History of the christian church


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§ 76. The Three Electors.

G. Spalatin: Friedrich d. Weise, Lebensgeschichte, ed. by Neudecker and Preller, Jena, 1851. Tutzschmann: Fr. d. W., Grimma, 1848. Ranke, vol. II. Kolde: Friedrich der Weise und die Anfänge der Reformation, Erlangen, 1881. Köstlin in the Studien u. Kritiken, 1882, p. 700, (vers. Kolde). Comp. §§ 26 and 61.

Shortly before the close of the Peasants’ War, Frederick III., surnamed the Wise, Elector of Saxony (1486–1525), died peacefully as he had lived, in his sixty-third year, May 5, 1525. His last hours at the castle of Lochau form a striking contrast with the stormy and bloody scenes around him. He hoped that the common people would not prevail, but admitted that they had reason to complain of harsh treatment. "Dear children," he said to his servants, "if I have wronged any one of you, I beg you to forgive me for God’s sake; we princes do many naughty things to the poor people." Shortly before his death, he partook of the holy communion in both kinds. This is the only distinct Protestant act in his life. His body was removed to Wittenberg, and buried in the castle church at which Luther had posted his Ninety-Five Theses. Melanchthon delivered a Latin oration; Luther wrote letters of condolence to his brother and nephew, who succeeded him, and praised his wisdom, his kindness to his subjects, his love of justice and hatred of falsehood. Aleander, the Pope’s legate at Worms, called him the old fox of Saxony, but in history he bears the name of the Wise. He had charge of the German Empire after the death of Maximilian; he modestly declined the imperial crown; he decided the election of King Charles of Spain, and was the only Elector who did not sell his vote.

Frederick was a devout Catholic, a believer in relics and indulgences, but at the same time a lover of fair dealing, an admirer of Luther, and much concerned for his university. He saved the German Reformation by saving the Reformer, without openly breaking with the Catholic Church. He never saw Luther, except at a distance in the Diet of Worms, and communicated with him chiefly through his chaplain and secretary, Spalatin. His cautious reserve was the best policy for the time.

Frederick was succeeded by his brother, John the Steadfast or Constant (1525–1532). He was less prudent and influential in politics, but a more determined adherent of the Reformation. He was too fat to mount his horse without the aid of a machine. He went to sleep at times under Luther’s sermons, but stood by him at every cost. His motto was: "The word of God abideth for ever," which was placed on his ensigns and liveries.573 He was the first to sign the immortal protest of Speier in 1529, and the Confession of Augsburg in 1530.

His son and successor, John Frederick the Magnanimous (1532–1554), survived Luther. He founded the University of Jena. He suffered the disastrous defeat at Mühlberg (April 24, 1547), and would rather lose his Electorate and half of his estates than deny the evangelical faith in which he was brought up. How different was the conduct of Elector Augustus the Strong of Saxony, who sold the Lutheran faith of his ancestors for the crown of Poland (1697), and disgraced both by his scandulous life.

Luther has left some characteristic remarks about his three sovereigns. Of Frederick, whom he only knew from a distance, he said, "He was a wise, intelligent, able, and good man, who hated all display and hypocrisy. He was never married.574 His life was pure and modest. His motto ’Tantum quantum possim’ was a sign of his good sense .... He was a fine manager and economist. He listened patiently in his council, shut his eyes, and took notes of each opinion. Then he formed his own conclusion. Such a prince is a blessing from God." Of John he said, "He had six pages to wait on him. They read the Bible to him for six hours every day. He often went to sleep, but when he awoke he had always some good text in his mouth. At sermon he used to take notes in a pocket-book. Church government and secular affairs were well administered. The Emperor had only good to say of him. He had a strong frame, and a hard death. He roared like a lion." John Frederick he judged to be "too indulgent, though he hates untruth and loose living. He fears God, and has his five wits about him. You never hear an impure or dishonorable word from his lips. He is a chaste husband, and loves his wife,—a rare virtue among kings and princes. One fault he has: he eats and drinks too much. Perhaps so big a body requires more than a small one. Otherwise he works like a donkey; and, drink what he will, he always reads the Bible or some good book before he goes to sleep."575

These three Electors of Saxony are the model princes of the Lutheran Reformation, which owes much to their protection. Philip of Hesse was more intelligent, brilliant, liberal, and daring than any of them, but his bigamy paralyzed his influence. He leaned more to the Reformed side, and stood on good terms with Zwingli. The most pious of the princes of Germany in the sixteenth century was Frederick III., surnamed the Pious, Elector of the Palatinate (1559–1576), who introduced the Heidelberg Catechism.

