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Chronicles of the Schonberg-Cotta Family By Elizabeth Rundle Charles Characters: 24275

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:04


Elsè's Story.

Wittemberg, May, 1530.

Of all the happy homes God has given to Germany through Dr. Luther, I think none are happier than his own.

The walls of the Augustine convent echo now with the pattering feet and ringing voices of little children, and every night the angels watch over the sanctuary of a home. The birthdays of Dr. Luther's children are festivals to us all, and more especially the birthday of little Hans the first-born was so.

Yet death also has been in that bright home. Their second child, a babe, Elizabeth, was early taken from her parents. Dr. Luther grieved over her much. A little while after her death he wrote to his friend Hausmann:

"Grace and peace. My Johannulus thanks thee, best Nicholas, for the rattle, in which he glories and rejoices wondrously.

"I have begun to write something about the Turkish war, which will not, I hope, be useless.

"My little daughter is dead; my darling little Elizabeth. It is strange how sick and wounded she has left my heart, almost as tender as a woman's, such pity moves me for that little one. I never could have believed before what is the tenderness of a father's heart for his children. Do thou pray to the Lord for me, in Whom fare-thee-well."

Catherine von Bora is honoured and beloved by all. Some indeed complain of her being too economical; but what would become of Dr. Luther and his family if she were as reckless in giving as he is? He has been known even to take advantage of her illness to bestow his plate on some needy student. He never will receive a kreuzer from the students he teaches, and he refuses to sell his writings, which provokes both Gottfried and me, noble as it is of him, because the great profits they bring would surely be better spent by Dr. Luther than by the printers who get them now. Our belief is, that were it not for Mistress Luther, the whole household would have long since been reduced to beggary, and Dr. Luther, who does not scruple to beg of the Elector or of any wealthy person for the needs of others (although never for his own), knows well how precarious such a livelihood is.

His wife does not, however, always succeed in restraining his propensities to give everything away. Not long ago, in defiance of her remonstrating looks, in her presence he bestowed on a student who came to him asking money to help him home from the university, a silver goblet which had been presented to him, saying that he had no need to drink out of silver.

We all feel the tender care with which she watches over his health, a gift to the whole land. His strength has never quite recovered the strain on it during those years of conflict and penance in the monastery at Erfurt. And it is often strained to the utmost now. All the monks and nuns who have renounced their idle maintenance in convents for conscience' sake; all congregations that desire an evangelical pastor; all people of all kinds in trouble of mind, body, or estate, turn to Dr. Luther for aid or counsel, as to the warmest heart and the clearest head in the land. His correspondence is incessant, embracing and answering every variety of perplexity, from counselling evangelical princes how best to reform their states, to directions to some humble Christian woman how to find peace for her conscience in Christ. And besides the countless applications to him for advice, his large heart seems always at leisure to listen to the appeal of the persecuted far and near, or to the cry of the bereaved and sorrowful.

Where shall we find the spring of all this activity but in the Bible, of which he says, "There are few trees in that garden which I have not shaken for fruit;" and in prayer, of which he, the busiest man in Christendom, (as if he were a contemplative hermit) says, "Prayer is the Christian's business (Das Gebet ist des Christen Handwerk)."

Yes, it is the leisure he makes for prayer which gives leisure for all besides. It is the hours passed with the life-giving word which make sermons, and correspondence, and teaching of all kinds to him simply the out-pouring of a full heart.

Yet such a life wears out too quickly. More than once has Mistress Luther been in sore anxiety about him during the four years they have been married.

Once, in 1527, when little Hans was the baby, and he believed he should soon have to leave her a widow with the fatherless little one, he said rather sadly he had nothing to leave her but the silver tankards which had been presented to him.

"Dear doctor," she replied, "if it be God's will, then I also choose that you be with him rather than me. It is not so much I and my child even that need you as the multitude of pious Christians. Trouble yourself not about me."

