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February 2017 - Luther on Marriage

Luther on Marriage

     With Valentine’s Day approaching, I thought it would be a good time to look at the love of Luther's life (that is after his love for his Lord), his marriage to Katharine von Bora, as well as his views on marriage.        

      Luther was known to have said when he heard about monks being married off while he was in hiding at the Wartburg Castle: "Good heavens! They won't give me a wife."   Thus you might think that he was opposed to marriage. To the contrary -- he was very much in support of it.  In his Large Catechism he wrote: "In the second place, you must know also that marriage is not only an honorable but also a necessary state. In general and in all conditions it is solemnly commanded by God that men and women, who were created for marriage, shall be found in this estate."   He noted that though there are a few gifted by God be remain celibate or who are not fit for marriage, marriage was the God-given institution for men and women to be made whole.  Thus he was quite vocal in his opposition to Rome's forbidding of marriage for priests.

      In his Smalcald Articles he writes:  “They (papal/Roman officials) have neither the authority nor the right to ban marriage and to burden the divine order of priests with perpetual celibacy. They have acted like anti-Christian, tyrannical, desperate scoundrels, and by this have caused all kinds of horrible, outrageous, innumerable sins of unchastity ‹depraved lusts›, in which they themselves still wallow.”  The sexual abuses and lusts of popes, bishops, priests, monks and nuns had been well known for many years -- and this fueled especially by the false teaching of forbidding the marriage of priests.

      In fact, Luther didn’t just oppose this false and abusive teaching in writing, but also in action.  Due to his writings, monks and nuns were leaving the cloisters.  On one occasion a group of 12 nuns in a neighboring village secretly wrote to Luther asking for help to escape.  Luther arranged for the women to be secreted out by having them hidden in a wagon of empty herring barrels.  When they arrived (smelling a bit like fish), he felt responsible to find them homes, husbands or positions (mostly as governesses) so they could survive.   It had been suggested to him that he should take one as a wife, but he was not intending on doing that.  Though his father certainly was hoping that Martin would continue the family name, and though he certainly and obviously approved of marriage, he felt that not only was he too busy with all of his teaching and reformation responsibilities, but most of all he expected to be martyred as a heretic any day.  That would be a poor gift to a bride.

     In time and by God’s providence, all but one of the nuns were spoken for, Katharine von Bora.   Though she got close to being given a husband, she reached a point when she finally gave Luther an ultimatum: she would marry either his friend Dr. Amsdorf of Magdeburg, or him and no other.   Despite his earlier reservations, he had over time changed his mind and decided to marry Katie (as he called her) in order to please his father, to spite the pope and the devil, and to give witness to his belief in marriage before he was martyred (he would at least be able to give her status).  And on June 13th, 1525, a former priest/monk and a former nun were married. 

       Luther learned quickly that marriage would bring great changes and challenges to his life, as well as great blessings. As time went on, Luther described marriage as a better school for character than any monastery for here it is that one has one’s corners rubbed off.    He noted that there are vexations between married couples, saying: “what a lot of trouble there is in marriage!  Adam has made a mess of our nature.  Think of all the squabbles Adam and Eve must have had in the course of their nine hundred years.  Eve would say, ‘You ate the apple,’ and Adam would retort, ‘You gave it to me.’”  He equated such struggles to the wedding at Cana attended by Jesus.  “Mary came to Him and said ‘the wine has given out’.  Yes, that is the way it sometimes is with marriage…But notice that Jesus does not take away the water and He does not take away the vexation of marriage.  He may even increase it.  But He turns the water into wine and they only know how sweet it is who have tasted it.” 

     Martin and Katie, clinging unto their Lord with mutual respect and devotion to one another, indeed flourished in this school of character and tasted its sweetness.  Their home was filled with service, God’s Word, humor (Martin’s letters to Katie were often addressed to “My Lord Katie”; or “My Rib” or sometimes he punned her name in German into Kette, meaning “chain” J), children (they had 10 kids, 4 of them adopted), guests , music and love.   

     In closing, Luther also gives this advice: The greatest grace of God is when love persists in marriage.  The first love is drunken.  When the intoxication wears off, then comes the real married love.  The couple should study to be pleasing to each other.  In the old days this sound advice was given to the bride – “My dear, make your husband glad to cross his threshold at night”’ and to the groom, “make your wife sorry to have you leave.” 


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