The Protestant sovereigns became supreme bishops in their respective dominions. They did not preach, nor administer the sacraments, but assumed the episcopal jurisdiction in the government of the Church, and exercised also the right of reforming the Church (jus reformationis) in their dominions, whereby they established a particular confession as the state religion, and excluded others, or reduced them to the condition of mere toleration. This right they claimed by virtue of a resolution of the Diet of Speier, in 1526, which was confirmed by the Peace of Augsburg, 1555, and ultimately by the Peace of Westphalia, 1648. The Reformers regarded this secular summepiscopate as a temporary arrangement which was forced upon them by the hostility of the bishops who adhered to the Pope. They justified it by the example of Josiah and other pious kings of Israel, who destroyed idolatry and restored the pure worship of Jehovah. They accepted the protection and support of the princes at the sacrifice of the freedom and independence of the church, which became an humble servant of the state. Melanchthon regretted this condition; and in view of the rapacity of the princes, and the confusion of things, he wished the old bishops back again, and was willing even to submit to the authority of a pope if the pope would allow the freedom of the gospel. In Scandinavia and England the episcopal hierarchy was retained, or a new one substituted for the old, and gave the church more power and influence in the government.
§ 77. Luther’s Marriage. 1525.
I. Luther’s Letters of May and June, 1525, touching on his marriage, in De Wette’s collection, at the end of second and beginning of third vols. His views on matrimonial duties, in several sermons, e.g., Predigt vom Ehestand, 1525 (Erl. ed., xvi. 165 sqq.), and in his Com. on 1 Cor. vii., publ. Wittenberg, 1523, and in Latin, 1525 (Erl. ed., xix. l-69). He wished to prevent this chapter from being used as a Schanddeckel der falsch-berümten Keuschheit. His views about Katie, in Walch, XXIV. 150. His table-talk about marriage and woman, in Bindseil’s Colloquia, II. 332–336. A letter of Justus Jonas to Spalatin (June 14, 1525), and one of Melanchthon to Camerarius (June 16).

II. The biographies of Katharina von Bora by Walch (1752), Beste (1843), Hofmann(1845), Meurer(1854). Uhlhorn: K. v. B., in Herzog2, vol. II. 564–567. Köstlin: Leben Luthers, I. 766–772; II. 488 sqq., 605 sqq.; his small biography, Am. ed. (Scribner’s), pp. 325–335, and 535 sqq. Beyschlag: Luther’s Hausstand in seiner reform. Bedeutung. Barmen, 1888.

III. Burk: Spiegel edler Pfarrfrauen. Stuttgart, 3d ed. 1885. W. Baur (Gen. Superintendent of the Prussian Rhine Province): Das deutsche evangelische Pfarrhaus, seine Gründung, seine Entfaltung und sein Bestand. Bremen, 1877, 3d ed. 1884.
Amidst the disturbances and terrors of the Peasants’ War, in full view of his personal danger, and in expectation of the approaching end of the world, Luther surprised his friends and encouraged his foes by his sudden marriage with a poor fugitive nun. He wrote to his friend Link: "Suddenly, and while I was occupied with far other thoughts, the Lord has, plunged me into marriage."

The manner was highly characteristic, neither saint-like nor sinner-like, but eminently Luther-like. By taking to himself a wife, he wished to please his father, to tease the Pope, and to vex the Devil. Beneath was a deeper and nobler motive, to rescue the oldest ordinance of God on earth from the tyranny of Rome, and to vindicate by his own example the right of ministers to the benefit of this ordinance. Under this view, his marriage is a public event of far-reaching consequence. It created the home life of the evangelical clergy.