What her courageous hopefulness and her tender watchfulness have been to him, he showed when he said,-

"I am too apt to expect more from my K?the, and from Melancthon, than I do from Christ, my Lord. And yet I well know that neither they nor any one on earth has suffered, or can suffer, what he hath suffered for me."

But although incessant work may weigh upon his body, there are severer trials which weigh upon his spirit. The heart so quick to every touch of affection or pleasure cannot but be sensitive to injustice or disappointment. It cannot therefore be easy for him to bear that at one time it should be perilous for him to travel on account of the indignation of the nobles, whose relatives he has rescued from nunneries; and at another time equally unsafe because of the indignation of the peasants, for whom, though he boldly and openly denounced their made insurrection, he pleads fervently with nobles and princes.

But bitterer than all other things to him, are the divisions among evangelical Christians. Every truth he believes flashes on his mind with such overwhelming conviction that it seems to him nothing but incomprehensible wilfulness for any one else not to see it. Every conviction he holds, he holds with the grasp of one ready to die for it-not only with the tenacity of possession, but of a soldier to whom its defence has been intrusted. He would not, indeed, have any put to death or imprisoned for their misbelief. But hold out the hand of fellowship to those who betray any part of his Lords trust, he thinks,-how dare he? Are a few peaceable days to be purchased at the sacrifice of eternal truth?

And so the division has taken place between us and the Swiss.

My Gretchen perplexed me the other day, when we were coming from the city church, where Dr. Luther had been preaching against the Anabaptists and the Swiss, (whom he will persist in classing together,) by saying,-

"Mother, is not Uncle Winkelried a Swiss, and is he not a good man?"

"Of course Uncle Conrad is a good man, Gretchen," rejoined our Fritz, who had just returned from a visit to Atlantis and Conrad. "How can you ask such questions?"

"But he is a Swiss, and Dr. Luther said we must take care not to be like the Swiss, because they say wicked things about the holy sacraments."

"I am sure Uncle Conrad does not say wicked things," retorted Fritz, vehemently. "I think he is almost the best man I ever saw. Mother," he continued, "why does Dr. Luther speak so of the Swiss?"

"You see, Fritz," I said, "Dr. Luther never stayed six months among them as you did; and so he has never seen how good they are at home."

"Then," rejoined Fritz, sturdily, "if Dr. Luther has not seen them, I do not think he should speak so of them."

I was driven to have recourse to maternal authority to close the discussion, reminding Fritz that he was a little boy, and could not pretend to judge of good and great men, like Dr. Luther. But, indeed, I could not help half agreeing with the child. It was impossible to make him understand how Dr. Luther has fought his way inch by inch to the freedom in which we now stand at ease; how he detests the Zwinglian doctrines, not so much for themselves, as for what he thinks they imply. How will it be possible to make our children, who enter on the peaceful inheritance so dearly won, understand the rough, soldierly vehemence, of the warrior race, who re-conquered that inheritance for them?

As Dr. Luther says, "It is not a little thing to change the whole religion and doctrine of the Papacy. How hard it has been to me, they will see in that Day. Now no one believes it!"

God appointed David to fight the wars of Israel, and Solomon to build the temple. Dr. Luther has had to do both. What wonder if the hand of the soldier can sometimes be traced in the work of peace!

Yet, why should I perplex myself about this? Soon, too soon, death will come, and consecrate the virtues of our generation to our children, and throw a softening veil over our mistakes.

Even now that Dr. Luther is absent from us at Coburg, in the castle there, how precious his letters are; and how doubly sacred the words he preached to us last Sunday from the pulpit, now that to-morrow we are not to hear him.

He is placed in the castle at Coburg, in order to be nearer the Diet at Augsburg, so as to aid Dr. Melancthon, who is there, with his counsel. The Elector dare not trust the royal heart and straightforward spirit of our Luther among the prudent diplomatists at the Diet.

Mistress Luther is having a portrait taken of their little Magdalen, who is now a year old, and especially dear to the Doctor, to send to him in the fortress.

June, 1530.

