Tour of Luther’s Germany: July 23
Saturday, July 23, 2022: Neuschwanstein Castle, Oberammergau
Today is all about the Romantic Road, Bavaria and the Alps, encountering lovely vistas, idyllic small towns, going through the Franconian wine country and into the Alps. A trip to Bavaria would not be complete without visiting Neuschwanstein Castle. We end our day at our hotel for 2 nights in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. (Our hotel is at the foot of the Zugspitze – the highest point in Germany!)
A bit of history
Set among the mountains high above the Pöllat River gorge, Neuschwanstein Castle is one of the most photographed castles in all of Europe. The palace was commissioned and paid for by eccentric “Mad” King Ludwig II of Bavaria as a retreat in honor of world-renowned composer Richard Wagner. Inspired by a visit to Wartburg Castle in 1868, Ludwig wrote to Wagner: “I intend to rebuild the old castle ruins….in the genuine style of the old German Knightly fortresses.” Set with towers and spires, it was built in imitation of a medieval castle, the embodiment of 19th century Romanticism. By the end of 1882 it was completed and fully furnished, allowing Ludwig to take lodging there and observe the ongoing construction work.
As Bavaria struggled economically, however, Ludwig spent lavishly. He withdrew with visions of excessive grandeur and glory, becoming reclusive and an annoyance to the people of his reign. By 1885, he’d spent so much that foreign banks threatened to seize his property. The king’s refusal to react rationally led the government to declare him insane and depose him in 1886. The very next day, he died in mysterious circumstances in Lake Starnberg, together with the psychiatrist who had certified him as insane.
Marriage and family – Luther style
Since we are travelling the Romantic Road today, it seems fitting to celebrate Luther’s family life, which proved to be a source of great comfort and joy for him. As early as 1519, Luther preached sermons extolling the virtues of marriage, formally advocating an end to celibacy requirements for priests, monks and nuns. As the Reformation took hold, nuns and monks were leaving convents and monasteries, either returning to their homes, entering into service or getting married. Luther himself was released from his monastic vows by his confessor Staupitz in 1518, allowing Luther the freedom to argue theologically without jeopardizing the Augustinian Order. So when Luther returned to Wittenberg from Wartburg Castle, he found the Augustinian cloister (known today as Luther Haus), fairly empty. So Frederick placed the cloister in Luther’s charge, and he lived there until his death in 1546.
Katharina von Bora was placed in a convent at the age of 5, presumably for educational purposes, but some records indicate that her father had remarried, and Katie was unwanted. By the time Luther was gaining prominence, 19-year old Katie was in a convent in Nimbschen, which was in the portion of Saxony that was loyal to the pope. Having read Luther’s writings, Katie and 10 other nuns wished to leave the convent, but to do so would be illegal, as Luther and his followers were still “enemies of the empire.” Katie wrote to Luther requesting assistance.
Whether fact or fiction, the story of Katie’s escape is a good one. Luther sent to Nimbschen a city councilman of Torgau named Leonhard Köppe. He was also a merchant who regularly delivered herring to the convent. The nuns escaped by hiding in Köppe’s covered wagon among the fish barrels and fled to Wittenberg. A local student wrote to a friend: “A wagon load of vestal virgins has just come to town, all more eager for marriage than for life. God grant them husbands lest worse befall.”
Some of the 11 returned to their homes, others into service, and the rest settled in Wittenberg, where Luther played matchmaker. After 2 years, Katie was the only one remaining, after a long courtship with another man that did not result in a proposal. Living with the family of Lucas Cranach at this time, she finally admitted that she would marry Doctor Luther. Even though Luther was a strong proponent of marriage, he himself was reluctant to do so, primarily because he expected to be executed at any time. But in 1525, he decided that ‘his marriage would please his father, rile the pope, cause the angels to laugh, and the devils to weep.” So they were married on June 13, 1525.
As a theologian, Luther was brilliant. As a husband, Luther had much to learn. His personal hygiene and the general cleanliness of his home were significantly lacking. He once wrote: “Before I was married the bed was not made for a whole year and became foul with sweat. But I worked so hard and was so weary I tumbled in without noticing it.” He also suffered from a number of illnesses including skin sores, significant gas, and regular bouts of constipation or diarrhea (about which he wrote extensively.) Katie cleaned Luther up – literally, taking charge of the household and his medical care.