He had long before been convinced that vows of perpetual celibacy are unscriptural and unnatural. He held that God has created man for marriage, and that those who oppose it must either be ashamed of their manhood, or pretend to be wiser than God. He did not object to the marriage of Carlstadt, Jonas, Bugenhagen, and other priests and monks. But he himself seemed resolved to remain single, and continued to live in the convent. He was now over forty years of age; eight years had elapsed since he opened the controversy with Rome in the Ninety-Five Theses; and, although a man of powerful passions, he had strictly kept his monastic and clerical vow. His enemies charged him with drinking beer, playing the lute, leading a worldly life, but never dared to dispute his chastity till after his marriage. As late as Nov. 30, 1524, he wrote to Spalatin I shall never take a wife, as I feel at present. Not that I am insensible to my flesh or sex (for I am neither wood nor stone); but my mind is averse to wedlock, because I daily expect the death of a heretic."576 But on April 10, 1525, he wrote to the same friend: "Why do you not get married? I find so many reasons for urging others to marry, that I shall soon be brought to it myself, notwithstanding that enemies never cease to condemn the married state, and our little wiseacres (sapientuli) ridicule it every day."577 He got tired of his monastic seclusion; the convent was nearly emptied, and its resources cut off; his bed, as Melanchthon tells us, was not properly made for months, and was mildewed with perspiration; he lived of the plainest food; he worked himself nearly to death; he felt the need of a helpmate.

In April, 1523, nine nuns escaped from the convent of Nimptsch near Grimma, fled to Wittenberg, and appealed to Luther for protection and aid. Among them was Catharina von Bora,578 a virgin of noble birth, but poor, fifteen years younger than Luther,579 not remarkable for beauty or culture, but healthy, strong, frank, intelligent, and high-minded. In looking at the portraits of Dr. and Mrs. Luther in their honeymoon, we must remember that they were painted by Cranach, and not by Raphael or Titian.580

Catharina had been attached and almost engaged to a former student of Wittenberg from Nürnberg; but he changed his mind, to her great grief, and married a rich wife (1523). After this Luther arranged a match between her and Dr. Glatz of Orlamünde (who was afterwards deposed); but she refused him, and intimated to Amsdorf, that she would not object to marry him or the Reformer. Amsdorf remained single. Luther at first was afraid of her pride, but changed his mind. On May 4, 1525, he wrote to Dr. Rühel (councilor of Count Albrecht of Mansfeld, and of Cardinal Albrecht of Mainz), that he would, take his Katie to wife before he died, in spite of the Devil."581 He left his friends ignorant of the secret, deeming it unwise to talk much about such delicate matters. "A man," he said, "must ask God for counsel, and pray, and then act accordingly."

On the evening of June 13, on Tuesday after Trinity Sunday, he invited Bugenhagen, Jonas, Lucas Cranach and wife, and a professor of jurisprudence, Apel (an ex-Dean of the Cathedral of Bamberg, who had himself married a nun), to, his house, and in their presence was joined in matrimony to Catharina von Bora in the name of the Holy Trinity. Bugenhagen performed the ceremony in the customary manner. On the following morning he entertained his friends at breakfast. Justus Jonas reported the marriage to Spalatin through a special messenger. He was affected by it to tears, and saw in it the wonderful hand of God.582

On June 27 Luther celebrated his wedding in a more public, yet modest style, by a nuptial feast, and invited his father and mother and his distant friends to "seal and ratify" the union, and to "pronounce the benediction."583 He mentioned with special satisfaction that he had now fulfilled an old duty to his father, who wished him to marry. The University presented him with a rich silver goblet (now in possession of the University of Greifswald), bearing the inscription: "The honorable University of the electoral town of Wittenberg presents this wedding gift to Doctor Martin Luther and his wife Kethe von Bora." The magistrate provided the pair with a barrel of Eimbeck beer, a small quantity of good wine, and twenty guilders in silver. What is very remarkable, Archbishop Albrecht sent to Katie through Rühel a wedding gift of twenty guilders in gold; Luther declined it for himself, but let Katie have it.584 Several wedding-rings of doubtful genuineness have been preserved, especially one which bears the image of the crucified Saviour, and the inscription, "D. Martino Luthero Catharina v. Boren, 13 Jun. 1525." It has been multiplied in 1817 by several copies. They lived together in the old Augustinian convent, which was now empty. He was not much interrupted in his studies, and at the end of the same year he published his violent book against Erasmus, who wondered that marriage had not softened his temper.

