Martin Luther: The Preservation of the Church, 1532-1546

By Martin Brecht; James L. Schaaf | Go to book overview

IX
Personal Affairs
(1537–46)

1. ILL, OLD, AND TIRED OF LIVING

Most of the information we have about how Luther fared personally in the last years of his life has to do with his health. He had not become a hypochondriac, but he was troubled with many illnesses and his strength had obviously diminished, while his work load was not reduced in the same measure. His attitude toward what was happening around him and his opinion of what confronted him could not have been unaffected by this. Of course, one must guard against too hastily explaining Luther’s actions in the last years of his life as the grumpiness of an old man.

Luther recovered slowly from the severe illness that afflicted him in Schmalkalden in February 1537. At the end of April or the beginning of May he suffered a fainting spell during the worship service. He saw this as a renewed attack of the devil, and said one had to turn to Christ the true physician against it. He was aware that everything could quickly come to an end for him. Not until the beginning of July did he resume his lecturing and preaching. Even then he did not feel in complete possession of his strength,1 although he appears to have been in reasonably good health in the months following. In November he celebrated the Lord’s Supper in his home because his kidney stones were troubling him again. At the end of the year he frequently had to cut his sermons short because of weakness. At that time the physician Augustine Schurf predicted that Luther would die of a stroke. This made little impression on the patient. Only a blessed death interested him.2

Luther blamed the pain of his stones—they were in his kidneys and bladder—on drinking bad wine. He only reluctantly complied with the strict diet prescribed by the physicians, for it seemed as bad as death to him. He had little use for preventive measures. He did not want to starve to death: “I’ll eat what I want, and die when God wills.” The more harmless version of this statement was: “I’ll eat what tastes good and endure what I can.” He liked his rich, “good, ordinary household food” and a good drink. He much preferred tender pork to dry venison and wild game. He considered it appropriate to take a short afternoon nap following lunch. The elector once said the sick Luther was not “always an agreeable medicine-man,” i.e., he was an impatient

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