: “we may always agree with one another and be of the same
mind.”27 Indeed, the exigence is urgent, for the rumor of death is, or

Intermittent bouts of fainting, dizziness, and ringing in his ears are well docu-
mented and discussed by Brecht. Luther believed that he was also under severe spiritual
Anfechtungen during the summer of 1527, and Brecht agrees: “The combination of the
psychological and the physical is unmistakable in this illness; Brecht, Martin Luther, 2:205.
The period 1527–1529 was so marked by Luther’s poor health that Brecht discusses the
open letter to Hess within the context of his section on Luther’s ‘Illness’ (205–210).
‘[D]ecide and answer’ is Tappert’s translation (230); LW 43:119 ignores the doublet
and renders it ‘decide.’
Luther acknowledges that his opinion is subject to what God grants (verleyhet)—
namely, that he might ‘understand and perceive [begreiffen mügen zuerkennen]’—and is
submitted for his readers’ own ‘decision and conclusion [urteilen und richten].’ Tappert
(230) ignores Barmhertzickeit, rendering only ‘God the Father.’
Fleischer, “Humanism and Reformation in Silesia,” (55), calls attention to Luther’s
‘forthrightness’ with Hess, especially in their correspondence.
1 Cor. 1:10; 13:11; Phil. 2:2. Tappert (230) translates urteilen und richten as doublet
verbs (‘weighed and judged’).
on whether one may flee from a deadly plague 229

will be, heard in ‘these and many other’ parts (WA 23:339.16–25). As