While the princes of Germany were marching with their armies against the peasants’ revolt, Frederick the Wise, elector of Saxony and protector of Luther and the reformers, was rapidly approaching his death. The toils and troubles of his life had taken their toll upon him. His health was failing and he prepared to meet the last great foe – death.
Frederick Makes Things Right
He called for Spalatin, his chaplain and regular communicant with Luther and expressed his sorrow. “I see neither love, nor truth, nor faith, nor any good remaining upon earth,” he said.[i] He met with his household staff and asked for their forgiveness. “My little children,” he entreated, “if I have offended any one of you, forgive me for the love of God; for we princes often give offense to the poor, and that is wrong.”[ii]
He Re-writes His Will
He asked for the will he had prepared some time before. In it, he had commended his soul to the Virgin Mary. He destroyed it and dictated a new one. In his new will, he appealed only to Christ and His merits. He confessed his belief that in Christ he possessed forgiveness of sins and assurance of salvation. At five o’clock in the afternoon, he died.
His household staff wept. His doctor said, “He was a child of peace and in peace he has departed.” Luther cried, “O bitter death to all whom he has left behind him!” for many reformers owed their peace and safety to Frederick who had sheltered them from the enemies of the Reformation by allowing them to take refuge in his kingdom.
Enemies Target the Reformation
Meanwhile, the princes of the Ratisbon League, allies of the Roman Church, continued their persecution of the reformers, even as they marched against the rebellious peasants. They executed peaceable citizens in their territories simply because they adhered to the reformers’ teachings.
Duke George hoped to influence Frederick’s heir to the kingdom of Saxony, Frederick’s younger brother Duke John. He accused Luther of causing the peasants’ revolt.George formed a league in northern Germany like the Ratisbon League. He invited Duke John to join them. At the same time, he ordered the death of two of his citizens in whose home Luther’s writings had been found. The two were beheaded. But George’s real goal was to have Luther arrested and put to death.
During this same period, Charles V emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, sent letters to Germany calling for another council meeting at Augsburg. He was determined to use the Roman Church against the Reformation to destroy it. But his ultimate aim was to introduce a new constitution in which he ruled over Germany’s forces as he saw fit.
All these dangers and disasters weighed heavily upon Luther. The future looked grey and foreboding.
[i] History of the Reformation of the Sixteenth Century, 591.
[ii] Ibid., 592