Two politicians from Saxony played significant roles in the life of Martin Luther. They were Frederick III, known as Frederick the Wise, and John the Steadfast. Frederick was born in Torgau on January 17, 1463. He succeeded his father and became Elector of Saxony and Landgrave of Thuringia in 1486. Saxony was the location of Wittenberg, where Luther served at the university. Thuringia was also important to Luther because it is the location of Eisenach, where, in Wartburg Castle, Luther was holed up after the Diet of Worms.
In 1502, Frederick founded the University of Wittenberg. His new university had to compete with other universities, some of which were centuries old, across Germany and Europe. So, he applied a lot of effort to building up the university and invested a great deal of his fortune toward that end. And he loved his favorite professor, the Augustinian monk Martin Luther. As Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses on the church door at Frederick’s Castle Church, Frederick supported him. And in the wake of the Ninety-Five Theses, when Pope Leo X demanded that Luther be sent to Rome, Frederick the Wise simply said nein. He said, “No; he is a German and he will be tried on German soil.” And right up until the time of his death, Frederick supported Luther. Frederick the Wise died in 1525 and was succeeded by his brother, John the Steadfast.
We don’t often talk about John the Steadfast, but John was far more of a close associate to Luther than Frederick was. In fact, we only have a record of Luther meeting Frederick the Wise on one occasion, but he had a very close relationship with John. John came to be called “the Steadfast” for the way he supported the Reformation and for his indefatigable efforts on behalf of the Reformation, not only in Saxony but throughout the German lands. From 1525 to 1530, he was very involved in laying the groundwork for what came to be the Augsburg Confession, written in 1530. And just before the signing of the Augsburg Confession, John invited Luther, along with Justus Jonas and Johannes Bugenhagen, some of Luther’s associates at Wittenberg, to Torgau, where they spent two weeks hammering out the wording of the confession. Because he was under an imperial ban, Luther couldn’t leave Saxony and travel to Augsburg for the signing. So, he sent Philip Melanchthon and Jonas without him.
In the midst of the hammering out of the Augsburg Confession, we have a wonderful quote from John: “Tell my theologians, do what is right. Praise and honor God; take no regard for me.” John supported his theologians; he supported their university; he gave them everything they needed. But he didn’t need them simply to comply with him. Luther would say of John the Steadfast, “I am sure that the Elector, John of Saxony, had the Holy Spirit.”
John the Steadfast died in 1532, and like Frederick, he is buried in the Schlosskirche, the Castle Church at Wittenberg.