“I would not exchange Katie for France or Venice, because God has given her to me and other women have worse faults.”
Among Luther’s most permeate contributions to the Reformation was his teaching on the marriage of clergy.
Over and against the mistaken conclusion of sixteenth century ascetics and even the teachings of his theological forbearer, Augustine (who relegated the one flesh union of marriage to a necessary function), Luther concluded and convincingly taught marriage is not a lower estate but a gift of God to be enjoyed. He came to these conclusions early in his objections to Rome and would eventually follow his own advice in marrying the only person on the planet that could check Dr. Luther, Katherine Von Bora. She and eleven of her sisters had escaped a convent by way of herring barrels. (Word has it, these women were quite a catch!) One student reported, “A wagon load of vestal virgins has just come to town, all the more eager for marriage than for life. God grant them husbands lest the worst befall!” As they were married off one by one, only Katherine remained. Their mutual attraction is evident between the lines but Luther shied away from marriage because of his daily anxiety of suffering the fate of a heretic. Finally, as awkward as a middle school dance where there is only one boy and one girl left not dancing, the two finally joined and the resounding affect sounds louder than a mallet on the Wittenberg door. Often touted a marriage of convenience or simply to “spite the Pope,”* Luther’s marriage to “Katie” awakened in him a tender love that bleeds gushing ink all over his record and the letters between them. He affectionately referred to her as his “rib” (an allusion to Genesis 2) and humorously at times as kette (German for chain). Perhaps his greatest compliment came when he referred to the book of Galatians as his “Katherine Von Bora.” The progression of his personal endeavor in marriage can be seen in these statements:
“There is a lot to get used to in the first year of marriage, one wakes up in the morning and finds a pair of pigtails on the pillow which were not there before.”
“The first love is drunken. When the intoxication wears off, then comes the real marriage love.”
“Union of the flesh does nothing. There must also be union of manners and mind.”
Katie ran their household, managed their finances, ordered their daily lives, reared their children, looked after his health, and was a welcome addition to his famous “table talks.” This marriage of “convenience” was actually a cornerstone to the Protestant parsonage.
Even in the elevation of marriage and the fruit enjoyed thereof, Luther also struck matrimony from the list of Catholic sacraments of which there were (and are) seven. This allowed marriage to stand as it is, on its own, as a creation ordinance. He highly esteemed the family, the role of the father, and considered children a blessing. This perhaps is his most lasting contribution to Gospel driven Christianity.
*Luther himself reputedly remarked his marriage was to please his father and the spite the Pope and the devil and that it would be like the “betrothal of Joseph”. Luther was in denial. Evidence to the contrary, it seems Luther rather enjoyed his marriage in every aspect.
Bainton, Roland. Here I Stand: A life of Martin Luther. 1955.