Luther was also notoriously bad with money. He earned a stipend for teaching at Wittenberg and his housing was provided by Prince Frederick, but he never seemed to have funds for sufficient food, necessary travel, etc. He was also notoriously generous with his gifts. In addition to the Luther family, the cloister was filled with students, travelling theologians and relatives – none of whom contributed to the coffers. Katie changed that, not only charging students and visitors for room and board but growing the food and drink for which she was charging them. She eventually purchased a farm in Zulsdorf, raising the family’s meat, brewing her own beer and keeping an orchard to produce their own wine. While Luther was formally in charge of the finances, Katie controlled the purse strings. So much so that when Luther wrote that he was sending a vase to a friend as a wedding present, he had to add a P.S., saying that Katie had hidden it from him so he wouldn’t give it away.
Martin and Katie had 6 biological children, and raised 4 orphans in the Lutherhaus. Luther held his children in great esteem. At the birth of his first son, he wrote: “My dear Katie brought into the world yesterday by God’s grace at two o’clock a little son, Hans Luther. I must stop. Sick Katie calls me.”
He was also overhead saying: “Child, what have you done that I should love you so? You have disturbed the whole household with your bawling.”
Two of their daughters would not survive childhood, one dying at 8 months and the other at the age of 13. We have the following account of her death. Luther said “O God, I love her so, but thy will be done.” And turning to her, “Magdalenchen, my little girl, you would like to stay with your father here and you would be glad to go to your Father in heaven?” And she said, “Yes, dear father, as God wills.” And Luther reproached himself because God had blessed him as no bishop had been blessed in a thousand years, and yet he could not find it in his heart to give God thanks. Katie stood off, overcome by grief; and Luther held the child in his arms as she passed on. When she was laid away, he said, “Du liebes Lenchen, you will rise and shine like the stars and the sun. How strange it is to know that she is at peace and all is well, and yet to be so sorrowful!”
It was during this period of grief, and at the death of numerous Wittenberg friends from the plague, that Luther wrote A Mighty Fortress: “Were they to take our house, good, honor, child or spouse, though life be wrenched away, they cannot win the day. The kingdom’s our forever.”
While Luther’s initial reasons for marrying were not particularly romantic, in the end, he deeply loved and appreciated Katie’s presence in his life. He often expressed his appreciation in humor, calling her Kette instead of Katie (meaning “my chain”), referring to her as “my Lord”, but also writing: “I give more credit to Katherine than to Christ, who has done so much more for me.” Luther’s final statement of trust was that he willed all of his earthly possessions to Katie, rather than to his eldest son, as was the custom at that time.
Reflection verses Proverbs 31:10-18, 23-31
A capable wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. She is like the ships of the merchant, she brings her food from far away. She rises while it is still night and provides food for her household and tasks for her servant-girls. She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. She girds herself with strength, and makes her arms strong
Her husband is known in the city gates, taking his seat among the elders of the land. She makes linen garments and sells them; she supplies the merchant with sashes. Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. Her children rise up and call her happy; her husband too, and he praises her: “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Give her a share in the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the city gates.
Many people should be credited with the work of the Reformation and one cannot underestimate the contributions of Katie. Particularly the period from 1525 (his marriage) to 1546 (his death) Luther could not have been the stabilizing presence guiding the Reformation if not for Katie. His health most certainly would have deteriorated quickly, and his lifestyle and finances would have limited his effectiveness. Luther and Katie also gave Christendom the first glance into the home life of a pastor and his family, setting the model of the Christian parsonage which lasted for centuries.
How does the relationship between Martin and Katie shape your ideas of love and marriage? In what ways could modern society benefit from their example? In what ways are such models too limited in today’s pluralistic society. For those from the Roman Catholic tradition, do you find aspects of Luther’s home life challenging? Enlightening? Confusing? Do you agree with celibacy for the clergy or has that pattern outlived its usefulness?
Hymn of the day Children of the Heavenly Father
Where we’re staying ~ Hotel Rheinischer Hof, Garmisch-Partenkirchen (for 2 nights).
A look ahead
Tomorrow is the highpoint of our tour, seeing the Passion Play in Oberammergau.
Tour of Luther’s Germany: candid photos from July 20 and 21
Thank you for the prayers. I am feeling much better, the weather has cooled off (from 102 to 82 – yeah!) and we spent most of the day outside, so I am much revived.
Personal thoughts from our time in Erfurt.
Two powerful things took place yesterday – among the highest and humbling spiritual experiences I can recall. We received a private tour of the sanctuary in the Augustinian Cloister in which Martin Luther became a monk. He was ordained a priest at the large cathedral downtown, but celebrated his first mass in this sanctuary as well. Part of a monks process of taking a vow is to lay prostrate before the altar and offer oneself fully to service to God. While it felt silly at first, I did it anyway – laying facedown on the stone, right where Luther did the same, and taking some deep breaths committed myself more fully to seeking to know and serve God. “I am yours” was the prayer running through my mind. In no way to I equate my ministry to that of Martin Luther, but it was a powerful moment in my nearly 30 years of ministry and deeply humbling as well.
