Did Luther repent?


#1

I’ve heard a couple times that Luther supposedly repented and re-entered the Church on his deathbed but I cannot find this document anywhere (true or not).

Obviously, Lutherans (all Protestants) are not going to accept this (not that that would have anything to do with it being true or not). I am curious if there is any evidence behind such ‘rumors’. Can anyone speak to this?


#2

Might be mixing up this story with Charles Darwin.


#3

Several years ago I got a video tape movie from the local library. It was on the life of Luther and was produced by the Lutheran Church. At the end of the film he admits that he added the word “Alone” to the passage in Romans, and laments the problems he has caused the Church in Rome.


#4

Thank you! That is very interesting. Frankly - I’m very impressed that any Lutheran source would admit as much as this. The image of Luther as the spotless crusader against the Evil, Corrupt Romans seems to prevail even today.

**


#5

There are some things he nearly took back (like his stand on sola scriptura, partly because of how people used this as an excuse to interpret the Bible on their own, and partly because of his running feud with Zwingli), but I am not sure if he did actually repent of what he did with the Church. There are some who say he did, but that can’t be verified.


#6

To exactly which passage is this referring? The “faith alone” passage? Thanks.


#7

Paul.

Thank you! That is very interesting. Frankly - I’m very impressed that any Lutheran source would admit as much as this. The image of Luther as the spotless crusader against the Evil, Corrupt Romans seems to prevail even today.

I doubt that many Lutherans see Luther as a “spotless crusader.” After all, we believe the condition of Christians to be “simul justus et peccator” – at once justified and sinner. Luther was no different from any other human being – justified by grace through faith and still a sinner, always needing to repent and be forgiven.

I will admit that there are Lutherans today who are still fixated on “the Evil, Corrupt Romans.” It appears that your co-worker ran into one of these. On the other hand, there are many of us who strive for better understanding between Lutherans and Catholics and who do not subscribe to anti-Catholic diatribes.


#8

I believe that Luther, at some point, felt bad for what happened because by the end of his life, there was no “one reformed church” the division he created divided and it was going on it other countries. Call it optimisim (since I have no evidence) I believe Luther was smart and sensitive enough to know that at some point he had created a very serious problem and there was nothing that could be done to fix it.


#9

Actually, sir, grace is a gift brought to us by faith and works working in concert. That was one of the things Mr. Luther didn’t understand, causing him to break the vows he made in Christ’s name, sin greatly by modifying Holy Scripture to fit his brand-new, distorted theology, and ultimately lead billions into heresy through his teaching.

In that regard, I think he was indeed pretty special, but let’s not take the thread off-topic.

Paul

P.S. Since when did Luther worry about repentance and forgiveness??? “Sin boldly” was his motto!


#10

Did you see the news article a while back about then-cardinal Ratzinger at some conference of Lutheran theologians? As they were discussing Luther, Cardinal Ratzinger replies, “Oh, yes, but to really understand Luther, you need to read his Catholic writings as well.”

Everyone kinda got quiet. One participant later remarked to the press something along the lines of, “… and then we all had to admit that we hadn’t even thought of reading Luther’s pre-Reformation writings, and we couldn’t believe that the Roman Catholic Church’s top theologian had!”


#11

I’m not sure about Luther, but the legend Darwin renounced his agnosticism on his deathbed are not true.


#12

I have also heard from various people that Luther had returned to the Catholic on his death bed. However, Warren Carroll in his 4th volume of the History of Christendom, “The Cleaving of Christendom” cites Janssen, “History of the German People” , VI, page 278, 280-282, that Luther died in February 1546 of a stroke at 3 o’clock in the morning. “He made no confession and probably spoke no word after being stricken.” There seems to be no indication in his last few months that he had repented and returned to the Faith.


#13

No Luther didn’t claim to be impeccable. We can give him that.


#14

This is just the type of thing I was looking for. After this, and more digging on my part, I will conclude that there is definitely not enough evidence that Luther repented to bring up the point in any discussion. (In fact, there is still no evidence at all that I’m aware of.)

Thanks!

P.S. To the Lutheran pastor that responded - my response was a little harsh. However, talk of a Luther that was interested in repentance and forgiveness doesn’t make a lot of sense to me, and I’ve read most of his important stuff.


#15

Well, that does make since. After all it would show the build up of what happened as far as Luther goes. Where can one find a list of his Catholic writings do you know, anyone?


#16

It isn’t true. Heiko Oberman begins his famous biography Luther: *Man Between God and the Devil *by giving an account of Luther’s death:

Reverend father, will you die steadfast in Christ and the doctrines you have preached?" Yes," replied the clear voice for the last time. On February 18, 1546, even as he lay dying in Eisleben, far from home, Martin Luther was not to be spared a final public test, not to be granted privacy even in this last, most personal hour. His longtime confidant Justus Jonas, now pastor in Halle, having hurriedly summoned witnesses to the bedside, shook the dying man by the arm to rouse his spirit for the final exertion. Luther had always prayed for a “peaceful hour”: resisting Satan—the ultimate, bitterest enemy—through that trust in the Lord over life and death which is God’s gift of liberation from the tyranny of sin. It transforms agony into no more than a brief blow.