Letters have arrived from and about Dr. Luther. His father is dead-the brave, persevering, self-denying, truthful old man, who had stamped so much of his own character on his son. "It is meet I should mourn such a parent," Luther writes, "who through the sweat of his brow had nurtured and educated me, and made me what I am." He felt it keenly, especially since he could not be with his father at the last; although he gives thanks that he lived in these times of light, and departed strong in the faith of Christ. Dr. Luther's secretary writes, however, that the portrait of his little Magdalen comforts him much. He has hung it on the wall opposite to the place where he sits at meals.

Dr. Luther is now the eldest of his race. He stands in the foremost rank of the generations slowly advancing to confront death.

To-day I have been sitting with Mistress Luther in the garden behind the

Augustei, under the shade of the pear-tree, where she so often sits beside the Doctor. Our children were playing around us-her little H?nschen with the boys, while the little Magdalen sat cooing like a dove over some flowers, which she was pulling to pieces, on the grass at our feet.

She talked to me much about the Doctor; how dearly he loves the little ones, and what lessons of divine love and wisdom he learns from their little plays. He says often, that beautiful as all God's works are, little children are the fairest of all; that the dear angels especially watch over them. He is very tender with them, and says sometimes they are better theologians than he is, for they trust God. Deeper prayers and higher theology he never hopes to reach than the first the little ones learn-the Lord's Prayer and the Catechism. Often, she said, he says over the Catechism, to remind himself of all the treasures of faith we possess.

It is delightful too, she says, to listen to the heavenly theology he draws from birds and leaves and flowers, and the commonest gifts of God or events of life. At table, a plate of fruit will open to him a whole volume of God's bounty, on which he will discourse. Or, taking a rose in his hand, he will say, "A man who could make one rose like this would be accounted most wonderful; and God scatters countless such flowers around us! But the very infinity of his gifts makes us blind to them."

And one evening, he said of a little bird, warbling its last little song before it went to roost, "Ah, dear little bird! he has chosen his shelter, and is quietly rocking himself to sleep, without a care for to-morrow's lodging; calmly holding by his little twig, and leaving God to think for him."

In spring he loves to direct her attention to t

he little points and tufts of life peeping everywhere from the brown earth or the bare branches. "Who," he said, "that had never witnessed a spring-time would have guessed, two months since, that these lifeless branches had concealed within them all that hidden power of life? It will be thus with us at the resurrection. God writes his gospel, not in the Bible alone, but in trees, and flowers, and clouds, and stars."

And thus, to Mistress Luther, that little garden, with his presence and his discourse, has become like an illuminated Gospel and Psalter.

I ventured to ask her some questions, and, among others, if she had ever heard him speak of using a form of words in prayer. She said she had once heard him say "we might use forms of words in private prayer until the wings and feathers of our souls are grown, that we may soar freely upward into the pure air of God's presence." But his prayers, she says, are sometimes like the trustful pleadings of his little boy H?nschen with him; and sometimes like the wrestling of a giant in an agony of conflict.

She said, also, that she often thanks God for the Doctor's love of music. When his mind and heart have been strained to the utmost, music seems to be like a bath of pure fresh water to his spirit, bracing and resting it at once.

I indeed have myself heard him speak of this, when I have been present at the meetings he has every week at his house for singing in parts. "The devil," he says-"that lost spirit-cannot endure sacred songs of joy. Our passions and impatiences, our complainings and our cryings, our Alas! and our Woe is me! please him well; but our songs and psalms vex him and grieve him sorely."

Mistress Luther told me she had many an anxious hour about the Doctor's health. He is often so sorely pressed with work and care; and he has never recovered the weakening effects of his early fasts and conflicts.

His tastes at table are very simple, his favourite dishes are herrings and pease-soup. His habits are abstemious, and when engrossed with any especial work, he would forget or go without his meals altogether if she did not press him to take them. When writing his Commentary on the Twenty-second Psalm, he shut himself up for three days with nothing but bread and salt; until, at last, she had to send for a locksmith to break open the door, when they found him absorbed in meditation.

