Martin and Katharina Luther. History of the Reformation Family

On June 13, 1525, Martin Luther, a former monk, the initiator of the Reformation, who forever changed the world, married the former nun Katharina von Bora. And although he was 42 and she was 26, they lived a long and happy life together. Luther later wrote that he would not trade Katharina for France or Venice. “Mein Herr Käthe” (dear Mr. Käthe), as Martin called her, put things in order, made Luther’s house exemplary and capable of providing shelter to the afflicted. “I am a happy man,” Luther wrote to friends. “Katharina, the best and most beloved of wives, gave me a son, little Hans Luther.” In total, Katharina and Martin had six children – three sons and three daughters.

Katharina was born into a noble but impoverished family. At the age of 9, her mother passed away, and her father soon remarried. But she did not see a place in a new marriage for children from previous marriage, so they decided to send the girl to a monastery, where she lived all this time, until in the early 1520s, it is not clear how Luther’s treatises reached there. Then they began to talk about the fact that other monks and nuns leave their cloisters and become followers of this man, who taught that salvation is a gift from God, and not the result of the performance of religious rites.

And so Kathy and eleven other nuns secretly sent a letter to Luther in Wittenberg, in which they wrote that they wanted to leave monasticism.

They asked him for help. It was very difficult to fulfill their desire, since the monastery was located on the territory subject to Duke George, Luther’s sworn enemy. George had already severely punished a man who helped several nuns escape from the monastery. But Luther devised a simple and reliable plan. In the nearby city of Torgau, there lived a respected citizen, a member of the city council, a former tax collector named Leonhard Kopp.

He had a contract to supply smoked herring to the Nimbshen Monastery, where the twelve unfortunate nuns were staying. Herring was supplied in barrels. How Kopp managed to accomplish everything is not known exactly. However, when he entered the monastery, he had twelve barrels of herring in his tarpaulin-covered wagon, and when he left there, he seemed to be taking back twelve empty barrels under the same tarpaulin. But the barrels were not empty.

Two days later, nine nuns (the other three went to their parents) stood at Martin Luther’s doorstep, and now he had to somehow get them to work or marry them off. It was difficult for them to find work. The nuns did not know anything about household chores. One historian wrote, “All they could do was pray and sing.” It was not easy for them to find husbands. In Germany, girls were married at fifteen or sixteen, and most of these nine nuns were much older. However, Martin Luther felt he simply had to help them. “I feel so sorry for this desperate little flock,” he wrote to a friend.

Someone has expressed the opinion that Luther could partially solve this problem by marrying one of these nuns himself. Martin replied that this was out of the question. And not because he was a sexless creature made of stone or opposed marriage. Just because he could soon be killed as a heretic. Although by this time he no longer considered himself bound by a vow of celibacy. “The desires experienced by a man are not alien to me, I am not made of stone,” he honestly admitted. “But I am aware that any day I can be burned at the stake as a heretic.”

Gradually, Luther managed to find husbands for several nuns, but one of them was his main problem. It was Kathy von Bora, who had found temporary day work in the house of Lucas Cranach, Luther’s neighbor. Cranach had a large household and needed many helpers.

It’s not that no one showed interest in this woman. Her lively character attracted the attention of a young man from a noble Nuremberg family, and they fell in love. But when the young man told his parents that he was going to marry a runaway nun, they flatly refused to bless this marriage. Kathy was very upset by what happened. Her heart was broken. But matchmaker Luther did not stop trying to arrange her life. Firmly determined to find a husband for Kathy, he soon picked up another suitable candidate. But, unfortunately, Kathy did not like this man at all, although Luther believed that in her position it was hardly worth being very fastidious.

Kathy wrote to Luther that she was not against marriage at all, but she would never go for the person he proposed. To emphasize how eager she was to get married, Kathy even decided to name a couple of candidates for her husband, although it was quite obvious to everyone who was familiar with the circumstances of this case that she still loved that young man from Nuremberg. As a possible future husband, she named Amsdorf, who, like Luther, was a professor at Wittenberg. Kathy named Martin himself as the second candidate. Both Amsdorf and Luther were then in their forties.

This letter from Katya came to Luther at a very auspicious moment. In Europe there were rumors that nine nuns lived in his house. Luther’s enemies were already rubbing their hands, thinking that Martin was mired in abomination. Jokes about Luther’s harem became commonplace. In fact, only Kathy remained in his care, but conversations on this subject became more and more numerous and unbearable. There was only one nun and there were nine times more rumors. In April 1525, shortly after receiving the letter, Martin went to visit his elderly parents. His father, who was always opposed to Martin becoming a monk, was glad that his son left the monastery. Now, in order to finally break with the past, he had only one thing to do – get married, raise children and leave them his name.

