MAY / JUNE 2014: BY RACHEL KOVACINY
Reformer. Professor. Translator. Pastor. Author. Hymnwriter. Defender of the faith. Heretic. Outlaw.
Martin Luther had a lot of vocations, wore a lot of hats, still gets slapped with a lot of labels even today. In all the hubbub of his achievements – like pounding those 95 questions on the Wittenburg church door, defying the Papacy at the Diet of Worms, translating the entire Bible from Greek and Hebrew into German — two of Luther’s vocations get forgotten by many, pushed aside or ignored as insignificant. But to Martin Luther himself, his roles as husband and father were not trivial, not unimportant or forgettable. In fact, they were an integral part of his efforts to reform the church and bring it back in line with Scripture.
When Martin Luther and Katherine von Bora married, he was forty-two and she was twenty-six. He was a former monk, and she was a former nun, so for them, marrying meant recanting the vows of celibacy they had made when entering monastic life — vows Luther had come to believe were contrary to Scripture. Although he taught that mandatory celibacy was not God pleasing, Luther had thought he himself would never marry because he was simply too busy for marriage and family. After all, he was teaching at the University of Wittenburg, constantly studying the Bible, and writing a staggering number of theological articles, pamphlets, and so on. But he changed his mind when he realized that if he married, he would demonstrate to his followers that he truly believed matrimony was a holy estate. By practicing what he’d been preaching, he would also make his break with the Roman Catholic Church obvious and permanent.
Two years earlier, Katherine von Bora and several other nuns had run away from their convent, having learned of Martin Luther’s teachings and believing he was correct. Luther and his allies helped the other young women return to their homes or find jobs or husbands, but Katherine fell in love with a young man who then jilted her. The famous artist Lucas Cranach the Elder and his wife Barbara welcomed her into their home, but Katie was heartbroken and lonely.
Martin and Katie were not “in love” when they married. Katie needed a home, she was intelligent, hard-working, and above all a devout Christian. Martin needed someone to take care of his physical needs while he concentrated on writing, teaching, and studying God’s Word – he said once that before he married, he hadn’t changed his bed sheets for a year because he never had time or remembered to do it. Marriage for them was a sensible, practical step.
A marriage between two people who were not romantically in love? Today we gasp. Unheard of! Absurd! How could they possibly be happy? And yet, happy they were, by all accounts. They grew to love each other very much, the Lord blessed them with six children, and together they created a hospitable environment where friends, family, and strangers were welcomed and nurtured.
I will never be a reformer like Martin Luther. Things that I teach or write or profess will never rattle the world’s most powerful organization. But I am a Christian spouse and parent. I can admire Luther the Reformer, but I can understand Luther the husband and father. And I can learn from Martin and Katie how to use my marriage and parenthood to proclaim God’s good news to the world, to show that I love because He first loved me.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: When she’s not writing, Rachel Kovaciny passes the time by reading, baking, watching movies, crocheting, blogging, and homeschooling her three children. Her least favorite activities are house-cleaning and wearing shoes, and she’s been known to go to great lengths to avoid both. She blogs about books, and also has a personal blog that talks about movies and other important things.
Works Consulted: Kitty, My Rib: Katherine Luther by E. Jane Mall. Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, Mo. 1959. Martin Luther: The Great Reformer by Edwin P. Booth. Barbour Publishing, Inc., Uhrichsville, OH. 1995. Martin Luther: Hero of Faith by Frederick Nohl. Concordia Publishing House, St. Louis, MO. 1962.