Martin Luther is My Homeboy: The Life of Luther (Part 4)

“The child of this ex-monk and this runaway nun will be the antichrist!” That is what many claimed when Katherine Von Bora, then wife of Martin Luther, became pregnant, only a year after their wedding. The union of this couple was a momentous occasion, for many reasons. Though often hailed for his theological influence on the doctrine of justification and on ecclesiology, Luther also forever influenced the western conception of marriage. His balanced view of romance and married life is desperately need today.

William Lazareth in his study on Luther’s home life writes:

It is no exaggeration to say that Luther’s monastic revolt and subsequent marriage represent for his ethics what his nailing of the Theses and his defense at Worms represent for his theology. Rightly understood both are dramatic symbols of the very heart of the biblical message which was recovered by Luther in his reformation of Christian life and thought. (Luther on the Christian Home, 1).

Luther had never intended to marry. He was a single man into his forties. But he wrote, nonetheless, voraciously about the subject of marriage.  He had written:

Priests, monks, and nuns are duty-bound to forsake their vows whenever they find that God’s ordinance to produce seed and to multiply is powerful and strong within them. They have no power by any authority, law, command, or vow to hinder this which God has created within them.

It is obvious that such human commandments, such as forbidding marriages of priests, are nothing but dictates of mere humans and the devil…

It should have been no surprise, then, when Katherine and several other nuns escaped from their convent and hid in empty fish barrels until they found themselves on Luther’s front steps.

There are several major themes to consider when one examines Luther’s teachings on marriage, sex, and the family. We will look at these under the heading of Luther’s legacy. But for the moment let us consider what we learn about ourselves from Luther’s own family life.

Luther reminds us immediately of the real complexity of married life. It is a joy to be married, but there is much change and much adjustment and yes even difficulty. Luther wrote:

A man is likely to wonder a great deal when he first gets married. Sitting at the table, he muses, “Not long ago I was by myself, but now there are two of us.”

“Before I was married the bed was not made for a whole year and became foul with sweat. But I worked so hard and was so weary I tumbled in without noticing it.”

He experienced some of the common frustrations with his children too, saying:

“Christ said we must become as little children to enter the kingdom of heaven. Dear God, this is too much. Have we got to become such idiots?”

But for all that Luther loved his family. He adored his wife, Katie (his Lord, he sometimes called her). And loved all six of their children.

His relationship to Katherine was one of great love and devotion. He paid her a great tribute when he spoke of the book of Galatians as “my Katherine von Bora.” In fact so devoted was he that at times it alarmed him. “I give more credit to Katherine than to Christ, who has done so much more for me,” Luther wrote. He loved his wife and he affirmed the difficulty of marriage at the same time. This uncommon union is one that needs to be reaffirmed today.

We have a tendency these days to think in narrow terms of one or the other. Marriage is oppressive and hard. It is intolerable to live with someone else forever! Or we dream of movie romances, with sappy and passionate love all the time (as if spouses are always chasing after each other and passionately kissing in the rain…who does that?!). Luther holds both realities before him. He wrote:

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 marriage love.” The couple should study to be pleasing to each other.

Marriage then was a commitment, it was a continual choice. It was a spiritual discipline. In fact Luther spoke of marriage as a school for character. A place where men and women are tried, challenged, transformed into the image of Christ. Marriage is difficult work, and yet, as Luther well saw, it is a great joy.

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