The event was a rich theme for slander and gossip. His enemies circulated a slander about a previous breach of the vow of chastity, and predicted that, according to a popular tradition, the ex-monk and ex-nun would give birth to Antichrist. Erasmus contradicts the slander, and remarked that if that tradition was true, there must have been many thousands of antichrists before this.585 Melanchthon (who had been invited to the feast of the 27th of June, but not to the ceremony of the 13th), in a Greek letter to his friend Camerarius (June 16), expressed the fear that Luther, though he might be ultimately benefited by his marriage, had committed a lamentable act of levity and weakness, and injured his influence at a time when Germany most needed it.586

Luther himself felt at first strange and restless in his new relation, but soon recovered. He wrote to Spalatin, June 16, "l have made myself so vile and contemptible forsooth that all the angels, I hope, will laugh, and all the devils weep."587 A year after he wrote to Stiefel (Aug. 11, 1526): "Catharina, my dear rib, salutes you, and thanks you for your letter. She is, thanks to God, gentle, obedient, compliant in all things, beyond my hopes. I would not exchange my poverty for the wealth of Croesus."588 He often preached on the trials and duties of married life truthfully and effectively, from practical experience, and with pious gratitude for that holy state which God ordained in paradise, and which Christ honored by his first miracle. He calls matrimony a gift of God, wedlock the sweetest, chastest life, above all celibacy, or else a veritable hell.
§ 78. Luther’s Home Life.
Luther and Katie were well suited to each other. They lived happily together for twenty-one years, and shared the usual burdens and joys. Their domestic life is very characteristic, full of good nature, innocent humor, cordial affection, rugged simplicity, and thoroughly German. It falls below the refinement of a modern Christian home, and some of his utterances on the relation between the two sexes are coarse; but we must remember the rudeness of the age, and his peasant origin. No stain rests upon his home life, in which he was as gentle as a lamb and as a child among children.

"Next to God’s Word," he said from his personal experience, "there is no more precious treasure than holy matrimony. God’s highest gift on earth is a pious, cheerful, God-fearing, home-keeping wife, with whom you may live peacefully, to whom you may intrust your goods and body and life."

He loved his wife dearly, and playfully called her in his letters "my heartily beloved, gracious housewife, bound hand and foot in loving service, Catharine, Lady Luther, Lady Doctor, Lady of Zulsdorf.589 Lady of the Pigmarket,590 and whatever else she may be." She was a good German Hausfrau, caring for the wants of her husband and children; she contributed to his personal comfort in sickness and health, and enabled him to exercise his hospitality. She had a strong will, and knew how to take her own part. He sometimes speaks of her as his "Lord Katie," and of himself as her "willing servant." "Katie," he said to her, "you have a pious husband who loves you; you are an empress." Once in 1535 he promised her fifty guilders if she would read the Bible through; whereupon, as he told a friend, it became a very serious matter with her." She could not understand why God commanded Abraham to do such a cruel thing as to kill his own child; but Luther pointed her to God’s sacrifice of his only Son, and to the resurrection from the dead. To Katie and to Melanchthon he wrote his last letters (five to her, three to Melanchthon) from Eisleben shortly before his death, informing her of his journey, his diet and condition, complaining of fifty Jews under the protection of the widowed Countess of Mansfeld, sending greetings to Master Philip (Melanchthon), and quieting her apprehensions about his health.

