On this date in 1527, Lutheran evangelist Leonhard Kaiser burned for his heresy at the Bavarian (today, Austrian) city of Scharding.
Kaiser (German link) was a middle-aged vicar hailing from a comfortable Bavarian family when Luther’s reformation fired a new evangelical zeal; he relocated to Wittenberg to absorb the new doctrines and became not only Luther’s exponent, but his friend.
In 1527, however, our man returned to his native Raab to nurse his ailing father — a calculated risk but a reasonable one, since Bavaria had not been killing its heretics.
Unfortunately for Kaiser, the region had a fresh new anti-Lutheran authority, and Kaiser’s continued preaching while he was in town set him up to be made an example of. Lutheran nemesis Johann Eck personally participated in the investigation.
According to Martin Luther as Comforter: Writings on Death, Luther personally wrote Kaiser a short letter of comfort in May of 1527, exhorting him to “patiently endure with the strength of Christ” his imminent martyrdom.
The great Reformer seems to have been profoundly affected by the death of his fellow-traveler, even (says this) questioning his own ministry relative to the sacrifice of flesh made by Leonard Kaiser. “I daily expect the death of a heretic,” Luther had written a friend a few years before … yet those martyrs’ laurels were not for him.
Instead, Luther did his proselytizing with his pen, and he found in Leonhard Kaiser a powerful subject indeed.
Luther took an early martyr’s hagiography written by Michael Stifel and greatly expanded it into a tribute, Concerning Leonhard Kaiser, Burned in Bavaria For the Sake of the Gospel that remained continuously in print in the 16th century. In that volume (I have not found a public link to it available online) Luther uses the burned man’s suggestive name: Leonard, “Lion-Hearted”, and Kaiser, “King”, to exalt the martyr’s courage and ultimate triumph.
It was also about this period — 1527 to 1529 — that Luther composed the hymn A Mighty Fortress Is Our God. Based on the Bible’s Psalm 46, this enduringly popular (even with Catholics) piece has been thought (though it’s just one speculative hypothesis among several) to be Luther’s tribute to his lion-hearted friend.