But now there was far more at stake than his own fate, than being able to leave the world in peace, and trust in God. For in the late Middle Ages, ever since the first struggle for survival during the persecutions of ancient Rome, going to one’s death with fearless fortitude was the outward sign of a true child of God, of the confessors and martyrs. The deathbed in the Eisleben inn had become a stage; and straining their ears to catch Luther’s last words were enemies as well as friends.

As early as 1529, Johannes Cochlaeus, Luther’s first “biographer,” had denounced Luther in Latin and German as the seven-headed dragon, the Devil’s spawn. Slanderous reports that he had died a God-forsaken death, miserable and despairing, had circulated time and again. But now the end his friends had dreaded and his enemies had longed for was becoming reality. Who now would lay claim to Luther and fetch him, God or the Devil? While simple believers imagined the Devil literally seizing his prey, the enlightened academic world was convinced that a descent into Hell could be diagnosed medically—as apoplexy and sudden cardiac arrest. Abruptly and without warning, the Devil would snip the thread of a life that had fallen to him, leaving the Church unable to render its last assistance. Thus, in their first reports, Luther’s friends, especially Melanchthon, stressed that the cause of death had not been sudden, surprising apoplexy but a gradual flagging of strength: Luther had taken leave of the world and commended his spirit into God’s hands. For friend and foe alike his death meant far more than the end of a life.

Shortly after Doctor Martinus died at about 3:00 A.M. on February 18, Justus Jonas carefully recorded Luther’s last twenty-four hours, addressing his report not to Luther’s widow, as one might expect, but to his sovereign, Elector John Frederick, with a copy for his university colleagues in Wittenberg. Had Luther—born on November 10, 1483, as a simple miner’s son—died young, history would have passed over his parents’ grief unmoved. But now his death was an affair of state. The day after his birth—the feast of St. Martin—he had been baptized and received into the life of the Church as a simple matter of course, but now there was open dispute over whether, having been excommunicated by the pope, he had departed from this world a son of the Church.

IN THE last days before his death Luther had been the cheerful man his friends knew and loved. He had successfully completed a difficult mission: a trip from Wittenberg to Eisleben to mediate in a protracted quarrel between the two counts of Mansfeld, the brothers Gebhard and Albert. Hours had been spent sitting between the parties, listening to the clever reasoning of administrative lawyers—a breed he had despised ever since his early days as a law student in Erfurt. After two tough weeks of negotiation, the parties had narrowed their differences and a reconciliation had finally—though only temporarily—been achieved. So there was reason to be cheerful. Luther had suspected that he would die in Eisleben, the place of his birth. But this did not worry him, although he was quite sure he had little time left: “When I get home to Wittenberg again, I will lie down in my coffin and give the worms a fat doctor to feast on.” By highlighting the skeleton within the human body, late medieval art had urgently reminded everyone that health, beauty, and wealth were only a few breaths away from the Dance of Death. The “fat doctor” was well aware of this, not as a moralistic horror story, but as a reality of life poised on the brink of eternity.

James Swan
Beggars All: Reformation and Apologetics


#17

Paul,

P.S. Since when did Luther worry about repentance and forgiveness??? “Sin boldly” was his motto!

I was thinking about a reply to this when I came across the following quote from an article by Uwe Siemon-Netto, a Lutheran theologian and writer as he speaks what is expected of Christians living in this world.

They are to “sin boldly,” as Luther wrote. This does not mean that he invites us to fearlessly steal, murder or engage in adultery. But it does mean that we should get involved in the worldly realm, knowing that in doing so we will sin. For this Luther offers the perfect remedy in his famous admonition that is so often misunderstood because people keep dropping the last nine words of an 11-word sentence.

“Sin boldly but even more boldly believe and rejoice in Christ,” Luther advises us.

If we do anything at all in this world – if we live our lives boldly-- our human nature (and Satan, working to turn us from God) is bound to lead us into sin, no matter how much we try to avoid it. We are left, then, with recourse only to Christ since we are incapable of saving ourselves. To “believe boldly” requires that we repent of our sins and trust in the promise of forgiveness that comes through Christ.

Luther’s “sin boldly” makes sense only if understood in this light.


#18

That sounds awfully contradictory. Not only did Christ say to repent he also said to “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”. You can’t sin and be perfect. In order to be perfect you must refrain from sinning. Yes, we are to go out into the world but that does not mean we need to involve ourselves in the sins of the world’s in order to do so. That whole sentence of Luther’s is completely contradictory.


#19

Sabda,

That sounds awfully contradictory. Not only did Christ say to repent he also said to “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”. You can’t sin and be perfect. In order to be perfect you must refrain from sinning. Yes, we are to go out into the world but that does not mean we need to involve ourselves in the sins of the world’s in order to do so. That whole sentence of Luther’s is completely contradictory.

I would say that Luther realized the futility of seeking to be perfect. If we could be perfect, we would have no need for the forgiveness we receive through Christ. To be sure, we should strive for perfection – to avoid sinning – but it is unrealistic to think that we will ever achieve it by our own efforts. In the end we are dependent on Christ for our perfection.


#20

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