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History of the Christian Church, Volume VII. Modern Christianity. The German Reformation.
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§ 77. Luther’s Marriage. 1525.


I. Luther’s Letters of May and June, 1525, touching on his marriage, in De Wette’s collection, at the end of second and beginning of third vols. His views on matrimonial duties, in several sermons, e.g., Predigt vom Ehestand, 1525 (Erl. ed., xvi. 165 sqq.), and in his Com. on 1 Cor. vii., publ. Wittenberg, 1523, and in Latin, 1525 (Erl. ed., xix. l-69). He wished to prevent this chapter from being used as a Schanddeckel der falsch-berümten Keuschheit. His views about Katie, in Walch, XXIV. 150. His table-talk about marriage and woman, in Bindseil’s Colloquia, II. 332–336. A letter of Justus Jonas to Spalatin (June 14, 1525), and one of Melanchthon to Camerarius (June 16).

II. The biographies of Katharina von Bora by Walch (1752), Beste (1843), Hofmann(1845), Meurer(1854). Uhlhorn: K. v. B., in Herzog2, vol. II. 564–567. Köstlin: Leben Luthers, I. 766–772; II. 488 sqq., 605 sqq.; his small biography, Am. ed. (Scribner’s), pp. 325–335, and 535 sqq. Beyschlag: Luther’s Hausstand in seiner reform. Bedeutung. Barmen, 1888.

III. Burk: Spiegel edler Pfarrfrauen. Stuttgart, 3d ed. 1885. W. Baur (Gen. Superintendent of the Prussian Rhine Province): Das deutsche evangelische Pfarrhaus, seine Gründung, seine Entfaltung und sein Bestand. Bremen, 1877, 3d ed. 1884.


Amidst the disturbances and terrors of the Peasants’ War, in full view of his personal danger, and in expectation of the approaching end of the world, Luther surprised his friends and encouraged his foes by his sudden marriage with a poor fugitive nun. He wrote to his friend Link: "Suddenly, and while I was occupied with far other thoughts, the Lord has, plunged me into marriage."

The manner was highly characteristic, neither saint-like nor sinner-like, but eminently Luther-like. By taking to himself a wife, he wished to please his father, to tease the Pope, and to vex the Devil. Beneath was a deeper and nobler motive, to rescue the oldest ordinance of God on earth from the tyranny of Rome, and to vindicate by his own example the right of ministers to the benefit of this ordinance. Under this view, his marriage is a public event of far-reaching consequence. It created the home life of the evangelical clergy.

He had long before been convinced that vows of perpetual celibacy are unscriptural and unnatural. He held that God has created man for marriage, and that those who oppose it must either be ashamed of their manhood, or pretend to be wiser than God. He did not object to the marriage of Carlstadt, Jonas, Bugenhagen, and other priests and monks. But he himself seemed resolved to remain single, and continued to live in the convent. He was now over forty years of age; eight years had elapsed since he opened the controversy with Rome in the Ninety-Five Theses; and, although a man of powerful passions, he had strictly kept his monastic and clerical vow. His enemies charged him with drinking beer, playing the lute, leading a worldly life, but never dared to dispute his chastity till after his marriage. As late as Nov. 30, 1524, he wrote to Spalatin I shall never take a wife, as I feel at present. Not that I am insensible to my flesh or sex (for I am neither wood nor stone); but my mind is averse to wedlock, because I daily expect the death of a heretic."569569    De Wette, II. 570. But on April 10, 1525, he wrote to the same friend: "Why do you not get married? I find so many reasons for urging others to marry, that I shall soon be brought to it myself, notwithstanding that enemies never cease to condemn the married state, and our little wiseacres (sapientuli) ridicule it every day."570570    Ibid., II. 643. He got tired of his monastic seclusion; the convent was nearly emptied, and its resources cut off; his bed, as Melanchthon tells us, was not properly made for months, and was mildewed with perspiration; he lived of the plainest food; he worked himself nearly to death; he felt the need of a helpmate.

In April, 1523, nine nuns escaped from the convent of Nimptsch near Grimma, fled to Wittenberg, and appealed to Luther for protection and aid. Among them was Catharina von Bora,571571    Also spelled Bore or Boren. a virgin of noble birth, but poor, fifteen years younger than Luther,572572    She was born Jan. 29, 1499, and was in the convent from 1509. not remarkable for beauty or culture, but healthy, strong, frank, intelligent, and high-minded. In looking at the portraits of Dr. and Mrs. Luther in their honeymoon, we must remember that they were painted by Cranach, and not by Raphael or Titian.573573    Erasmus, in a letter of 1525, ascribed to Catharina from hearsay extraordinary beauty: "Lutherus duxit uxorem, puellam mire venustam, ex clara familia Bornae, sed ut narrant indotatam, quae ante annos complures vestalis esse desierat." Michelet (Life of Luther, ch. V.), probably misled by this letter, calls her "a young girl of remarkable beauty."