And yet, with all his deep thoughts and his wide cares, like a king's or an archbishop's, he enters into his children's games as if he were a boy; and never fails, if he is at a fair on his travels, to bring the little ones home some gift for a fairing.

She showed me a letter she had just received from him from Coburg, for his little son H?nschen. She allowed me to copy it. It is written thus:-

"Grace and peace in Christ to my heartily dear little son.

"I see gladly that thou learnest well and prayest earnestly. Do thus, my little son, and go on. When I come home I will bring thee a beautiful fairing. I know a pleasant garden, wherein many children walk about. They have little golden coats, and pick up beautiful apples under the trees, and pears, cherries, and plums. They dance and are merry, and have also beautiful little ponies, with golden reins and silver saddles. Then I asked the man whose the garden is, whose children those were. He said, 'These are the children who love to pray, who learn their lessons, and are good.' Then I said, 'Dear man, I also have a little son; he is called H?nsichen Luther. Might not he also come into the garden, that he might eat such apples and pears, and ride on such beautiful little ponies, and play with these children?' Then the man said, 'If he loves to pray, learn his lessons, and is good, he also shall come into the garden-Lippus and Jost also (the little sons of Melancthon and Justus Jonas); and when they all come together, they also shall have pipes, drums, lutes, and all kinds of music; and shall dance, and shoot with little bows and arrows.'

"And he showed me there a fair meadow in the garden, prepared for dancing. There were many pipes of pure gold, drums, and silver bows and arrows. But it was still early in the day, so that the children had not had their breakfasts. Therefore I could not wait for the dancing, and said to the man, 'Ah, dear sir, I will go away at once, and write all this to my little son H?nsichen, that he may be sure to pray and to learn well, and be good, that he also may come into this garden. But he has a dear aunt, Lena; he must bring her with him.' Then said the man, 'Let it be so; go and write him thus.'

"Therefore, my dear little son H?nsichen, learn thy lessons, and pray with a cheerful heart; and tell all this to Lippus and Justus too, that they also may learn their lessons and pray. So shall you all come together into this garden. Herewith I commend you to the Almighty God; and greet Aunt Lena, and give her a kiss from me.-Thy dear father,

"Martin Luther."

Some who have seen this letter say it is too trifling for such serious subjects. But heaven is not a grim and austere, but a most bright and joyful place; and Dr. Luther is only telling the child in his own childish language what a happy place it is. Does not God our heavenly Father do even so with us?

I should like to have seen Dr. Luther turn from his grave letters to princes and doctors about the great Augsburg Confession, which they are now preparing, to write these loving words to his little Hans. No wonder "Catharine Lutherinn," "Doctoress Luther," "mea dominus Ketha," "my lord K?the," as he calls her, is a happy woman. Happy for Germany that the Catechism in which our children learn the first elements of divine truth, grew out of the fatherly heart of Luther, instead of being put together by a Diet or a General Council.

One more letter I have copied, because my children were so interested in it. Dr. Luther finds at all times great delight in the songs of birds. The letter I have copied was written on the 28th April to his friends who meet around his table at home.

"Grace and peace in Christ, dear sirs and friends! I have received all your letters, and understand how things are going on with you. That you, on the other hand, may understand how things are going on here, I would have you know that we, namely, I, Master Veit, and Cyriacus, are not going to the Diet at Augsburg. We have, however, another Diet of our own here.

"Just under our window there is a grove like a little forest, where the choughs and crows have convened a diet, and there is such a riding hither and thither, such an incessant tumult, day and night, as if they were all merry and mad with drinking. Young and old chatter together, until I wonder how their breath can hold out so long. I should like to know if any of those nobles and cavaliers are with you; it seems to me they must be gathered here out of the whole world.