"Pray read, dear Katie, the Gospel of John and the little Catechism .... You worry yourself about your God, just as if He were not Almighty, and able to create ten Doctor Martin Luthers for the old one drowned perhaps in the Saale, or fallen dead by the fireplace, or on Wolf’s fowling floor. Leave me in peace with your cares; I have a better protector than you and all the angels. He—my Protector—lies in the manger and hangs upon a Virgin’s breast, but He sits also at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. Rest, therefore, in peace. Amen."591

In his will (1542), seventeen years after his marriage, he calls her a "pious, faithful, and devoted wife, full of loving, tender care towards him." At times, however, he felt oppressed by domestic troubles, and said once he would not marry again, not even a queen. Those were passing moods. "Oh, how smoothly things move on, when man and wife sit lovingly at table! Though they have their little bickerings now and then, they must not mind that. Put up with it." "We must have patience with woman, though she be it times sharp and bitter. She presides over the household machinery, and the servants deserve occasionally a good scolding." He put the highest honor of woman on her motherhood. "All men," he said, "are conceived, born, and nursed by women. Thence come the little darlings, the highly prized heirs. This honor ought in fairness to cover up all feminine weakness."

Luther had six children,—three daughters, two of whom died young, and three sons, Hans (John), Martin, and Paul. None inherited his genius. Hans gave him much trouble. Paul rose to some eminence as physician of the Elector, and died at Dresden, 1593. The sons accompanied their father on his last journey to Eisleben.592 His wife’s aunt, Magdalen von Bora, who had been a nun and head-nurse in the same cloister, lived with his family, and was esteemed like a grandmother by him and his children. Two orphan nieces, and a tutor for the boys, an amanuensis, and a number of students as boarders, belonged to the household in a portion of the former convent on the banks of the Elbe. The chief sitting-room of the family, his bedroom, and the lecture hall are still shown in "the Lutherhaus."

He began the day, after his private devotions, which were frequent and ardent, with reciting in his family the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and a Psalm. He went to bed at nine, but rose early, and kept wide awake during the day. Of his private devotions we have an authentic account from his companion, Veit Dietrich, who wrote to Melanchthon during the Diet of Augsburg, 1530, when Luther was at Coburg, feeling the whole weight of that great crisis: —

"No day passes that he does not give three hours to prayer, and those the fittest for study. Once I happened to hear him praying. Good God! how great a spirit, how great a faith, was in his very words! With such reverence did he ask, as if he felt that he was speaking with God; with such hope and faith, as with a Father and a Friend. ’I know,’ he said, ’that Thou art our Father and our God. I am certain, therefore, that Thou art about to destroy the persecutors of Thy children. If Thou doest not, then our danger is Thine too. This business is wholly Thine, we come to it under compulsion: Thou, therefore, defend.’ ... In almost these words I, standing afar off, heard him praying with a clear voice. And my mind burned within me with a singular emotion when he spoke in so friendly a manner, so weightily, so reverently, to God."

Luther celebrated the festivals, especially Christmas, with childlike joy. One of the most familiar scenes of Christian family life in Germany is Luther with his children around the Christmas-tree, singing his own Christmas hymn:
"Good news from heaven the angels bring,

Glad tidings to the earth they ring."593

Nothing can be more charming or creditable to his heart than the truly childlike letter he wrote to his oldest boy Hans, then four years of age, from Coburg, during the sessions of the Augsburg Diet in the momentous year 1530.594
"Grace and peace in Christ, my dear little boy. I am pleased to see that thou learnest thy lessons well, and prayest diligently. Go on thus, my dear boy, and when I come home, I will bring you a fine fairing. I know of a pretty, delightful garden, where are merry children that have gold frocks, and gather nice apples and pears, cherries and plums under the trees, and sing and jump and are happy; they also ride on fine little horses with gold bridles and silver saddles. I asked the man who owns the garden, who the children were. He said, ’These are the children who love to pray and to learn, and are good.’ Then I said, ’Dear man, I also have a son who is called Hans Luther. May he not come to this garden and eat such pretty apples and pears, and ride on such fine little horses, and play with these children?’ The man said, ’If he likes to pray and to learn, and is pious, he may come to the garden, and Lippus595 and Jost596 may come also; and if they all come together, they shall have pipes and drums and lutes and fiddles, and they shall dance and shoot with little crossbows.’

"Then he showed me a smooth lawn in the garden laid out for dancing, and there hung the golden pipes and drums and crossbows. But it was still early, and the children had not dined; therefore I could not wait for the dance. So I said, ’Dear sir, I will go straight home and write all this to my little boy; but he has an aunt, Lene,597 that he must bring with him.’ And the man answered, ’So it shall be; go and write as you say.’

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