Catharina had been attached and almost engaged to a former student of Wittenberg from Nürnberg; but he changed his mind, to her great grief, and married a rich wife (1523). After this Luther arranged a match between her and Dr. Glatz of Orlamünde (who was afterwards deposed); but she refused him, and intimated to Amsdorf, that she would not object to marry him or the Reformer. Amsdorf remained single. Luther at first was afraid of her pride, but changed his mind. On May 4, 1525, he wrote to Dr. Rühel (councilor of Count Albrecht of Mansfeld, and of Cardinal Albrecht of Mainz), that he would, take his Katie to wife before he died, in spite of the Devil."574574    De Wette, II. 655. On June 2, 1525, he advised Cardinal Archbishop and Elector Albrecht of Mainz, in an open letter, to marry, and to secularize the archbishopric. Ibid., p. 673. He left his friends ignorant of the secret, deeming it unwise to talk much about such delicate matters. "A man," he said, "must ask God for counsel, and pray, and then act accordingly."

On the evening of June 13, on Tuesday after Trinity Sunday, he invited Bugenhagen, Jonas, Lucas Cranach and wife, and a professor of jurisprudence, Apel (an ex-Dean of the Cathedral of Bamberg, who had himself married a nun), to, his house, and in their presence was joined in matrimony to Catharina von Bora in the name of the Holy Trinity. Bugenhagen performed the ceremony in the customary manner. On the following morning he entertained his friends at breakfast. Justus Jonas reported the marriage to Spalatin through a special messenger. He was affected by it to tears, and saw in it the wonderful hand of God.575575    "Lutherus noster duxit Catharinam de Bora. Heri adfui rei et vidi sponsum in thalamo jacentem. [An indecent German custom of the time; see Köstlin, II. 767.] Non potui me continere, adstans huic spectaculo, quin illachrymarem, nescio quo affectu animum percellente … mirabilis Deus a in consiliis et operibus suis."

On June 27 Luther celebrated his wedding in a more public, yet modest style, by a nuptial feast, and invited his father and mother and his distant friends to "seal and ratify" the union, and to "pronounce the benediction."576576    See his letters of invitation in De Wette, III. 1, 2, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13. He mentioned with special satisfaction that he had now fulfilled an old duty to his father, who wished him to marry. The University presented him with a rich silver goblet (now in possession of the University of Greifswald), bearing the inscription: "The honorable University of the electoral town of Wittenberg presents this wedding gift to Doctor Martin Luther and his wife Kethe von Bora." The magistrate provided the pair with a barrel of Eimbeck beer, a small quantity of good wine, and twenty guilders in silver. What is very remarkable, Archbishop Albrecht sent to Katie through Rühel a wedding gift of twenty guilders in gold; Luther declined it for himself, but let Katie have it.577577    Ibid., III. 103, 104. Tischreden, IV. 308. Köstlin, I. 772. Several wedding-rings of doubtful genuineness have been preserved, especially one which bears the image of the crucified Saviour, and the inscription, "D. Martino Luthero Catharina v. Boren, 13 Jun. 1525." It has been multiplied in 1817 by several copies. They lived together in the old Augustinian convent, which was now empty. He was not much interrupted in his studies, and at the end of the same year he published his violent book against Erasmus, who wondered that marriage had not softened his temper.

The event was a rich theme for slander and gossip. His enemies circulated a slander about a previous breach of the vow of chastity, and predicted that, according to a popular tradition, the ex-monk and ex-nun would give birth to Antichrist. Erasmus contradicts the slander, and remarked that if that tradition was true, there must have been many thousands of antichrists before this.578578    In his letter to Franciscus Sylvius (1526): "De conjugio Lutheri certum est, de partu maturo sponsae vanus erat rumor, nunc tamen gravida esse dicitur. Si vera est vulgi fabula Antichristum nasciturum ex monacho et monacha quemadmodum isti jactitant, quot Antichristorum millia jam olim habet mundus ? At ego sperabam fore, ut Lutherum uxor redderet magis cicurem. Verum ille praeter omnem expectationem emisit librum in me summa quidem cura elaboratum, sed adeo virulentum, ut hactenus in neminem scripserit hostilius." Melanchthon (who had been invited to the feast of the 27th of June, but not to the ceremony of the 13th), in a Greek letter to his friend Camerarius (June 16), expressed the fear that Luther, though he might be ultimately benefited by his marriage, had committed a lamentable act of levity and weakness, and injured his influence at a time when Germany most needed it.579579    The letter was published in the original Greek by W. Meyer, in the reports of the München Academy of Sciences, Nov. 4, 1876, pp. 601-604. The text is changed in the Corp. Reform., I. 753. Mel. calls Luther a very reckless man (ἀνὴρ ὡς μάλιστα εὐχερής), but hopes that he will become more solemn (σεμνότερος).

Luther himself felt at first strange and restless in his new relation, but soon recovered. He wrote to Spalatin, June 16, "l have made myself so vile and contemptible forsooth that all the angels, I hope, will laugh, and all the devils weep."580580    De Wette, III. 3. A year after he wrote to Stiefel (Aug. 11, 1526): "Catharina, my dear rib, salutes you, and thanks you for your letter. She is, thanks to God, gentle, obedient, compliant in all things, beyond my hopes. I would not exchange my poverty for the wealth of Croesus."581581    Ibid., III. 125. He often preached on the trials and duties of married life truthfully and effectively, from practical experience, and with pious gratitude for that holy state which God ordained in paradise, and which Christ honored by his first miracle. He calls matrimony a gift of God, wedlock the sweetest, chastest life, above all celibacy, or else a veritable hell.



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