Reformation Romance: Love and Marriage Luther and Katie's Way

“He’s merely a monk who wants a wife,” so the pope dismissed Martin Luther when first he heard of the Saxon monk’s decrying of the papacy. But then in 1521, during his compelled sequester in the Wartburg Castle, Luther began hearing of many former priests taking wives. “Good heavens!” he retorted. “They won’t give me a wife.” Even his colleagues Carlstadt and Melanchthon had married. But Luther was, at first, adamant, no one was going to give him a wife. Not that he was a sexless stone, but it made no sense for a man under the sentence of heresy, the stake looming, to marry—only to leave his bride a widow.

Perhaps the matrimonial news prompted Luther to set aside his German translation of the New Testament (and dozens of other writing projects) and write his great treatise on Christian marriage. “This will empty the cloisters,” a prophetic friend observed. Overnight Luther’s treatise circulated widely.

Even into nunneries. Luther received a letter, a passionate appeal for his counsel from more than a dozen nuns who desperately wanted to flee a nunnery near Wittenberg. Though escaping from a monastic cloister in 16th century Germany was a capital offense, Luther gave them a theological argument for why non-biblical vows are not binding. These girls wanted out, but they needed help. As if in a romantic comedy, Luther and his merchant friend Leonard Kopp cooked up a scheme to smuggle the apostate nuns out of the nunnery, by some accounts, in pickled herring barrels. “A wagon load of vestal virgins has just come to town,” said one of Luther’s students at the news, “all more eager for marriage than for life. God grant them husbands lest worse befall.”

The night before Easter in 1523, lest worse befall, Luther put on yet another hat: Matchmaker, the roaring, German, beer-swilling, pugilist version of Jane Austen’s Emma. He felt duty bound. After all, he had started the barrel rolling by decrying false doctrine in the Roman Catholic Church, including the unbiblical teaching about clerical celibacy. He had to finish it.

Setting to work with his illimitable zeal, Luther soon had suitable circumstances arranged for all but one of the runaway nuns, spunky twenty-six-year-old Katharina von Bora. After several failed attempts—choosy Katharina turned down more than one offer of marriage—she laughed off an aged candidate with the quip that she would rather marry Luther than Dr. Glatz. All in jest.

A jest, however, that began its work on Luther. After a visit home wherein he shared his problem of finding a husband for an apostate nun, his father, with Teutonic bluntness, told Luther to marry the girl and give him offspring. Finally Luther was resolved. He would do it, “to please his father, to spite the pope and the Devil, and to seal his witness before martyrdom.”

[To be continued--what does Katie think of the idea?]

Douglas Bond is author of LUTHER IN LOVE and twenty-seven other books of historical fiction, biography, devotion, and practical theology. He is lyricist for New Reformation Hymns, directs the Oxford Creative Writing Master Class, speaks at churches and conferences, and leads Church history tours in Europe (Rome to Geneva Tour, 2020). Watch for his forthcoming book God Sings! (And Ways We Think He Ought To); preorder a signed copy of God Sings! today at bondbooks.net and receive a free Rise & Worship cd.

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