The Last Written Words of Luther:
Holy Ponderings of the Reverend Father Doctor Martin Luther
16 February 1546
_Dr. Martin Luthers Werke_,
(Weimar: Hermann Boehlaus Nachfolger, 1909),
Band 85 (TR 5), pp. 317-318.
Translated by James A. Kellerman
1. No one can understand Vergil's Bucolics unless he has been a
shepherd for five years. No one can understand Vergil's Georgics,
unless he has been a farmer for five years.
2. No one can understand Cicero's Letters (or so I teach), unless
he has busied himself in the affairs of some prominent state for
3. Know that no one can have indulged in the Holy Writers
sufficiently, unless he has governed churches for a hundred years
with the prophets, such as Elijah and Elisha, John the Baptist,
Christ and the apostles.
Do not assail this divine Aeneid; nay, rather prostrate revere the
ground that it treads.
We are beggars: this is true.
1. This is a translation of WA, TR 5:168 (no. 5468) of a scrap of
paper that Johannes Aurifaber (a.k.a. Johann Goldschmied) found when
Luther died. Aurifaber wrote: "Luther ... wrote these words in Latin
on a slip of paper and put them on his table. I, Johannes Aurifaber,
wrote them down and Dr. Justus Jonas, Superintendent of Halle, who was
at Halle at the same time, took the slip of paper with him."
Unfortunately, this slip of paper has long since disappeared.
2. I have followed the account of the document as told by Aurifaber.
There are, however, divergent accounts of what was on that scrap of
paper. Since the original slip of paper has been lost, it is impossible
toascertain what Luther actually wrote. For other accounts, see
WA 48:241 and TR 5:317 (no.5677). Although the wording differs slightly,
the sentiment is the same.
3. The line in praise of Vergil's A enid is composed of nine feet of
dactylic hexameter, the meter in which the Aeneid is written. It is most
likely an adaptation or misquotation of two lines near the end of Statius'
The Aeneid (12:816f), a poem also written in dactylic hexameter and
profoundly influenced by Vergil's epic:
Nee tu divinam Aendeida tempta,
Sed Ionge sequere et vestigia semper adora.
Hanc tu ne divinam Aeneida tenta,
Sed vestigia pronus adora.
4. "We are beggars" is written in German; the rest of the document, in