"Thomas Bozio's book, De signis ecclesiae (Rome, 1591), the first literary representation of the legend of Luther's suicide, called forth a lively dispute on Luther's death, which continued till about 1688. The Protestants contributed nine, the Catholic polemics twenty six works. The dispute was set in motion again only in 1889 by Majunke, but Majunke was refuted so thoroughly by Nikolaus Paulus in 1896 that the Lugende has seldom ventured to show itself in literature since" [Heinrich Boehmer, Luther and the Reformation in the Light of Modern Research (London: G. Bell and Sons LTD., 1930) pp. 361-362].
The Suicide Legend : The story of Luther's suicide was revived by P. Majunke(R. C. ) in his Luther's Lebensende, Mainz, 1890; 5th ed., 1891. He was answered by E. Bliimel, Luthers Lebensende, Barm., 1890 ; G. Kawerau, Luther's Lebensende, Barm., 1890 ; T. Kolde, Luthers Selbstmord, Leipz., 1890 ; G. Rietschel, Luthers sel. Heimgang, Halle, 1890 ; F. W. Schnbart, Wie starb M. Luther, Dess., 1892. After a thorough investigation of all the evidence, a Roman Catholic scholar, W. Panlus, in his Luthers Lebensende nnd der Eislebener Apotheker, Mainz, 1896 (see Th. Litz., 1897, No. 11) and especially in his Lnthers Lebensende, Freib. i. B., 1897, has reached the same conclusion as the Protestant opponents of Majunke and gives a final quietus to the legend. Philip Schaff gives a resume of the case in his article, Did Luther Commit Suicide ? in Mag. of Chr. Lit., N. Y.,Dec., 1890, 161 ff. [source]
Note on the Death of Luther.
— During the course of 1890, the Rev. Paul Majnnke, Roman Catholic Pfarrer of Hochkirch, near GrossGlogan on the Oder, in Eastern Prussia, published a work on "Luther's Lebensende" (Mainz, Kupferberg, 1890). Herr Majnnke, then a priest, was formerly editor of the Germania and other Roman Catholic papers, and for a time member of the Prussian House of Deputies, and of the German Reichstag. In the pamphlet referred to he has tried to prove by "historical investigation" that Luther did not, as ordinarily believed, die a natural death, but committed suicide, and that the fact was concealed by those who knew the truth of the matter. The pamphlet of Herr Majunke caused much jubilation in Ultramontane circles, and drew forth many pamphlets and articles. Professor Kostlin of Halle, Professor Eawerau of Kiel, and Professor Kolde of Erlangen, with others, however, successfully demolished the "house built upon the sand," and exposed the "cunningly devised" story. Majunke published a reply to Prof. Kolde and his other assailants, entitled Die Historische Kritik über Luthert Leben Ende (Mainz, 1890). The rejoinder of the Erlangen Professor, Noch einmal Luthers Selbstmord, was crushing.
The death of Luther took place on the morning of February 18, 1546. The event was unexpected, and his sudden death was much commented on, not only by the friends, but by the enemies of the Reformation. A professed account of the incidents connected with the examination of the Reformer's body by Civis Manefeldensii, marked by brutal coarseness, is given by Luther's first Roman Catholic biographer, Cochlaeus, in the later editions of his work, De Actit et Seriptit Lutheri, published in 1565 and 1567. It is not in the first edition, published in 1549. But even that account from an anonymous correspondent does not hint at Luther's having committed suicide. Professor Kolde conclusively proves that no Roman Catholic historian of the sixteenth century ventured to express any doubt whatever concerning the truth of the " history " drawn up by Dr. Justus Jonas and the friends present on the occasion. The Roman Catholic historians of that century, of course, are full of such charitable expressions as that "he yielded up his soul to the devil," and that he "descended to Satan." Romish writers of the next century depict Luther as having died in tortures, or having, like Arius, shed out his bowels.
Majunke asserts that the only account of Luther's end which the biographers of Luther have made use of is the " history " drawn up by Dr. Justus Jonas. The statement, as Kolde points out, is false. Justus Jonas drew up a letter to the Elector at four o'clock in the morning, not two hours after Luther had expired. That letter stated that there were present at his death the Court Preacher, Cœlins, J. Jonas, Luther's two younger sons, Paul and Martin, his servant Ambrose, his landlord Hans Albrecht, the notary, Count Albrecht of Mansfeld and his wife, Count von Schwarz- burg, and two doctors. Two letters are extant, written also at the same time, to the Elector by Count Albrecht himself, and by Prince Wolfgang of Anhalt. Another letter, written that same day, by Aurifaber, raises the number of eye-witnesses to sixteen, among whom were Aurifaber himself and Count Hans George of Mansfeld, from the latter of whom also there is a letter written the very same day to Duke Maurice of Saxony. Besides, there is extant another letter written on the same day by J. Friedrich, Councillor of Eisleben, to his uncle, the well-known J. Agrícola. Friedrich was not an eye-witness, but he gives the medical opinion of the doctors, who ascribed the death to a stroke of paralysis, brought on by the closing up of a wound in his leg from which the Reformer had suffered for years.
The Court Preacher, Coelius, delivered on February 20 the first address at the grave, in which he mentions that the corpse of the Reformer had been viewed by a large number of people, who crowded in to see his remains when the sad event was announced. Some time afterwards the " history " or Report of the Christian Death of Luther was drawn up at the request of the Elector by J. Jonas and M. Coilius. The facts mentioned in that Report are confirmed by the evidence already referred to, all of which is totally suppressed by Majnnke.
Forty-three years after Luther's death the Oratorian Thomas Bozius in 1593 asserted, in his De Signa Eccleiiœ, that he had heard from the testimony of one who had as a boy been a servant to Luther, that Luther hung himself with a rope. The same writer asserts that several of the Reformers died awful deaths. Oecolampadius was strangled, Calvin died of the lousy disease, while a horrible devil frightened all those who were present at the deathbed of Martin Bucer. Bozius is the first authority on which Paul Majunke depends. A fuller account is given by Sednlius, in his Prcetcriptionei adtv Heresies (Antwerp, 1606), sixty years after Luther's death, which is reprinted as the fullest and most reliable authority in Majunke's pamphlet, pp. 95-97. The name of the informant, however, is not given, and the writer shows his fitness for the work of a historian, by setting forth as equally trustworthy another account (suppressed without notice by P. Majunke), by one whose name is given, Tileman Bredebach, written in 1587, who states that all the demoniacs, then at the shrine of St. Dymna at Brabant in hope of being cured by that saint, were freed from evil spirits on the day that Luther was buried, and were again possessed by the evil spirits the day after ; the reason being, as discovered by due interrogatories, that the Prince of the Devils summoned them to attend Martin Luther's funeral, which they did in the form of ravens, who in incredible numbers accompanied Luther's corpse to its last resting-place ! !
Such are Herr Majunke's authorities. Other grave misrepresentations of fact abound in his work. It is important to put such misstatements on record, because such charges are often brought up by those who desire to deprave the character of the Reformers. [C. H. H. W.] [source]