"I have not yet seen their emperor; but their great people are always strutting and prancing before our eyes, not, indeed, in costly robes, but all simply clad in one uniform, all alike black, all alike grey-eyed, and all singing one song, only with the most amusing varieties between young and old, and great and small. They are not careful to have a great palace and hall of assembly, for their hall is vaulted with the beautiful, broad sky, their floor is the field strewn with fair, green branches, and their walls reach as far as the ends of the world. Neither do they require steeds and armour; they have feathered wheels with which they fly from shot and danger. They are, doubtless, great and mighty lords, but what they are debating I do not yet know.

"As far, however, as I understand through an interpreter, they are planning a great foray and campaign against the wheat, barley, oats, and all kinds of grain, and many a knight will win his spurs in this war, and many a brave deed will be done.

"Thus we sit here in our Diet, and hear and listen with great delight, and learn how the princes and lords, with all the other estates of the empire, sing and live so merrily. But our especial pleasure is to see how cavalierly they pace about, whet their beaks, and furbish their armour, that they may win glory and victory from wheat and oats. We wish them health and wealth,-and that they may all at once be impaled on a quickset hedge!

"For I hold they are nothing better than sophists and Papists with their preaching and writing; and I should like to have these also before me in our assembly, that I might hear their pleasant voices and sermons, and see what a useful people they are to devour all that is on the face of the earth, and afterwards chatter no one knows how long!

"To-day we have heard the first nightingale; for they would not trust April. We have had delightful weather here, no rain, except a little yesterday. With you, perhaps, it is otherwise. Herewith I commend you to God. Keep house well. Given from the Diet of the grain-Turks, the 28th of April, anno 1530.

"Martinus Luther."

Yet, peaceful and at leisure as he seems, Gottfried says the whole of Germany is leaning now once more on the strength of that faithful heart.

The Roman diplomatists again and again have all but persuaded Melancthon to yield everything for peace; and, but for the firm and faithful words which issue from "this wilderness," as Luther calls the Coburg fortress, Gottfried believes all might have gone wrong. Severely and mournfully has Dr. Luther been constrained to write more than once to "Philip Pusillanimity," demanding that at least he should not give up the doctrine of justification by faith, and abandon all to the decision of the bishops!

It is faith which gives Luther this clearness of vision. "It is God's word and cause," he writes, "therefore our prayer is certainly heard, and already he has determined and prepared the help that shall help us. This cannot fail. For he says, 'Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. See, I have graven thee on the palms of my hands.' I have lately seen two miracles," he continues; "the first, as I was looking out of my window and saw the stars in heaven, and all that beautiful vaulted roof of God, and yet saw no pillars on which the Master Builder had fixed this vault; yet the heaven fell not, but all that grand arch stood firm. Now, there are some who search for such pillars, and want to touch and grasp them, and since they cannot, they wonder and tremble as if the heaven must certainly fall, for no other reason but because they cannot touch and grasp its pillars. If they could lay hold on those, think they, then the heaven would stand firm!

"The second miracle was-I saw great clouds rolling over us, with such a ponderous weight that they might be compared to a great ocean, and yet I saw no foundation on which they rested or were based, nor any shore which kept them back; yet they fell not on us, but frowned on us with a stern countenance, and fled. But when they had passed by, then shone forth both their foundation and our roof which had kept them back-the rainbow! Truly a weak, thin, slight foundation and roof, which soon melted away into the clouds, and was more like a shadowy prism, such as we see through coloured glass, than a strong and firm foundation! so that we might well distrust that feeble dyke which kept back that terrible weight of waters. Yet we found, in fact, that this unsubstantial prism could bear up the weight of waters, and that it guards us safely. But there are some who look rather at the thickness and massy weight of the waters and clouds, than at this thin, slight, narrow bow of promise. They would like to feel the strength of that shadowy, evanescent arch, and because they cannot do this, they are ever fearing that the clouds will bring back the deluge."

Heavenly Father, since one man who trusts thy word can thus uphold a nation, what could not thy word do for each of us if we would each of us thus trust it, and Thee who speakest it.

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