Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: It was the scandal of Europe in the mid-1500s. Martin Luther the monk married Katherine, a runaway nun. Like any marriage, the Luthers faced some difficulties. Here’s Dr. Erwin Lutzer.

Dr. Erwin Lutzer: The real thing that held it together during the rough spots, and it’s clear that there were rough spots, is respect. They continued to respect each other . . . and they gave one another space.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of A Place of Quiet Rest, for Friday, October 27, 2017.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Well, we’re continuing our conversation today with Dr. Erwin Lutzer about the Protestant Reformation. We’re celebrating, observing the 500-year anniversary of that Reformation.

It was an earthquake. It rearranged the map of Europe. So much of what we know and experience today and around the world in Christendom has to do with ways that era got back to Christ, back to the gospel, and spiritual rebirth that God brought about there in the sixteenth century.

We’ve talked over these last days about the life of Martin Luther, the life and times, and his courage, his faith, his humility, his fears, and how he got us back to the authority of God’s Word and the beauty of Christ as our Redeemer.

Now, the Reformation and Luther’s part in it affected everything that you can imagine, including marriage and family, very practical issues. So today, with Dr. Lutzer helping us here, we want to talk about Martin Luther’s marriage, his children, his home—what it was like, and how that was all impacted by the gospel, and how that family and the way that Martin Luther came to think about family impacts how we think about family today.

The gospel affects everything. Right? And certainly that is true in the area of marriage. I’m experiencing this as a newlywed. We need the gospel in our home. You need it in your home.

So, Dr. Lutzer, talk to us about before Luther got married. What was the situation about marriage and family and the priesthood? Just give us a backdrop there, if you would.

Dr. Erwin Lutzer: Just so that your listeners know, we are talking about a marriage that probably impacted the world in greater ways than any other marriage. Now, today, when there’s a marriage, especially of royalty or whatever, it’s broadcast around the world and billions see it. But it doesn’t necessarily change the way in which marriage is viewed.

That’s why a historian actually said, and it’s a historian that I respect, “Luther’s impact in his family and marriage was almost as great an impact as his ecclesiastical reformation,” because from now on, marriage is going to be seen differently. And even some of our customs today still date back to the time of Luther.

Before we get into the interesting romance of it all . . . it took a while for that to develop, as we shall see. Let me answer a question that we raised in a previous broadcast but didn’t answer.

The question was: Why wasn’t Luther put to death?

You remember, it was the intention of the emperor to kill Luther, and Luther, then, was hidden in the Wartburg Castle. There could have been times when Charles V could have killed Luther, but the Turks were circling Vienna.

This was the time of the rise of the Ottoman Empire, and Charles needed the help of the Lutherans in his war against the Turks. So, you see, he couldn’t move against Luther. He was so angry that after Luther died, he actually began a war with the Protestants when he had more freedom to do that. So Luther never was put to death but died a natural death.

Nancy: And you see God’s providential hand in history.

Dr. Lutzer: You see God’s providential hand, and let’s give the background. Luther was living at a time when marriage was in disarray. Now, we might find that difficult to believe, but the church wanted to have marriage under its jurisdiction. But people often avoided the church because you had to pay money to have the ceremony and so forth. There was no standard policy. For example, children sometimes ran off and got married, and Luther spoke against that along with a couple of other things that we will mention.

And yet, marriage was considered to be a sacrament, a means of grace. Now, it wasn’t a necessary sacrament because, obviously, the priests weren’t married. They didn’t need that sacrament. But I think it was an attempt of the church to kind of elevate marriage and to say that it is one of the seven sacraments. So you have this tremendous disparity, and you have disarray.

Luther begins to write, and he speaks against celibacy. He has some powerful arguments as to why the priesthood should not be a celibate priesthood.

Nancy: Though he himself is still unmarried.

Dr. Lutzer: Yes. He himself is still a monk. Let’s remember, let’s put this in context. His marriage takes place four years after the Diet of Worms (or the Diet of Vorms as it sounds in German.) So Luther is famous. He’s known throughout all of Germany. When he went to Worms, the whole city basically was there to welcome him. So he’s going to get married as a famous man to a runaway nun. But let’s keep that story for just a moment.

