|Luther's parents, Hans and Gretha|
by Douglas Bond
“He’s merely a monk who wants a wife,” so the pope dismissed Martin Luther when first he heard of the Saxon monk's criticism of the papacy. But then in 1521, during his compelled sequester in the Wartburg Castle, Luther began hearing of many former priests taking wives. “Good heavens!” he retorted. “They won’t give me a wife.” Even his colleague Carlstadt had married. But Luther was, at first, adamant, no one was going to give him a wife. Not that he was a sexless stone, but it made no sense for a man under the sentence of heresy to marry--only to leave his bride a widow.
And then Luther received a letter, a passionate appeal for his counsel from more than a dozen nuns who desperately wanted to flee the nunnery. Though escaping from a monastic cloister in 16th century Germany was a capital offense, Luther gave them a theological argument for why non-biblical vows are not binding. They wanted out, but they needed help. As if in a romantic comedy, Luther and his merchant friend Leonard Kopp cooked up a scheme to smuggle the apostate nuns out of the nunnery, by some accounts, in pickled-herring barrels.
“A wagon load of vestal virgins has just come to town,” said one of Luther’s students at the news, “all more eager for marriage than for life. God grant them husbands lest worse befall.”
The night before Easter in 1523, lest worse befall, Luther put on yet another hat: Matchmaker, the roaring, German, beer-swilling, pugilist version of Jane Austen’s Emma. He felt duty bound. After all, he had started the ball rolling by decrying false doctrine in the Roman Catholic Church, including the unbiblical teaching about clerical celibacy. He had to finish it.
Setting to work with his typical zeal, Luther soon had matches or suitable circumstances arranged for all but one of the runaway nuns, spunky twenty-six-year-old Katharina von Bora. After several failed attempts—picky Katharina turned down more than one offer of marriage—she laughed off an aged candidate with the quip that she would rather marry Luther than Dr. Glatz. Funny joke.
A joke that began its work on Luther’s mind—or was it on his heart? After a visit home wherein he shared his latest troubles with his parents (finding a husband for a nun), his father bluntly suggested that Luther marry the girl, give him offspring. Finally Luther was resolved. He would do it, “to please his father, to spite the pope and the Devil, and to seal his witness before martyrdom.”
Uh, Martin? There’s a detail missing here. What is Katie thinking about all this? (read Part 2 tomorrow to find out)
Douglas Bond is author of a number of successful books, including forthcoming (Winter, 2017) LUTHER IN LOVE, a biographical novel on Martin and Katharina Luther. Bond who is available to speak at your church or conference, also leads Church history tours, including the LUTHER 500 TOUR, June 15-25, 2017.