Thursday, November 5, 2009

Not Feeling So Well?

If you take some sort of dark comfort at the thought that at least you don't have a condition a bad as others, of if you ascribe to the old apothegm, "Misery loves company," you might take heart at knowing how much Luther suffered with his illnesses.

Martin Brecht's biography of Luther is superb (and not just in describing morbid details). The following description comes in his third of three volumes on Luther Martin Luther: The Preservation of the Church (1532-1546). This is from pages 185-186.:

It is possible that Luther might have been more actively involved at the assembly and might have had his position accepted had he been healthy. This time it was not heart problems, but kidney stones that became evident on 8 February when he passed a stone and experienced bleeding. In the following days he could participate in the discussions only sporadically.

On Sunday, 18 February, he was well enough to preach. He freely applied the gospel of Jesus' temptation by the devil (Matt. 4:1-11) to the church that had been tempted by external persecution, heretical perversion of the Bible, and now by the anti-Christian papacy and its mass. Only Christ himself could put an end to this.

Later that same day he suffered extreme pains. An enema administered by the landgrave's personal physician understandably not only did not help but caused persistent diarrhea that weakened the patient. Melanchthon was quite concerned about this inept treatment.

On 19 February Luther was unable to urinate, and this persisted for eight days. Although there were several physicians of the princes in Schmalkalden, at Luther's request Dr. George Sturtz was summoned from Erfurt with suitable medications on 20 February. Previously, too, they had obtained medicine from Erfurt. . . .

The surgeon (Steinschneider) from Waltershausen was summoned. The elector's surgeon had a golden instrument fabricated for an operation. Luther had to suffer even more at the hands of the physicians who were helpless in his case, and, when all was said and done, he would rather have died.

"They gave me as much to drink as if I had been a big ox." They offered him broth made from almonds. They also tried, from the Dreckapotheke (excrement pharmacy), remedies made from garlic and raw manure.

From 25 February onward, Luther's condition grew increasingly critical. Melanchthon could not hold back his tears while visiting him. Their previously substantial differences were now obviously irrelevant. Luther was prepared to accept his fate from God's hand. However he had an urgent wish to he in the territory of Electoral Saxony. Although hardly in condition to be moved, he wanted to leave Schmalkalden. To his consternation, Melanchthon postponed the departure for a day because, for astrological reasons, he thought the new moon was an unfavorable date for this undertaking.

Before Luther's departure on 26 February the elector visited the patient and wished him God's grace and healing for the sake of the Word. Luther advised him to pray against the devil, the real adversary. The papal legate would be happy about Luther's death—in fact, the status of Luther's health was an important political consideration on all sides—but with Luther's death the pope would also lose an important person who was praying for him and he would not escape the evil to come. Luther thanked his sovereign for all that he had done for the sake of the gospel, and exhorted him to continue to work for it.

John Frederick stated his concern that God would take away "his precious Word" along with Luther. Luther, however, mentioned the many theologians who had taken it to heart and understood it very well. The anxious elector took this as an opportunity to admonish all those present to preserve the pure Word.

Luther also feared that after his death the gospel would be threatened by controversies. Interestingly, in this context he asked whether all the theologians had unanimously signed the articles, which, as mentioned above, was not the case. Melanchthon was able to tell him only that all of them, even Blaurer, had signed the Augsburg Confession and the Wittenberg Concords.

Before leaving, the elector assured Luther that he did not need to be concerned about his wife and children: "For your wife shall be my wife, and your children shall be my children." Nevertheless, Luther was afraid that the city governor, Hans Metzsch, who was at odds with him, would take revenge upon his family. Amsdorf should look after Katy. The patient's pains were so severe that he feared he was losing his mind. He felt miserable and had to vomit. Like Stephen, he felt he was being "stoned." But he held fast: "God still remains wise and Christ, my Lord, my wisdom and God." They should stop praying for him in the churches. God had now been "prayed, importuned, and cried to" enough. God would do the right thing. If Luther surrendered to the devilish pain, Christ would take revenge upon him. In this trust he commended his soul to God.

For the trip a copper basin was specially prepared so that towels could be heated and applied to the patient while traveling. When Luther entered the wagon, he made the sign of the cross and wished those standing around: "The Lord fill you with his benediction and with hatred of the pope." In his deathly illness Luther was aware of the significance of this final unreconciled word. The legate apparently assumed that Luther was already dead and had been taken away secretly. He therefore sent his servant to find out if this were so, but Schlaginhaufen prevented him from seeing Luther: "You will not see Luther in eternity." Bugenhagen, Spalatin, Myconius, Schlaginhaufen, and Dr. Sturtz accompanied the patient. Two men walked beside the wagon in order to moderate the discomfort of the trip on the poor road. Possibly, it was this jolting that saved Luther's life. The trip was excruciating, however.

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