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A letter on Luther's death. From a blank page of a Wittenberg Bible of 1546 in the library of

Cornell University.

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the same hand: “ Philippus Melanthon pflegt zu sagen: Genesin soll
ein Prediger all monat ein mal auss lesen "_" Philip Melanchthon is
wont to say that Genesis a preacher should read through once every
month.” “Is wont to say": our annotator, then, was his familiar,
perhaps his pupil. These notes were worth a careful study; and I I
turned back to begin it. Yet only a single leaf: for on the blank
page immediately preceding—the reverse of that enumerating the
books of the Old Testament—my eye fell on a half-page and more
of the same old handwriting, this time in Latin. Its top line had
been cut away by the binder, leaving only the lower tips of two or
three letters; and at the fore-edge the first three or four letters of
each line had similarly been sacrificed. But what was left of the
opening letter of the top line seemed to show it a capital E; and the
'letters lost at the fore-edge were suggested more or less clearly by
their context. Boldly supplying therefore what is gone (but putting
in brackets all my additions, I transcribe what I found:

[Epistola cujusdam de obitu]
Reverendi Doctoris Lutheri

ad bonum amicum.
Hic omnia luctu plena sunt. Amisimus nostrum currum et verum
[auri]gam in Israel: Doctor Martinus Lutherus mortuus est Islebiae,

quo profectus erat [ad c]omponendum litem inter Comites de Anhalt admodum dissentien

tes. Placidissi[me a]utem morte extinctus est. Cum coenasset, hilariter suo more cum

convivis collo[cutus) est, et iocatus supra modum amanter. Facta coena queritur de

dolore praeri[gor]osum. Adhibentur statim fomenta. Ait se melius habere. Itaque

it suo more (cubit]um, et dormiit fere duabus aut tribus horis, deinde circa horam

xii. (voca]t famulum et jubet calefacere hypocaustum. Surgit et incipit

conqueri de [acri] dolore cordis. Statim accersitur D. Jonas, Chelius pastor; item [mox] comes Albertus una cum conjuge adcurrit. Ibi omnibus praesen

tibus in [lect]ulum inclinans dixit se sentire adesse finem vitae. Postea (in coelum suspiciens flexis manibus dixit Pater coelestis, [om]nipotens, aeterne et vive Deus, ago tibi gratias quod mihi [patJefecisti filium tuum, Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum, [qujem amavi ex corde meo, quem praedicavi, quem aliter [?] propug[na]vi adversus omnes hostes tuos. Quaeso te, mi pater, libera me de [cor]pore hoc et animam meam in manus tuas accipe. Cum hoc [d]ixisset, iterum clamavit, Pater in manus tuas commendo [s]piritum meum. Sic enim Deus dilexit mundum ut filium [su]um unigenitum daret pro eo. Postea statim expiravit.

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Haec est vera narratio, et qui aliter dicunt nihil de hac [re] sciunt. 1546.' Or, in English: [Letter of

regarding the death] of the Reverend Doctor Luther

to a good friend. Everything here is full of grief. We have lost our chariot and true charioteer in Israel: Doctor Martin Luther has died at Eisleben, whither he had gone to settle a dispute between the Counts of Anhalt, who were somewhat at variance. Most peacefully, however, did he meet death. While at supper he conversed gaily, as usual, with his table companions, and jested with exceptional amiability. After supper he complained of very severe pain. Poultices were at once applied, and he said that he felt better. So he went to bed as usual, and slept some two or three hours, then about twelve o'clock called the janitor and bade him heat the sitting-room. He got up and began to complain of a sharp pain in the heart. Immediately Dr. Jonas was summoned, and Pastor Coelius; and soon Count Albert came running in, together with his wife. There, in the presence of all, lying on the couch, he said that he felt the end of his life to have come. Afterward, looking up into heaven, with folded hands, he said: “Heavenly Father, omnipotent, eternal and living God, I thank thee that thou hast manifested unto me thy son, our Lord Jesus Christ, whom I have loved from my heart, whom I have preached, whom in other wise I have championed against all thy foes. I beseech thee, my father, liberate me from this body, and into thy hands accept my soul.” When he had thus spoken, he again cried out, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit. For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten son for its sake.” Thereupon he forthwith gave up the ghost.

This is a true account, and whoever say otherwise know nothing about this matter.

Now it is evident that what we have here is not, like the precious narrative found by Professor Spaeth, the account of an eye-witness. The writer speaks of Luther not as having "come ", but as having "gone ", to Eisleben; and the phrase which he uses (“profectus erat ") suggests that he writes from the place whence Luther set out —from Wittenberg. It was, of course, especially at Wittenberg that

See the facsimile presented herewith. I have of course interpreted the abbreviations and taken the usual liberties with punctuation and capitals. The bracketed words are only guesses ; but, with the exception of the top line, I trust they are correct. In the top line, however, what I have taken for the bottom of an initial E may belong instead to a capital L; and that the word can be Epistola seems almost forbidden by the presence, at about the place where the bottoms of its sixth and seventh letters should be, of two tips which look most like those of our annotator's double "s", though the first may belong to a "p" or a "q", and the second to an “f” or a single “s”. These three are the only remnants of the top line left by the binder, certain other marks which at first sight seem such being, I think, only spatterings of the green dye applied by him to he edges of the volume after trimming. If what I have thought the bottom of its first letter is really so, the top line begins some three letters farther to the left than the line below it.

