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

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

XI
Luther’s Church—
Electoral Saxony
(1537–46)

1. THE RELATIONSHIP TO ELECTORAL
SAXON SOCIETY

The relationship between Luther and Elector John Frederick continued to be an enduring and good one. When it seemed desirable to the elector and Luther’s health permitted, he was, as before, summoned, sometimes with Melanchthon, to conferences at the court, primarily to Torgau.1 In addition, the two met together when the elector was residing in Wittenberg. They also carried on an active correspondence, which frequently also involved Luther’s colleagues. The sovereign was Luther’s most frequent correspondent, which is explained not only by the fact that, naturally, their correspondence has been particularly well preserved. Although the initiative in their personal contacts was almost always on the side of the elector, Luther did write to him whenever he thought it necessary. The scope of their relationship was extraordinarily broad. It ranged from great political considerations of church affairs to requests concerning individual cases. Each partner shared with the other what seemed important to him. Their common interests far exceeded their occasional differences of opinion. Each partner respected the other and knew that he was dependent on the other. From the start, neither the sovereign nor the theologian claimed a predominant role. The elector maintained his independent decisions in the light of higher political considerations, and Luther was in no way a docile tool who could automatically be assumed to support the politics of Electoral Saxony. To be sure, sometimes there were boundaries between state and political interests and those of the church and theology, but the men attempted to deal with these needs and demands as much as possible. Luther once stated the relationship generally: “If the government tolerates me as a teacher of the Word, I will honor it and recognize it as my ruler with all respect.”2

John Frederick frequently let Luther know personally of his generous solicitude concerning his salary, supplying additional financial and other support or medical treatment. Nevertheless, the difference in status and two decades in

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