Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Martin Luther's Reform of Marriage, Part 1

In this space I will frequently be reprinting short chunks of a forthcoming chapter I've written for the book Sex and the Supremacy of Christ on Martin Luther's marriage and his reformation of marriage. Here is Part 1.

Martin Luther and the Reform of Marriage

Justin Taylor

If we were asked to name the most significant events in Martin Luther’s life, we would likely recount his thunderstorm decision to become a monk, his discovery that righteousness is a gift from God, his nailing of the 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Door, or his courageous “Here I Stand” speech. Asked to name his teachings that impacted the church, many of us would point to the doctrine of justification by faith alone, the distinction between the two kingdoms of God, or the doctrine of Christian freedom. But few of us know the story of his marriage, his teachings on the goodness and necessity of marriage, and its significant impact, not only on Reformation Germany, but also upon the entire evangelical world, continuing to this day. William Lazareth rightly comments:

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.[1]

Martin Luther’s fascinating biography is fairly well known—or at least it is readily available for those who want to review it[2]—so I will refrain from recounting it in this paper. Instead, I will sketch Katherine von Boar’s life, focusing upon how she met Luther, how they became married, and what their home and marriage looked like. Along the way, we will see Luther’s developments with regard to the prospect of his own marriage, as well as his teaching on marriage, the Christian home, sexuality, and love. Finally, I briefly explore the ways in which Luther transformed the institution of marriage.

[1] William H. Lazareth, Luther on the Christian Home: An Application of the Social Ethics of the Reformation (Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1960), 1.

[2] Two helpful biographies are Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (New York: Meridian, 1977); and Heiko A. Oberman, Luther: Man Between God and the Devil, trans. Eileen Walliser-Schwarzbart (orig. 1982; New York: Image Books, 1992). Two shorter, recent additions are Stephen J. Nichols, Martin Luther: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought (Phillisburg, N.J.: P&R, 2003); and Martin Marty, Martin Luther, Penguin Lives (New York: Penguin, 2004). For an excellent biography on Katherine von Bora, see Rudolph K. Markwald and Marilynn Morris Markwald, Katharina Von Bora: A Reformation Life (St. Louis, Mo.: Concordia Publishing House, 2002).