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Helmsman of the Reformation – the man behind Luther

The Reformer Martin Luther and the Elector Frederick the Wise of Saxony did never meet in person. However, together they created the strong movement that emerged from Luther's ideas and led to an ecclesiastic, political and spiritual turning point. But there was a man who was responsible for the strong dynamics between the two, functioning as their interpersonal "lubricant": the scholar and theologian Georg Spalatin, who was the man behind Luther - the "helmsman of the Reformation".

Georg Burkhardt was born in the diocese of Eichstätt on January 17th, 1484, as the child of a single mother and an unknown father. According to the custom of the humanists, he called himself "Spalatinus" as a scholar, a name derived from Spalt, the city where he was born. After attending school in Spalt and Nuremberg, he became a student at the university of Erfurt in 1498. In 1499, he obtained his Bachelor degree. Together with his teacher Nikolaus Marschalk, a promoter of the educational ideal of humanism, he transferred to the newly founded university of Wittenberg in 1502 and received his Master degree in the following year. He was ordained as a priest in Erfurt in 1508. In the same year, Georg Spalatin became teacher of the princes at the Elector's court in Torgau. Soon he gained the trust of Frederick III (the Wise) of Saxony. He became his secret secretary, spiritual councillor and court chaplain.

Privy secretary, spiritual counsellor and court preacher

The collaboration of Martin Luther and Elector Frederick III of Saxony at the initial point of origin of the Reformation would not have happened without Spalatin's mediation. His work, as secret secretary and secular councillor and also as spiritual councillor and priest, explains the influence he exerted over the deeply religious ruler.

As confidant of the Saxon Elector, Spalatin attended every decisive Imperial Diet, as well as the meetings of the sovereigns. From 1516 onwards, he worked in the Electorate's office, performing tasks for the church as well as the university. Thus, he paved the way for Luther. It is due to him that Luther is well-known today as the great Reformer. Together with Luther and his comrade Melanchthon, Spalatin supported the university reform in Wittenberg. He translated works by Luther and Melanchthon and published his own, thus promoting the Protestant teachings.

It was largely due to Spalatin's close connection with Martin Luther and his theology, that the Elector protected Luther and the Reformation was able to unfold. In 1521, after the Imperial Diet of Worms, where Luther had defended himself and his writings, Spalatin initiated Luther's abduction to the Wartburg. He wanted to make sure that Luther was safe there. Spalatin stayed in touch with Luther during the ten months of his stay in the castle. 

First superintendent of Altenburg

In 1525, after the death of Frederick the Wise, Spalatin came to Altenburg in Thuringia as parish priest. On behalf of Luther he worked there as a reverend, following his own goal of realising the ideas of the Reformation. In 1528, he became Altenburg's first superintendent.

In 1545, the "helmsman of the Reformation" died in Altenburg and was buried in the church of St. Bartholomew. A commemorative plaque reminds us of Georg Spalatin, Luthers diplomat, who has set in motion many developments both in secular life and in the church. His remains have disappeared, but his bible, one of the most valuable documents of the Reformation, still exists.