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Luther's Death &
       The Peace of Augsburg

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Luther's Later Life & Death

Much to his surprise, Luther lived a long and productive life. He joked about starting out a skinny monk and ending up a “fat doctor.” Family life agreed with him, and despite all the turbulence of the times, he had many days of happiness, too. He died of natural causes in the company of his friends while mediating a property dispute in his birth town of Eisleben at the ripe, old age of 63. As God would have it, he died in the same town in which he was born. His last few days were closely monitored because some people of that day believed the manner of his death would either verify or negate the truth of his message. A peaceful death would signify God's favor, an agonizing death God's disfavor. Consequently careful notes were kept and his disposition and his words recorded. At the moment of his death, an artist called in to capture his serene expression. Additionally, plaster molds were made and wax models of his face and hands to provide material proof that his passing had indeed been a peaceful and serene one. Because of his notoriety, Luther's death became a matter of state. Luther's final prince, John Frederick (the son of John the Steadfast and grandson of Frederick the Wise), was immediately notified even before Luther's own wife was. He ordered a state funeral. Luther's body was carried in a grand procession from Eisleben to Wittenberg, and he was laid to rest in a raised vault in the prince's own Wittenberg Castle Church immediately below the pulpit from which Luther would occasionally preach to the nobility. Across from him below the lectern was later laid to rest his most trusted colleague, Philip Melanchthon.

The Peace of Augsburg

The reform movement which Luther began led to a long and bloody battle between those princes who supported Luther (and other reformers like him) and those princes (led by the Emperor) who supported the pope in Rome. The war lasted all too long, took many lives and devastated the lands involved with very little change in the end in the political situation. Finally, a truce was made in 1555 called the Peace of Augsburg. This agreement said that the princes would decide the religion of their territory. If a person lived in an area where they were not in agreement with the prince religiously, they should move to an area where the religion was the same as their own.

State Churches

This led to the development of the “state church.” Churches were dependent on the local prince and were supported by state taxes. Since the princes had taken over much of the church's wealth and property by their reforming actions, it made good sense that they now pay pastors and maintain the church buildings. People belonged to a particular religion by being born in the state and a portion of tax money went to the church. Areas south and east of the Elbe River tended to remain what the reformers called “old Catholic.” This included Spain, Italy, and southern Germany. Areas north and west of the Elbe became “evangelical” as the Lutherans preferred to be called. This included northern Germany, Demark, Sweden and Norway. Other parts of Europe (such as France, Switzerland and the Netherlands) were influenced by other reformers. Some of these went on very different paths than Luther and others saw themselves as continuing and adding on to the reform which Luther began. From these European roots came many of the different denominations that we experience in America today including the Reformed, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and Methodist traditions.

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