Their cloister home would eventually be filled with six of their own children, an aunt and several nieces, four adopted children, as well as a number of student borders. And “my lord Katie,” as Luther came affectionately to call her, had to feed them all. With wonder in his tone, he extolled his wife to a friend, “She plants our fields, pastures and sells cows…” He went on to explain that this included slaughtering their pigs, chickens, even the cows, making sausages, cheese, and even brewing her own special beer, custom crafted to be gentle on her husband’s bowels.
After Martin Luther’s marriage in June, 1525, it would be more than “pigtails on the pillow” that would change for Luther. Theirs was nothing like a modern-world, grindingly protracted engagement; it was happening on the fly. “While I was thinking of other things,” wrote Luther, inviting a friend, “God has suddenly brought me to marriage with Katherine.” After a two-week betrothal! To his cohort in the nuns’ escape, Leonard Kopp, he wrote, “I am going to get married. God likes to work miracles and to make a fool of the world. You must come to the wedding.” Some accounts attach a postscript demanding that Kopp bring a keg of Torgau beer, and it better be good.
When the hoopla settled down, and the guests had all gone home, Luther, now a husband, was confronted with the real business of being married. And the school of character would immediately expose many of his relational weaknesses. For starters, he had become, almost overnight, the celebrity preacher and writer of his day. With his popularity came mounds of fan mail along with a legion of other responsibilities.
“I could use two secretaries,” wrote Luther to a friend. “I do almost nothing during the day but write letters. I am a conventual preacher, reader at meals, parochial preacher, director of studies, overseer of eleven monasteries, superintendent of the fish pond at Litzkau, referee of the squabble at Torgau, lecturer on Paul, collector of material for a commentary on the Psalms, and then, as I said, I am overwhelmed with letters. I rarely have full time for the canonical hours and for saying mass, not to mention my own temptations with the world, the flesh, and the Devil. You see how lazy I am.”
Add to all that, husband to Katie, and soon to be father of her children. His new bride came to the marriage as an adoring admirer of the man who had been the instrument of her spiritual emancipation. She had even contributed a letter to the pile of fan mail. Imagine the twinges of remorse, however, as she came to the realization that the theological giant from afar was an intensely earthy man up close and personal. Forget his hygiene challenges. Luther was given to moodiness and depression, suffered from insomnia, had rumbling bowel disorders, and worked best when he was in a full rowling rage. “I find nothing that promotes work better than angry fervor. For when I wish to compose, write, pray and preach well, I must be angry. It refreshes my entire system, my mind is sharpened, and all unpleasant thoughts and depression fade away.”
We have names for this. Imagine a husband with such anger issues. Meanwhile, Katharina had the household to look after—without rotisserie chickens from Costco. Their cloister home would eventually be filled with six of their own children, an aunt and several nieces, four adopted children, as well as a number of student borders. And “my lord Katie,” as Luther came affectionately to call her, had to feed them all. With wonder in his tone, he extolled his wife to a friend, “She plants our fields, pastures and sells cows…” He went on to explain that this included slaughtering their pigs, chickens, even the cows, making sausages, cheese, and even brewing her own special beer, custom crafted to be gentle on her husband’s bowels. What is more, their son Paul who would become a physician, swore by his mother’s mastery of natural cures for every ailment, even massage.
When did the woman sleep? On top of all, Luther had given her a challenge to read through the whole Bible. “I have promised her fifty gulden if she finishes by Easter. She is hard at it and is at the end of the fifth book of Moses.” Her copy of the Bible when she first took it up must have fallen open on Proverbs 31.
These were two busy people, both of whom together accomplished a great deal. From giddy first love, they grew into true marriage love, seen in many specific ways, including the titles with which Luther referred to his wife. “To my beloved wife, Katherine, Mrs. Doctor Luther, mistress of the pig market, lady of Zulsdorf, and whatsoever other titles may befit thy Grace.”
While Luther was rediscovering and proclaiming the doctrine of grace—justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone—he was also rediscovering the sanctity of all of life and all walks of life. Perhaps it was Katie’s wholehearted application of herself to married life that helped Luther see that pig farmer or preacher, in God’s economy, both were sacred vocations to be done by his grace and for his glory alone.
But will Martin Luther, when God gives them children, help Katie with the diapers?
Douglas Bond is am elder in the Presbyterian Churchin America and is author of a number of successful books, including forthcoming (Winter, 2017) Luther In Love, a biographical novel on Martin and Katharina Luther. Bond leads church history tours, including the Luther 500 Tour, June 15-25, 2017. This article is used with permission.