So Luther begins to speak against celibacy. He says it is unnatural. He said, “To put priests next to women and the priest is celibate, is something like putting straw on fire and expecting it not to burn.” 

He began to preach about the elevation of marriage, going back to the book of Genesis, that this was ordained of God, and that marriage was natural, and that celibacy should be abandoned.

Well, what happens to that? The teaching floods Germany, and it gets into a convent, and in this convent there are nuns who are hearing about Luther. They’re reading about him. He’s arguing against celibacy, against nunnery, and twelve of them decide, “What shall we do?”

So they consult with Luther, obviously not directly, but through emissaries. And Luther says, “I think you should escape, and I will arrange the escape.”

What happens is there’s a man by the name of Leonard Kopp. Leonard Kopp was the guy who would bring herring and other goods to the nunnery. And so, on the night before Easter Sunday, he came with his wagon with plenty of blankets, and twelve nuns escaped.

That was a capital offense for you to take a nun and to have her escape. And Luther was willing to take the risk because his Elector was Prince Frederick, and Frederick was actually on Luther’s side in many regards. He had a very interesting role to play in all of this.

The twelve nuns come to Wittenberg, and the question is: How do we find husbands for them? We have to do something with them. Three went home. So you have nine left. Luther worked to get husbands for all of them, and there was one left by the name of Katharina—Katie as we called her.

And he said, “You should marry Kaspar Glatz.

And she said, “No. Under no condition will I marry him.”

Luther was miffed. He was trying to do her a favor, to get her married off, and she refused to marry this guy. She had the audacity to say, “I’m going to marry either Armsdorf or Luther.” I’m sure she was joking because Luther was sixteen years older than she. Luther was very famous, and he was, I suppose, Europe’s most famous bachelor. (laughter)

Furthermore, at this time, even though he was writing against celibacy, he was still keeping his vow. She ends up without someone to marry her, and Luther decides that he’s going to.

By the way, regarding celibacy, the statement that was popular in those days was, “Marriages filled the earth, but virginity fills the heavens.” In other words, celibacy was seen as preferred.

Nancy: Now, I read that before—can I interrupt you?

Dr. Lutzer: Yes, please.

Nancy: I read that he initially didn’t want to marry because he thought he was going to die, and he didn’t want to leave her as a widow.

Dr. Lutzer: Yes. That’s right.

Nancy: So he was thinking about not leaving her in that condition.

Dr. Lutzer: Exactly.

Nancy: But then he decides he will marry.

Dr. Lutzer: Well, let me quote his words, “I didn’t love my Katie at the time for I regarded her with mistrust, as someone proud and arrogant. But it pleased God who wanted me to take pity on her.”

And then he goes on to say that the real reason wasn’t love but he really married out of obedience to Christ. For Katie, the marriage was an issue of survival.

Now, isn’t it interesting—you like to talk about providence, Nancy, but this is also an example. Because she wasn’t married off, Katie spent two years in the home of the Cranachs in Wittenberg. The Cranachs are the painters. All the paintings that you see of Luther were painted by the Cranachs, both father and son.

There Katie was taught how to manage a household, how to make food, and all these other things that she does in a spectacular way.

Nancy: Yes, she’s amazing.

Dr. Lutzer: She ends up being an amazing wife for him.

So, anyway, he decides to get married. He says, first of all, to please his father. Now, his father was against him going into the monastery. So he visited his father, and he thought, Maybe this might be a way to keep my father happy.

Why did he do it? First of all, he says, “To please his father.” The second reason is to “spite the devil.” And the third reason was “to make angels rejoice.”

So he gets married. But I want us to think today about the opposition that occurred to him and what he had to put up with.

There was not a lot of possibility that this marriage would succeed. First of all, sixteen years different. He is a famous man. She, of course, nobody heard of her except that she was a runaway nun. And, by the way, her father he dumped her off into the nunnery, at the school, at the age of six. I don’t think they ever met again because he was on a different trajectory.

