20 September 1542 A.D. Dr. Martin Luther Grieves His Daughter’s Death—As She Was Dying, Died and Was Buried. A letter to Mr. (Rev.) Justus Jonas.
Dr. Rusten tells the story.
Rusten, E. Michael and Rusten, Sharon. The One Year Christian History. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2003. Available at: http://www.amazon.com/The-Year-Christian-History-Books/dp/0842355073/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1393302630&sr=8-1&keywords=rusten+church+history
Martin Luther was the father of the Reformation. In 1525, he married Katharina Von Bora, a former nun. They had 6 children: Hans, Elizabeth, Magdalena, Martin, Paul, and Margaretha.
In 1542, the Luthers sent their eldest son, Hans, age 16, to Torgau for education.
Just after Hans arrived in Torgau, the father wrote the teacher—a letter seeking his son’s return upon the bad news of his ill daughter, Magdalena, age 13. Bruder Martin wrote:
“My daughter Magdalena is nearing her end and will soon go to her true Father in heaven unless He sees fit to spare her She longs so much to see her brother, for they were very close, so I am sending a carriage for him, in the hope that a sight of him will revive her. I am doing all I can lest afterwards the thought of having neglected anything should torment me. Please ask him to come at once, without telling him why. I shall send him back as soon as she has either fallen asleep in the Lord or been restored to health. Farewell in the Lord.”
Hans returned home, but his sister’s health continued to deteriorate.
Luther prayed, “Oh, God, I love her dearly, but Thy will be done.” He asked her, “Magdalena, my little girl, would you like to stay with your father here and would you just as gladly go to your Father in heaven?”
Magdalena answered, “Yes, dearest father, as God wills.”
For all his might in theology and the Reformation, Martin was disconsolate.
On 20 September 1542, kneeling at her bedside, praying through tears, with Katie standing at the end of the bedroom, unable to watch her die in Martin’s arms, she died. Martin said to Katie, “Dearest Katie, let us think of the home our daughter has gone to; there she is happy and at peace.”
As Magdalena was laid in the coffin, Luther said, “My darling, you will rise and shine like the stars and the sun.” He turned to Katie and said, “How strange to know that she is at peace and all is well and yet to be sorrowful.”
Luther wrote the epitaph for her grave:
Here, I, Magdalena,
Doctor Luther’s little maid
Resting with the saints
Sleep in my narrow bed.
I was a child of death
For I was born in sin
But now I live, redeemed, Lord Christ,
By the blood you shed for me.
Three days later, he wrote a letter to his friend, Justus Jonas:
“I expect you have heard that my beloved Magdalena has been born again into Christ’s everlasting kingdom. Although my wife and I ought rejoice because of her happy end, yet such is the strength of natural affection that we cannot think of it without sobs and groans which tear the heart apart. The memory of her face, her words, her expressions in life and death—everything about our most obedient and loving daughter lingers in our hearts so that even the death of Christ (and what are all deaths compared to His?) is almost powerless to lift our minds above our loss. So would you give thanks to God in our stead? For hasn’t He honored us greatly in glorifying our child?”
What can be learned here of death and grieving? Of pastoral wisdom?
How might this be used for funeral services? Especially for children and infants?
4 years later, in 1546, Bruder Martin would be buried from the Castle Church of Wittenberg, the same Church with the great wooden doors to which he affixed his 95 Theses. Was Magdalena buried from the same church? What liturgy was used? What hymns? What lections? What became of Hans Luther or the other children thereafter?
MacCuish. Luther and His Katie