Luther’s Pastoral Care for the Anxious and Depressed: Thoughts on ‘Of Good Comfort’

Posted by on Jun 11, 2018 in News | Comments Off on Luther’s Pastoral Care for the Anxious and Depressed: Thoughts on ‘Of Good Comfort’

In 2016, Stephen Pietsch revised and published his doctoral dissertation, Of Good Comfort, which was an in-depth analysis of Martin Luther’s letters on spiritual care for the depressed and melancholy. Often times victims of natural disasters go through short moments or long bouts of depression. Hence, although Luther was not writing to victims of natural disasters, there is a great deal of knowledge that can be gained from Luther’s nineteen letters to the depressed and melancholy. Relevant to this project, Pietsch spends a considerable amount of space explaining Luther’s care using Scripture, prayer, blessing, singing, and listening.

Of Good Comfort highlights the relationship between Luther and Prince Joachim of Anhalt, whom Luther had visited on many occasions. Pietsch notes the pastoral skill of listening as a way that “is more than empathic; it is cruciform; ‘it suffers’ the other. It enters into the other’s distress, bearing and coping with it, just as Christ enters into our suffering and we enter into his.”[1] At the foundation of Luther’s spiritual care was visitation. During visitation, or when he could only write, Luther often gave comfort with Scripture, he recommended hymn singing and he often concluded with a blessing.

One of the helpful aspects in Of Good Comfort is that the author translated nineteen letters of Martin Luther’s spiritual care. Interestingly, Martin Luther concluded nearly all of his letters with a commendation as simple as, “With this, I commit you to God. Amen.”[2] On occasion he would give a fully developed blessing as he did on November 17, 1532, to Jonas von Stockhausen, “I commit you to our beloved Lord, the only Saviour and the true conqueror, Jesus Christ. May he guard his victory and triumph over the devil in your heart. May he bring us all joy through the help he gives you and the miracle he does in you. For this we confidently hope and pray, just as he has commanded and promised us. Amen.”[3]

Furthermore, Of Good Comfort documents how, in addition to giving blessings, Luther would weave Scripture, hymnody, and prayers in his letter. In Luther’s short letter dated October 7, 1534, to Matthias Weller he weaves in six different Scripture passages. Luther advises, “when you are depressed, and it is all threatening to take over, say: ‘Up you get! I must play a hymn to the Lord on my regal’ … as David and Elisha did, until your depressed thoughts go away.”[4]

Another interesting point that Martin Luther wrote regarding visitation is that he sees Christian visitation as cruciform in nature. When a Christian friend comes to bring comfort it should be viewed as God coming to him. Luther wrote, “when good people comfort you, dear Matthias, try to believe that God is speaking to you through them. Pay attention to them and don’t doubt that it is most certainly God’s word coming to you, in line with God’s command, through men, for your comfort.”[5]

[1] Pietsch, Of Good Comfort, 202.

[2] Pietsch, Of Good Comfort, 255.

[3] Pietsch, Of Good Comfort, 279.

[4] Pietsch, Of Good Comfort, 287.

[5] Pietsch, Of Good Comfort, 287.

Source: LCMS News