She becomes his wife, and there is huge opposition. Melanchthon, who was Luther’s sidekick and he was buried with him in the Castle Church in Wittenburg, was so opposed to the wedding that Luther never even invited him to the wedding. He found it very difficult to come around on that point.

But the other thing, Nancy, and isn’t this sad, the brunt of all the criticism was against Katie. She was called the seductress. They said, “You knew how weak this man was, and you seduced him into marriage.” She was blamed for the fact that they got married. That criticism of Katie even continued after Luther’s death.

So Luther and Katie get married. They are in a wedding. First of all, a private wedding, and then they go to the church where Bugenhagen ultimately marries them. He was the pastor at the time. And, yes, she is twenty-six, and he is forty-two, sixteen years different. And the opposition continues.

This is humorous: Even King Henry VIII of England . . . Now, we’re going to have to talk about him in the Reformation because he’s a contemporary with Luther, and some of the things that he did and how it impacted the Reformation. But even he accused Luther of “disgraceful lust in violating a nun who was consecrated to God.” Now, King Henry, you know, is the one who beheaded his wives when he didn’t like them, but, “Luther, you are filled with disgraceful lust.”

Now, Katie becomes a spectacular woman in terms of all that she did for Luther in the twenty-three years they were married together. For example, gardening. She had to garden because, you must understand, if you see the Black Cloister where they lived, it’s a big building. It had about forty rooms, and those rooms were always full. Not necessarily of students. Politicians came, and lots of students came, and important dignitaries came to see Luther. They all stayed there, and they all stayed there for free.

He begins to call Katie the morning star of Wittenberg because she gets up at four o’clock in the morning, and she doesn’t really complete her day’s work until nine o’clock. Now, in the middle of this, she does have six children, we should say. So she was spectacular in her ability to garden.

She was a nurse. Luther was confounded by all kinds of illnesses, and she had all kinds of remedies. By the way, I read that historians do not know where she learned all of that. She wouldn’t have learned that necessarily in the nunnery. Maybe it was when she was with the Cranachs because she was able to nurse him. People marveled at the fact that Luther’s health improved after marriage. That, I’m sure, was because of Katie.

They developed a very strong love between each other. But really, Nancy, the real thing that held it together during the rough spots, and it’s clear that there were rough spots, is respect. They continued to respect each other, and they gave one another their space. Katie was way out ahead of other women of the era and what they would have been allowed to do. She managed the finances.

Nancy: Which, I understand, Luther was not all that good at himself?

Dr. Lutzer: Not at all. He gave everything away. He gave their wedding presents away. (laughter) When they were down to nothing, Katie took over. (laughter) And Luther said, “God has given us a hand with five fingers, and the reason that God divided our hands is so that the money could flow through.” So he gave it to anyone who had a need.

As a businesswoman, she makes two important decisions. One is, she buys that far in Zulsdorf, two days away, and she has eight pigs there. She has a number of different animals that she takes care of. Sometimes she stays away two–three weeks, and Luther is miffed.

That’s where that famous letter he writes to her comes from and says, “My dear lord, sir, doctor Katie.” By the way, he always signed his letters to her, “Your obedient servant.” 

People spoke about her greed, but he never spoke of her greed but always praised her thriftiness. He defended her through all of these criticisms.

She buys this land, because now she has some freedom. He writes a letter. He says, “To the woman of Zulsdorf,” and he gives her various different names like sir, my lord, etc. etc., “who resides in body in Wittenberg but in spirit in Zulsdorf” because whenever she came back, she was worried about the farm. That was one change.

The other change was not popular at all. She began to charge for coming and living there in the cloister rather than people just simply coming and freeloading. She says, “You have to pay something.” Well, that did not go over very well, but she was a businesswoman, and she held to her ground.