Then after our tour was complete, I had the privilege of celebrating Holy Communion in the same chancel where Luther celebrated his first. Again, a high honor yet humbling as well. Considering everything that Luther went through to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ our Lord, it is a joyous calling for us all to do the same. Pictures below explain.
Tour of Luther’s Germany: July 21
I’m sorry to not send candid photos. I am fighting my way through a summer cold, combined with no air conditioning and 102 heat yesterday. So I am lagging behind. I’ll try to get an additional email of candids later today. The temp is only supposed to be 88 today, so that will be a relief!
Thursday, July 21, 2022: Rhine Cruise, Worms, Heidelberg
We begin our day with a Rhine river cruise, sailing past magnificent castles and the famous Lorelei rock to St. Goar. The Rhine River valley is beautiful, with stunning views around every bend.
After our leisurely morning, we drive to Worms, site of the famous 1521 Diet of Worms.
A bit of history
Worms began as a Celtic city in ancient times, being conquered by a Germanic tribe in 14 BC. The bishopric of Worms existed by at least 614, having authority over the city and its territory. Approximately 100 Imperial “diets” (general assemblies) were held in Worms. The most famous of which being in 1521, where Luther appeared before Emperor Charles V, who demanded that he recant his teachings.
Leading up to Worms
The years between October 1517 (when the 95 theses were posted) to early 1521 were prolific years for Luther, both in writing and in formal debate with Catholic leadership. In 1518, he defended his writings on indulgences at the Heidelberg disputation in 1518 and appeared before Cardinal Cajetan, In a debate in Leipzig with Johannes Eck in 1519, he publicly challenged the primacy of the Pope, established the principle of “Sola Scripture” which stated that the scriptures take precedence over the teachings of the church, and challenged the doctrine of purgatory. During this period, Luther wrote 3 major works entitled “To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation”, “The Babylonian Captivity of the Church,”, and “The Freedom of a Christian.” These writings, along with his increasingly heated correspondence with the Roman authorities prompted Pope Leo X’s papal bull “Excurge Domine”, giving Luther 60 days to answer to accusations of heresy. When those 60 days expired, Luther was officially excommunicated by Leo X. What was Luther’s response? He burned the papal bull and other Catholic writings – spurring greater enthusiasm from the crowds in Wittenberg.
Metaxes reflects on this period of Luther’s witness: “Part of Luther’s appeal came from his escalating outspokenness. Just when he said one thing that everyone insisted no one must ever say, he said another and then another. . . The reason for this was that as Luther’s sense of his own danger increased, so did his boldness. He thought, what do I have to lose? I am speaking the truth and therefore my life is in danger; so I might as well say what I can while I have breath in me. His willingness to go further and further, wherever he felt the truth led him, became breathtaking.”
This perspective greatly influenced his response at the Diet of Worms in April 1521.
The Diet of Worms
Emperor Charles V called the Diet (a formal deliberative assembly) and promised Luther safe passage to attend. Even though he had been summoned to renounce or reaffirm his views, Luther arrived in Worms with a wagon full of books, ready to debate his positions.
On his first day at the Diet, Luther was asked to confirm that the books laid on a table before him were his writings – which he did. The authorities were not interested in debating him. So they tried to force a yes or no answer. “Do you recant from these writings?’ Luther requested time to think, which he was given until late in the next day.
On this second day at the Diet (April 18, 1521), he replied to the emperor’s spokesperson, saying: that he divided his writings into three categories: (1) Works which were well received even by his enemies: those he would not reject. (2) Books which attacked the abuses, lies and desolation of the Christian world and the papacy: those, Luther believed, could not safely be rejected without encouraging abuses to continue. To retract them would be to open the door to further oppression. “If I now recant these, then, I would be doing nothing but strengthening tyranny”. And (3) Attacks on individuals: for which he apologized for the harsh tone of these writings but did not reject the substance of what he taught in them.
Then Luther spoke the words for which he is most famous. “Since then your serene majesties and your lordships seek a simple answer, I will give it in this manner, plain and unvarnished: Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the scriptures or clear reason, for I do not trust in the Pope or in the councils alone, since it is well known that they often err and contradict themselves, I am bound to the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise. Here I stand. God help me. Amen.”
