Reformation Romance: Pigtails On The Pillow – Part 2

Romance-challenged Luther was resolved to marry Katharina von Bora but seemingly without consulting her.

Little wonder that Luther called marriage “the school of character.” No doubt, it was to be a lifetime tutorial that worked both ways. While Katharina had her work cut out for her living with a giant of a man like Luther, marriage would require still more radical adjustments for Luther. “There is a lot to get used to in the first year of marriage,” he wrote. “One wakes up in the morning and finds a pair of pigtails on the pillow which were not there before.”

 

(Read Part 1 here)

Romance-challenged Luther was resolved to marry Katharina von Bora but seemingly without consulting her. What was she thinking of all this? Given up to the cloister when she was five (some accounts have her as young as three), Katharina had not even been around men for the majority of her twenty-six years. And forty-two-year-old Luther, well, he had been a celibate Catholic priest for over twenty years, a priest who had only heard the confession of two woman in that entire time. A marriage between two people so utterly inexperienced in even carrying on a conversation with the opposite sex was a matrimonial train wreck waiting to happen.

If ever a couple needed extensive premarital counseling it was Martin and Katharina. As far as anyone knows, however, they didn’t even have one session with their pastor (Luther was their pastor). Neither did they go out on a date: no pizza, no movie, no concert together. Where’s the romance, you may ask? Frankly, there wasn’t one, not by our standards. But then ought the standards of postmodernity to weigh in on anything, leastwise, matters of love, marriage, and sexual relations? Unlike the expectations of our enlightened world, Luther and Katie would have to do their falling in love in the years long after the last piece of cake was gone—or bratwurst, or stein was emptied.

“First love is drunken,” said Luther, “but when the intoxication wears off, then comes true marriage love.” If the Reformation was a revolution in theology—the recovery of the gospel was, after all, a recovery of true marriage love, Christ’s love for his bride the church—Luther’s marriage was about to be, for him, a revolution in everything. Including hygiene.

“Before I was married,” recalled Luther, “the bed was not made for a whole year and became foul with sweat. But I worked so hard and was so weary I tumbled in without noticing it.” Imagine poor Katharina on their wedding night, Luther’s greasy, hulking form outlined on the bed sheets. And their first home together? It was not some cute furnished apartment overlooking Central Park. Katharina was stepping into yet another cloister, the Augustinian monastery in Wittenberg, gifted to Luther by his patron Frederick the Elector of Saxony, a massive, drafty, medieval structure that had been purpose built for and entirely inhabited by males. At the risk of seeming intolerant, these were not just any males; they were German males, barbarian roughs in the opinion of the rest of refined Renaissance Europe. To add insult to injury, Luther’s colleague Carlstadt, fleeing the peasant’s revolt, came pounding on their door seeking refuge—on their wedding night!

Little wonder that Luther called marriage “the school of character.” No doubt, it was to be a lifetime tutorial that worked both ways. While Katharina had her work cut out for her living with a giant of a man like Luther, marriage would require still more radical adjustments for Luther. “There is a lot to get used to in the first year of marriage,” he wrote. “One wakes up in the morning and finds a pair of pigtails on the pillow which were not there before.”

What joys and trials did Martin and Katharina face in their early years of marriage together? Read Mistress of the Pig Market (Part 3) coming later this Reformation Week.

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.