For many years Luther said that marriage is a divine institution. To think that celibacy is more elevated is to contradict the Bible, he argued. And now the time has come for him to put into practice what he spoke about. For a forty-year-old monk, this was not an easy step. He consulted no one but his parents. Even his closest friends knew nothing of his inner struggle. It was a time when many friends left him. Luther’s national fame faded and his spiritual influence waned. He knew it was time to start over.

What could be better than marriage?

Martin believed that the wedding “would have given pleasure to the father, would have enraged the pope, would have made the angels laugh and the devils weep, and sealed his testimony.”

He also hoped that it would silence the gossips. But Kathy actually made him an offer! Luther’s conversation with her became something of an answer to him, when he said that he could be burned as a heretic and that if she married him, the same might await her. But Kathy was not afraid of death.

The courtship could not be called romantic. “I am not madly in love, but I am gentle with her,” said Luther.

On June 10, 1525, Luther wrote: “The gifts of God must be taken without hesitation.” Once he made his decision, he didn’t waste any time.

The wedding took place on June 13th. The witnesses were Lucas Cranach and his wife. The haste with which everything happened gave rise to more rumors and even such close friends as Philip Melanchthon suspected that the matter was not clean. But Luther himself said: “If I had not married quickly and secretly, revealing myself to only a few, everyone would have made efforts to confuse me; for all my friends would say: “Don’t marry this one, marry that one.” Many of them believed that Luther should have married a more refined woman than Kathy.

One biographer calls Kathy “a quick-witted Saxon who did not climb into her pocket for a word.” An interesting match for Luther, a debater who ignited in a matter of seconds. She could not be called a beauty, with “her elongated head, high forehead, long nose and powerful chin.” She attracted people with her intelligence and strength of character.

Luther himself, perhaps, thought about pinching himself to make sure that all this was not a dream. “I can hardly believe it myself,” he joked, “but witnesses say it happened.” And when he invited Leonard Kopp, a herring merchant, to the wedding, he wrote to him: “God likes to work miracles and fool the world. You need to come to this wedding.”

Very soon, Luther discovered that he had to reckon with the needs, desires and habits of his wife. And sometimes he even jokingly called her not Kathy, but Kette (German chain).

“In the first year of family life, you need to get used to a lot. You wake up in the morning and you see a couple of braids on the pillow that weren’t there before.”

Luther has always been a very generous landlord: “I can’t afford to be known as a stingy man.” His donations were so generous that his friend and banker Martin Lucas Cranach often refused to pay his huge checks.

Managing such a man was not an easy task. Katharina had not only to constantly save the small family savings, but also to take care of the garden and take care of animals and birds, and even slaughter livestock herself. She bred fish in the pond and brewed beer, which, by the way, along with massage and poultices, with which she cured her husband for his many illnesses.

After living in marriage for a year, Luther told his friends: “My Kathy is so kind and tries so hard to please me that I would not exchange my poverty for all the wealth of Croesus.”

Then the children began to appear. When the first daughter was born, the happy father wrote to her future godmother: “My dear lady! The Lord gave me and my wife Kathy a little pagan. We hope that you will not refuse to be her spiritual mother and help the little girl become a Christian.”

In total, six children of their own were born in the family of a monk and a nun, and they raised four more orphaned children of their relatives as their own.

Like any spouse, the Luthers had family quarrels. After one of them, Martin wrote: “My God, this family life is nothing but trouble! Adam corrupted our nature.

You can only imagine how many quarrels he and Eve had to go through in nine hundred years of family life! Eve, probably, forever reproached Adam: “You ate an apple, after all.” – And he answered: “But you gave it to me.”

In his later writings, written after marriage, Martin Luther no longer regards marriage as a mere salvation from the fall of the flesh, but as a serious school of character, a difficult path to the formation of personality.

For all his practical approach to the family, Luther did not exclude love from it. First, he said, any true Christian must love his wife. After all, he is obliged to love every neighbor, but a person still has no one closer than his wife. Therefore, he and his wife should be the dearest people to each other.

Martin Luther ended all his letters to Katharina with the words: “Loving you and devoted to you” (German: Dir lieb und treu).

In 1546, at the age of sixty-two, Martin died. Kathy died a few years later on December 20, 1552. Her last words were: “I will penetrate Christ like a needle that is stuck in a coat.” Martin Luther was, of course, the main figure of the Protestant Reformation. But Martin and Kathy together – destroyed the then prevailing ideas about marriage.

Martin liked to repeat: “Let the wife make her husband happy when he comes home. And let her husband make her sad, seeing how he leaves.”

The success of any marriage depends on two people who are not afraid to change over time. Martin and Kathy were like that.


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