Most history books move quickly from Luther’s stance in Worms to his “kidnapping” in the woods on his way back to Wittenberg. There was a period, however, when history might have gone in a different direction. The morning after Luther’s refusal to recant, the emperor Charles wrote his opinion, stating that “I am resolved that I will never again hear him talk. . . and to act and proceed against him as against a notorious heretic.” That night, numerous placards and signs were placed around Worms, stating that the peasants (who viewed Luther as their champion), would rise up against the emperor if Luther was convicted. The princes and nobility understood that this threat was part of a larger movement against the tyranny and abuses of Rome, so they took them seriously, requesting the emperor for 3 days to seek resolution with Luther.
Metaxas writes: “In these three days with the representatives of the German estates, Luther finally did get something far closer to the hearing he had always longed for. The desperation of the German nobles to avoid a bloody social uprising had brought them to this place where they hoped to reason and forge some kind of compromise with the wild monk from Wittenberg.” While this consultation did not result in a compromise, it gave Luther a private, uninterrupted audience with 10 noblemen, bishops and priests when he laid out his doctrinal concerns. His efforts would come to fruition in the Peace of Augsburg, some 34 years later.
The Edict of Worms
Before Luther left Worms to return to Wittenberg, an edict was signed making him an enemy of the empire. It stated: “Luther is to be regarded as a convicted heretic. When the time is up, (21 days after the edict was signed), no one is to harbor him. His followers also are to be condemned. His books are to be eradicated from the memory of man.” It also stated that everyone within the empire was: “not to take the aforementioned Martin Luther into your houses, not to receive him at court, to give him neither food nor drink, not to hide him, to afford him no help, following, support, or encouragement, either clandestinely or publicly, through words or works. where you can get him, seize him and overpower him, you should capture him and send him to us under tightest security.”
It was as a wanted man that Luther set out on his return trip to Wittenberg, only to be kidnapped by Prince Frederick’s men and taken into protective custody at Wartburg Castle, which we toured on Tuesday.
Reflection verses Daniel 3:16-28
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defense to you in this matter. If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.”
Then Nebuchadnezzar was so filled with rage against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that his face was distorted. He ordered the furnace heated up seven times more than was customary, and ordered some of the strongest guards in his army to bind Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and to throw them into the furnace of blazing fire. So the men were bound, still wearing their tunics, their trousers, their hats, and their other garments, and they were thrown into the furnace of blazing fire. Because the king’s command was urgent and the furnace was so overheated, the raging flames killed the men who lifted Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. But the three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell down, bound, into the furnace of blazing fire. Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up quickly. He said to his counselors, “Was it not three men that we threw bound into the fire?” They answered the king, “True, O king.” He replied, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the middle of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the fourth has the appearance of a god.”
Nebuchadnezzar then approached the door of the furnace of blazing fire and said, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, servants of the Most High God, come out! Come here!” So Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came out from the fire. And the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king’s counselors gathered together and saw that the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men; the hair of their heads was not singed, their tunics were not harmed, and not even the smell of fire came from them.
Nebuchadnezzar said, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has sent his angel and delivered his servants who trusted in him. They disobeyed the king’s command and yielded up their bodies rather than serve and worship any god except their own God.
Wow! When Luther took his stance before the Emperor, he did so in the firm knowledge that he would likely die. Like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, like Martin Luther King Jr., they knew that their proclamation of the love and justice of our ONE GOD for ALL people would set them in complete opposition with the powers that be. Yet risking (and giving) their lives, they not only held-fast to their faith, but they shared it with others.
For Luther, staying silent was not an option. He himself had experienced “the gates of hell” when he was so desperately trying to save himself, but the grace of God brought him to “the golden gates of heaven.” As long as he had breath in him, he would keep preaching, writing, and standing up for the unmerited love of God. It was his life’s work and personal passion.
The word “evangelical” has gotten a particularly bad reputation over the past few decades – becoming associated with more judgmental, condemning, even “self-righteous” points of view. Yet the word itself is a direct call to be God’s messengers, the word “angel” is right in the middle.
How do you share the message of God’s love with others? What inhibits your proclamation of God’s good news? Who in your life longs for a word of hope right now? How can you take inspiration from the faithful who have gone before us to empower your proclamation, to carry the faith to the next generation?
Hymn of the day (yes, it’s a repeat, but we’re in Worms!) A Mighty Fortress (page 26)
Where we’re staying ~ Hotel Holländer Hof, Heidelberg
A look ahead
Tomorrow gives us a day to explore Heidelberg and Rothenburg. Even though it does not relate to our location, we will pick up Luther’s story after his stay at Wartburg Castle.