Martin Luther Biography, Part 15: Marriage
Resistance to taking a wife for himself, however, did not exempt Luther from becoming entangled in the marriage plans of others. Priests, monks, and nuns who left their vows generally had no other source of income and no social standing. Those who had been persuaded to leave their vows through reading Luther's books and tracts now came to look to Luther for help in beginning their new lives.
In 1523-- two years after he had written a book titled The Judgment of Martin Luther on Monastic Vows, arguing that "nowhere does the Bible teach that men and women should withdraw from the world to lonely monasteries and convents" (Robinson, 82)-- a small group of nuns from the Nimbschen Convent sent Luther a letter asking for his help so that they might escape their captivity and follow their consciences concerning God's Word. Sneaking nuns out of their convent was no small matter, as such an action was considered a crime worthy of the death penalty. Luther, however, enlisted the aid of Leonard Kopp, a brave, elderly gentleman who occasionally delivered barrels of pickled herring to the convent. And so, on the night before Easter, 1523, twelve nuns left Nimbschen Convent in a covered wagon, secreted among the fish-barrels.
Three of the nuns were able to return to their families, and so nine young ladies eventually arrived in Wittenberg. Six of the former nuns were wed rather quickly. Then two more were wed. Luther had sought to match the last, Katharina von Bora, with Jerome Baumgartner, a former student at the University of Wittenberg, but his family had objected to him marrying a former nun, and he ended up marrying a woman of considerable wealth. Next, Luther tried to match von Bora with Dr. Kaspar Glatz, whom she was unwilling to marry. Katharina confided to Luther's friend Amsdorf that she would be willing to marry either him or Dr. Luther. Neither Amsdorf or Luther intended to marry, due (primarily) to their work with the Reformation: they believed that their work was all-consuming, which would prevent them from fulfilling their duties as husbands, and that they were likely to die as martyrs.
Luther changed his mind about marriage due to the influence of his parents, who desired for him to father grandchildren. In defending his decision to ask Katharina von Bora to marry him, Luther said that he had decided to marry in order "to please his father [who wanted him to help pass on the family name through fathering children], to spite the pope and the Devil [as the pope had forbidden priests, monks, and nuns, from leaving their vows to pursue marriage], and to seal his witness before martyrdom [his witness that he trusted in God to provide]" (Bainton, 225). Martin Luther married Katharina von Bora out of concern for: her, his parents, and his ministry. He did not marry based on romantic love, as he confessed, "I am not infatuated" (Ibid.). Martin and Katharina were married on the evening of June 13, 1525 at Luther's house, in the presense of a small group of friends (Schaff, 7.5.77). They had a larger wedding ceremony on July 27, 1525 at which Luther's parents and Leonard Kopp, among many others, were present.
Despite Martin's initial lack of romantic feeling toward Katharina, Luther's letters to Katharina and other friends paint the picture of a tender, affectionate homelife. Martin referred to Katharina as "my dear Katie" and jokingly as "Lord Katie." Martin praised Katharina for her abilities to manage the Luther household, which included her aunt, two of her nieces, many visitors, and eventually six children (though two of Luther's daughters, to the great grief of the family, died at quite a young age). By all accounts, the Luthers sought to live in accordance with what Martin had previously written in The Estate of Marriage (1521):
Now observe that when that clever harlot, our natural reason (which the pagans followed in trying to be most clever), takes a look at married life, she turns up her nose and says, “Alas, must I rock the baby, wash its diapers, make its bed, smell its stench, stay up nights with it, take care of it when it cries, heal its rashes and sores, and on top of that care for my wife, provide for her, labour at my trade, take care of this and take care of that, do this and do that, endure this and endure that, and whatever else of bitterness and drudgery married life involves? What, should I make such a prisoner of myself? O you poor, wretched fellow, have you taken a wife? Fie, fie upon such wretchedness and bitterness! It is better to remain free and lead a peaceful, carefree life; I will become a priest or a nun and compel my children to do likewise.” What then does Christian faith say to this? It opens its eyes, looks upon all these insignificant, distasteful, and despised duties in the Spirit, and is aware that they are all adorned with divine approval as with the costliest gold and jewels. It says, “O God, because I am certain that thou hast created me as a man and hast from my body begotten this child, I also know for a certainty that it meets with thy perfect pleasure. I confess to thee that I am not worthy to rock the little babe or wash its diapers, or to be entrusted with the care of the child and its mother. How is it that I, without any merit, have come to this distinction of being certain that I am serving thy creature and thy most precious will? O how gladly will I do so, though the duties should be even more insignificant and despised. Neither frost nor heat, neither drudgery nor labour, will distress or dissuade me, for I am certain that it is thus pleasing in thy sight.
A wife too should regard her duties in the same light, as she suckles the child, rocks and bathes it, and cares for it in other ways; and as she busies herself with other duties and renders help and obedience to her husband. These are truly golden and noble works. . . .
Now you tell me, when a father goes ahead and washes diapers or performs some other mean task for his child, and someone ridicules him as an effeminate fool, though that father is acting in the spirit just described and in Christian faith, my dear fellow you tell me, which of the two is most keenly ridiculing the other? God, with all his angels and creatures, is smiling, not because that father is washing diapers, but because he is doing so in Christian faith. Those who sneer at him and see only the task but not the faith are ridiculing God with all his creatures, as the biggest fool on earth. Indeed, they are only ridiculing themselves; with all their cleverness they are nothing but devil’s fools.