In the 2003 movie Luther, there is a scene where, while still a monk, Martin Luther comes across a man who has hanged himself. The townspeople are treating the suicide with horror and disdain, believing him to be damned. But Luther says that the man is not responsible for "the demons in his mind" or something to that effect and personally chooses to bury the man as a reputable Christian would be.

In real life, did Luther ever express his views on suicide? And if so, is there any evidence that he expressed them while he was a monk, as he did in the movie?

1 Answer 1


It appears that Luther did in fact say something to that effect. In one of his Table Talks, Luther is recorded as saying:

I don’t share the opinion that suicides are certainly to be damned. My reason is that they do not wish to kill themselves but are overcome by the power of the devil. They are like a man who is murdered in the woods by a robber. However, this ought not be taught to the common people, lest Satan be given an opportunity to cause slaughter, and I recommend that the popular custom be strictly adhered to according to which it [the suicide’s corpse] is not carried over the threshold, etc. Such persons do not die by free choice or by law, but our Lord God will dispatch them as he executes a person through a robber. Magistrates should treat them quite strictly, although it is not plain that their souls are damned. However, they are examples by which our Lord God wishes to show that the devil is powerful and also that we should be diligent in prayer. But for these examples, we would not fear God. Hence he must teach us in this way.

I'm not sure what he means by "magistrates should treat them quite strictly", but there may have been legal consequences for the family of the suicide.

This is the only appearance of any discussion of suicide I can find, several years after Luther left the Catholic Church. I don't see any evidence that he made the sorts of statements while he was a monk.

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    I am awarding a bounty as part of the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation Bounty Challenge. Thanks for providing a great answer! Commented Oct 28, 2017 at 22:16
  • Great answer! For the magistrates line, I believe he is referring to the fact that suicidal persons were not to be buried or given funerals. I do not have a source for that, but my Russian Orthodox priest told me that Orthodox faiths and traditional Lutherans have rules about not being involved with funerals of those who commit suicide, so maybe the Church had something like that as well. Just a guess.
    – J. Tate
    Commented Oct 31, 2017 at 11:43
  • @Thunderforge thanks, I try to do my best :-) Commented Nov 1, 2017 at 12:30

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