Now in the midst of this, Luther began to appreciate his wife’s intellect, her savvy business finesse, and sometimes he called her by various names. You remember, he called her “My book of Galatians,” because that was his favorite book. He also called her, “My rib.” He sent readings to a friend, “I and my rib send greetings to you. I send the greetings to you and to your rib and all the little ribs.” (laughter)

Now at the beginning, he said, “I feel neither passionate love nor burning for my spouse, but I cherish her.” That’s where their love began. This is really proof that love can grow because there’s no doubt.

If I could say this about Katie, she apparently had a temper. He said, “If I could bear the wrath of the devil, of sin, and of conscience, then I can also stand Katie von Bora’s anger.”

Nancy: But you know what? He needed her, too.

Dr. Lutzer: Oh, yes.

Nancy: Tell the story about when she dressed in black as if she were going to a funeral.

Dr. Lutzer: Exactly.

Nancy: Because he was prone to depression and self-pity.

Dr. Lutzer: Yes, depression and self-pity. When she saw him depressed, she dressed in black. And he said, “Why did you dress that way?”

And she said, “I’m going to a funeral.”

He said, “Who died?”

She said, “Well, didn’t you hear? God died.”

“God died?”

“Yes. That’s why you’re so despondent, because God died.”

Luther began to laugh and think to himself, It is kind of crazy that I would be despondent if God is still living.

Oh, she was a tremendous help to him, a tremendous help. Now, you can tell that Katie was assertive by the fact that when you read the table talks, what you will see is that she would often interrupt and give her little speeches, too. She’d enter into the discussion with all these people sitting around. She would ask questions like, “Why did God expect Abraham to sacrifice his son? How can we simultaneously be saints and sinners?” She entered into these discussions.

And when Martin got out of line and said some things that maybe he shouldn’t, she let him know that, in a nice gentle way, I’m sure. (laughter)

Listen, within a year, Luther said, “To my kind, dear lord Katharina Luther, a doctor and a preacher in Wittenberg, grace and peace in Christ, dear sir Katie.” So he considered her a spiritual companion.

How do we know he really respected her? Well, first of all, she was the one who persuaded him to write the book In Bondage to the Will. Erasmus had written a book entitled, The Freedom of the Will.

She said, “You have to reply.” And that turned out to be, in Luther’s mind, his best book.

In several letters he relied on Katie to convey very critical pieces of information and news to people. Finally, I read one of his letters where he trusted her to oversee a ministerial search committee to fill a pastoral position in a nearby city.

So you can see here that he appreciated her discernment, her wit. He says, “I wouldn’t give up Katie for France or Venice. First, because God gave her to me, and second, because I’ve often observed that other women have more shortcomings than Katie.” (laughter) “Although,” he says, “she, too, has some shortcomings, but they are outweighed by the many great virtues that she has, and she keeps faith in marriage, that is fidelity and respect.”

So he called her his “sweetheart Katie; to my beloved Katie.” So you have these terms of endearment between the two of them.

In family time they would get together, and they would have family devotions. I know that I’ve been speaking a lot here, but I want to talk about the kids.

Nancy: Please do.

Dr. Lutzer: Luther went through a lot of sorrow. He had a baby that died. Then little Magdalena who was his most precious child. He called her lenchen. Lenchen in German is a term of endearment. She died, and he was so sorrowful.

Nancy: At age fourteen. Right?

Dr. Lutzer: Age fourteen. He just cannot understand how God can take this one from him. He says, “Why do I hurt so much when you are so fortunate as to be with God?” On her tombstone, he inscribes these words:

Here do I, Lena, Luther’s daughter rest,
Asleep in my little bed with all the blest.
In sin and trespass I was born;
Forever I would be forlorn,
But yet I live, and all is good—
Thou, Christ, doth save me with thy blood.

And so, that’s Luther and his family. Remarkable. What this did, Nancy, is it changed the whole view of marriage. That’s why Protestants are not required to be celibate.

And the relationship of Katie and Luther, even their intimacy, there were things about it that were known, that really opened up the whole business of marriage and made it acceptable and gave it a great deal of—what shall we say—affirmation and standardized the procedure. After Luther, you went into a church, you said your vows at the altar. All of those changes were made as a result of his marriage.

