Monday, October 17, 2011

The “Burr”-Quote: Selnecker's Funeral Sermon for Catherine of Mecklenburg

“I will cleave to my Lord Christ 
like a burr to a frock.”

SO SAID LUTHER’S wife, Catherine von Bora, before her death; at least, that’s how the story goes. However, this attribution, so common today, may not go back to more than 150 or 200 years, by a convoluted confusion of Catherines. Though perhaps common knowledge in some parts of the country, and in Germany, I myself was first corrected in this while translating Valerius Herberger’s Magnalia Dei (written between 1600 and 1615), in which the author repeatedly places the quote in question squarely in the mouth of Lady Catherine, Duchess of Saxony. I wondered if he was mistaken (it is possible, I supposed). After some research, I eventually traced both Catherine’s quote and her son’s response to the Nicolaus Selnecker’s sermon made on the death of Lady Catherine (and so successfully vindicated Herberger).

Early in 1586, M. Nicolaus Selnecker delivered his funeral sermon for the committal of Duke Augustus, Elector and son of Catherine of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, Duchess of Saxony, and it was published in Erfurt later that year under the title “Eine Christliche Leichpredigt / Bey dem trawrigem öffentlichem Begengnis des Christlichen seligen Abgangs des Fürsten vnd Herrn AVGVSTI, Hertzogen zu Sachsen / des H. Römischen Reichs Ertzmarschall / vnd Churfürsten / Landgraffen in Düringen… Gethan zu Leipzig den 20. Febrauarij 1586… durch Doct. Nicolaum Selneccerum / Superintendenten daselbs.” [A Christian Funeral-Sermon for the Tragic Public Observance of the Christian, Blessed Departure of the Prince and Lord Augustus, Duke of Saxony, Grand-Marshall and Elector of the Holy Roman Empire, Landgrave in Düringen, etc. … Given in Leipzig, on Feb. 20, 1586… by Dr. Nicolaus Selnecker, Superintendent of the same city.] The pertinent section, found on page 25 of this printed edition (see image below), reads as follows:
…And yet another (if your charity will be patient with me): When his Electoral Grace was sixty-one years old, his Lady Mother died in Torgau, being observed before her end to have spoken these words: “I will remain cleaving to my Lord Christ like a burr to a frock.” Now when these wistful words had been relayed to the worthy Elector, he said to the pious old Dr. Johann Neefe and to the court-preacher, who was present at the time, “God help me so at my last moment too! By His grace I too will remain cleaving to Him and confess my Lord Christ. If He will but let me be a hobnail on His shoe for eternal life, I am content.”
What splendid, profound, Christian words, not woven from reason, nor arisen from flesh and blood, but wrought and implanted in the heart of believers by the Lord God through the Holy Ghost. Would to God far more such beautiful, glorious Christian thoughts and sayings of our most worthy Elector might have been recorded by those who heard them daily…

(Article and translation by Matthew Carver, 2011) 

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