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everything was full of grief at his death. But there is another phrase yet richer in suggestion. To the student of the occurrences at Luther's death those words about “the chariot of Israel ” have a strangely familiar sound. They are of course a borrowing of the exclamation of Elisha at the fiery exit of his master Elijah ;5 but it is not our letter alone which borrows them. When, on the morning of February 19, twenty-four hours after Luther's death, the sad news was brought to Wittenberg by the letter which Dr. Jonas had at once addressed to his colleagues there and by that which, addressed by him to the Elector at Torgau, had forthwith been forwarded by that prince, it was Philip Melanchthon who was charged with the duty of announcing it to the students and their world. At his nine o'clock lecture on the Epistle to the Romans he laid before them the crushing message, and as he finished the account he exclaimed: "Ach, obiit auriga et currus Israel.” The phrase was still in his mind when, a little later that day, in the name of the university, he answered the letter of Jonas; and he wrote: “ Erat ille omnino currus et auriga Israel." Nor did his students forget the striking expression. Three days later the Nuremberger Hieronymus Besold, writing to Veit Dietrich of these events, quoted Melanchthon as declaring to the students that Luther was “truly the chariot and charioteer of Israel” (vere currus et auriga Israelis) ;and the Carlstadter Adam Lindemann, after the lapse of a fortnight, still recalls (in a letter to his uncle, Johann Drach) how “Philip, when he announced to us Luther's departure, exclaimed : 'Ah, periit currus et auriga Israel.'?9

Now, it is of course possible that the writer of our letter might independently have borrowed Elisha's apostrophe, though the only man likely to borrow it, the only man whom we know to have borrowed it, was the one man who without immodesty could feel himself to stand toward Luther in the relation of Elisha to ElijahLuther's younger coadjutor and natural successor, Philip Melanchthon. But, whoever else should borrow it, no Lutheran-and a Lutheran our letter-writer clearly is--was likely independently to borrow it in this form. “Currus Israel et auriga ejus ” was indeed the reading of the Latin Vulgate and familiar to all brought up in the older church; but the critical scholarship of the sixteenth century had early substituted equites for auriga ; and, as our current English versions read, not "charioteer", but “ horsemen", so from the first had Martin Luther's. Even in his autograph manuscript, of 1523,

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5 II Kings ii. 12.
Corpus Reformatorum, VI. 58, 59.
? Ibid., p. 57.
* Kawerau, Der Briefwechsel des Justus Jonas, II. 183.
Beiträge zur Buyerischen Kirchengeschichte, hrsg. v. Kolde, III. 274.

pe 'ess the

"furman(fuhrmann) is stricken out and reutter" (reiter) written above it.10 This correction resulted at first in an odd confusion, for in the earliest complete edition of his Bible (1534) one reads of the Furman Israel und sein Reuter—the “charioteer of Israel and the horsemen thereof"; but this was speedily corrected to the Wagen Israel und sein Reiter", the reading of Lutheran Bibles to this day. Surely nobody at Wittenberg but Philip Melanchthon or one who caught the phrase from him would have been so bold as to use the discredited Vulgate wording.

But the writer of our letter makes the chariot and charioteer not those of Israel, but those in Israel; and, unless this be a blunder of the transcriber, the misquotation may well seem to preclude Melanchthon's own authorship of it. Yet this would be hardly a greater liberty with the phrase than he took when, in his address to the students, he added to it the words “who ruled the church in this last age of the world” or when in his letter to Jonas he added “stirred up by God to establish and purify the ministry of the Gospel". If not Melanchthon, who but one of his students could have written it?

That it was written on the very day of the receipt of the news is made probable—if the document be complete—by its brevity and by its silence as to the subsequent happenings. But we have no assurance that this transcript is complete; the abridged form of the date is one often found in an extract. Yet there is another reason, mentioned by the letter itself, why it is likely to have been promptly written. Melanchthon himself explained to his students that his grief could hardly have permitted him to make the announcement, had not others (was it the Elector perhaps who had been thus urgent?) insisted that without delay the true story of Luther's death should be laid before them, lest false reports might be spread abroad by them or gain a hearing among them. There was reason enough for the fear. Never since Lactantius gloried in the dying agonies of the persecutors had Christians been more eager to find in the death of a religious foe some token of the vengeance of Heaven. Luther himself, alas, had been only too ready to credit and spread such slanders; and his friends knew well how many enemies were expectantly awaiting the moment when they could trumpet abroad how death had brought to shame the arch-heretic himself. It is to the credit of his vigilant friends as well as to the honor of his opponents that the charges then set afloat proved on the whole so trifling. That long before a century was gone there nevertheless found currency a legend of his suicide needs no telling in the days of Majunke and Honef and Kleis; and, though the generous Catholic scholarship

10 See Die Deutsche Bibel (in the Weimar edition of his works), I. 199.

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