Nancy: Some people thought that when he got married his impact, his influence would be diminished. But, in fact, it really increased because of what God did in and through that marriage.

Dr. Lutzer: You know what I think as I’m thinking and responding to what you have said? That was another of the criticisms. Here’s a marriage that was begun in somewhat of a strange way.

Nancy: For sure.

Dr. Lutzer: Luther wanted to actually have her married off to someone else, and eventually he decides to marry her, then falls in love with her, and they have this wonderful relationship that he needed. That really shows you that God takes circumstances, and He uses them for His good.

Nancy: And for our good.

Dr. Lutzer: For our good, and for His good. Even when our relationships aren’t maybe what they should be at times, that God oversees that and blesses it.

Now, very quickly, Luther dies. He is in a city. He’s preaching there to resolve a dispute. He dies in Eisleben. Three of his sons are there. Katie is not with him. She hears the news. She is just totally brokenhearted. She lives six years later.

Charles V, whom we heard about previously, the Holy Roman Emperor, was determined to finally put a kibash on all of the Lutherans and to return Europe back to Catholicism. But he had run out of options. He now had some freedom, so he gets an army from Spain that overruns Germany and fights the Germans with war. He himself comes to Wittenberg, but Luther is already dead.

In the midst of this, Katie has to leave Wittenberg. She goes with the children, puts things in a wagon. She comes back, and then she leaves again because of trouble in Wittenberg. When she’s finally there, she’d like to rebuild, but she has to leave again.

She’s in a wagon with her two youngest children, who are now adults, and the wagon lurches. She’s on her way to Torgau, and she hops off the wagon to steady it, fearing that it was going to tip. She ends up in the ditch, in water, in the cold. She’s taken from there, and then she is brought to Torgau. She’s basically nursed for three months and then dies.

But her last words: “I will cleave to Christ like a burr cleaves to a fur coat.” Isn’t that beautiful?

Nancy: Yes.

Dr. Lutzer: What a way to go!

I haven’t even told you about all the problems she had about Luther’s will. She had a very interesting life. But, like Luther and Katie said at the end, “Look at the lives we’ve lived.”

Who could have seen that in the stars that these two people—one a monk and one a runaway nun—would go down in history as some of the most famous people who ever lived, with the greatest impact. Unbelievable.

Nancy: Maybe to wrap it up, this paragraph from your book, a chapter on the Luther family, where you said,

For more than a thousand years, celibacy was upheld as an ideal. Augustine had argued that sex even in marriage involved sin. Martin and Katie taught future generations that marriage involves mutual love, joyful sex, genuine companionship, and the approval of God.

How huge and wonderful a change is that? If you think of marriage as a picture of the redemption story, of the love of Christ for His Bride. So even in this, what might be considered a very non-spiritual part of their lives, it was hugely spiritual because even in this marriage and family, we’re telling the gospel, which is what God calls us to do.

Think about what disarray marriage and family are in in our day. Think of how God could use our marriages to tell the gospel story, to show the infinite, unchanging, faithful love, covenant-keeping love of Christ for His Bride?

So in that everyday stuff of life and marriage and family, this is an opportunity for us to reflect to the world the gospel of Christ.

Leslie: That’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, showing us how even our imperfect marriages can point people to Jesus. If He could use Martin and Katie Luther, he can use us despite our struggles and weaknesses.

If you’ve enjoyed the rich and practical history lesson from our guest Erwin Lutzer today, I hope you’ll jump into this subject even more. He’s written a book called Rescuing the Gospel: The Story and Significance of the Reformation. We’d like to send you a copy when you help keep the ministry of Revive Our Hearts going. Donate any amount at ReviveOurHearts.com and you can request this book as a gift. You can also call 1–800–569–5959, and we’ll send one copy during this series for your gift of any amount.

On Monday we’ll hear about some of the other figures in the Reformation—Calvin, Zwingli, the Anabaptists. They all had flaws, but were used by God to keep His Word and the gospel in the forefront. Please be back, for Revive Our Hearts. 

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is calling women to greater freedom, fullness and fruitfulness in Christ. It’s an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

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