Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Martin Luther's Reform of Marriage, Part 6

This is part 6 [parts 1, 2, and 3, and 4, and 5 are here] in a continuing series on Martin Luther and his marriage, exerpted from the forthcoming book Sex and the Supremacy of Christ.


Her biographers describe her as “patient, focused, and stubborn.” And judging by Lucas Cranach’s portraits of her, they describe her as having an “interesting face: expressive, almond-shaped eyes; high cheekbones; and a mouth that appears ready to talk.”[1] Katie was the sort of person who could take a joke—and Martin was certain the type who enjoyed dishing it out. In his letters he often teased her about matters such as her frugality, negligence, and worries.[2] Katie also had a sense of humor, along with a way of correcting her husband in just that way that he needed. Once, when Luther was so depressed that no words of counsel seemed capable of penetrating his darkness, Katie decided to don a black dress. Luther asked: “Are you going to a funeral?” “No,” she replied, “but since you act as though God is dead, I wanted to join you in the mourning.” Luther quickly recovered![3]

Katie performed innumerable tasks for the family. While Martin lectured and wrote and debated and preached and traveled, Katie drove the wagon, took care of the field, bought and put cattle out to pasture, brewed the beer, prepared food for the graduation banquets, rented the horses, sold linen, served as Martin’s publishing agent, and often nursed him back to health during his frequent illnesses. [4] Martin often called her the “morning star of Wittenberg” since she rose at 4 a.m. to begin her many responsibilities—and often worked until 9 in the evening. Luther often had to urge her to relax.

Their Children

Katie bore six children—three sons and three daughters: Hans (John), Elizabeth, Magdalena, Martin, Paul, and Margaretha. The children brought great joy to their household. Martin often told them stories, taught them songs and games, played melodies on his lute, and instructed them in the faith. Four of the children lived to adulthood; Elizabeth died at the age of 13 months, and Magdalena died at the age of 13 years. Luther’s letters tell of the deep pain their deaths caused him and Katherine.

Their Final Days

Martin Luther died early in the morning on February 18, 1546 in Eisleben at the age of 62. Katie wrote in a rare letter that she was “deeply grieved and saddened over the loss of such a dear and precious man as my husband has been.”[5] Katie was to live for nearly seven more difficult years until her death on December 21, 1552 at the age of 53. Among her final recorded words was that the desire of her heart was to “cling to Christ like a burr to a dress.”[6]

[1] Markwald, Katharina von Bora, 197.

[2] LW, 50:150, 174, 305, etc.

[3] Cited in Markland, Katharina von Bora, 140.

[4] LW, 50:108-109, 81, 94,167, etc.

[5] Cited in ibid., 176.

[6] Cited in ibid., 192.