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The documentary series This Changed Everything: 500 Years of the Reformation includes a section in episode 1 about Martin Luther's marriage to Katharina von Bora. Dr. Frank James (President and Professor of Historical Theology at the Biblical Theological Seminary) includes his input as well, and says that it was due to their love for each other.

Narrator: Martin Luther turned the idea of marriage on its head when he married a runaway nun, Katharina von Bora. In a society that views marriage as a financial and social contract, Luther's marriage is revolutionary.

Dr. James: Well, there was no social status to be gained for the two of them getting married, and there was no money. I mean, he didn't have any money, and she didn't have any money. So what did they have? They had love. […] Before it was based on social status and a dowry. Suddenly, this whole notion of marrying someone because you love them becomes a significant paradigm shift in the concept of marriage.

This is in contrast to the Wikipedia page of Katharina von Bora, which states that Luther arranged marriages for runaway nuns like her so that they could be provided for

Luther at first asked the parents and relations of the refugee nuns to admit them again into their houses, but they declined to receive them, possibly as this was participating in a crime under canon law. Within two years, Luther was able to arrange homes, marriages, or employment for all of the escaped nuns—except for Katharina. […]

Katharina had a number of suitors, including Wittenberg University alumnus Jerome (Hieronymus) Baumgärtner (1498–1565) of Nuremberg and a pastor, Kaspar Glatz of Orlamünde. None of the proposed matches resulted in marriage. She told Luther’s friend and fellow reformer, Nikolaus von Amsdorf, that she would be willing to marry only Luther or von Amsdorf himself.

While it's clear that Katharina stated her desire to marry Luther, it's not clear to me that the two chose to marry out of mutual love for each other (in other words, it wasn't a love marriage).

Which account is correct? Was Martin Luther's marriage to Katharina von Bora due to their love for each other?

  • The idea that a marriage is somehow better if it because of "love" is pretty much the invention of the 19th century. – DJClayworth Sep 17 '18 at 19:51
  • @DJClayworth Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it. Ephesians 5:25 – Nigel J Sep 17 '18 at 22:11
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    Not the same thing at all. Paul's command is to love the person you are married to, whatever the reason you originally married her. That's a huge difference from not marrying a person if you are not in love with them. – DJClayworth Sep 18 '18 at 0:04
  • Judging by the question, and the comments, I think it would be helpful to define “Love”. The idea presented in the comments as well as in the question so far, are vague at best. – Marc Sep 18 '18 at 3:43
  • @DJClayworth Point taken. And noted. – Nigel J Sep 18 '18 at 13:08
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+50

Martin Luther married Katharina von Bora (1499-1552) on June 13, 1525. Katharina came from a family of higher social rank than Luther’s family. The Von Boras were members of the knightly class, a proud but declining segment of German society. Luther came from peasant stock. His father Hans was a miner who got involved in the business side of the mining and became well-to-do. Katharina was only three when she was sent away to school and eventually took vows to become a nun.

Was their marriage based on love for each other? you ask. We can only speculate due to various comments Luther is known to have written, as hardly anything can be found on Katharina from herself. I have not seen the documentary you mention. The following I have extracted from chapter 17 (The School For Character) in the book Here I Stand by Roland Bainton (Lion, 1978) and the historical novel by Margaret Skea, Katharina: Deliverance - A novel of the wife of Martin Luther (Sanderling Books, 2017).

Luther had no thought of marrying but when monks began to marry during his stay at the Wartburg [from 4 May 1521] he had exclaimed,

"Good heavens! They won't give me a wife." After the event he said that if anyone had told him at Worms that in six years he would have a wife, he would not have believed him.

The problem with monks and nuns was so bad, Luther helped many nuns escape. One event had been prompted by some Cistercian sisters in a nearby village seeking Luther’s counsel as to what they should do in view of their evangelical persuasion. He took it upon himself to arrange their escape. This plot was carried out on the Eve of the Resurrection in April 1523 when 60-year-old Burgher of Torgau, Leonard Kopp, put 12 nuns into his covered wagon full of empty barrels of herring from a convent.

Luther felt responsible to find them homes, husbands, or positions. When someone suggested he marry one of them, he wrote on November 30, 1524 that he had no such intention, not because he was a sexless stone, nor because he was hostile to marriage, but because he expected daily the death of a heretic.

Well, two years after Katherina's escape she was still in domestic service. She was intended for a young patrician of Nurnberg but his family objected and he married someone else. So, Luther selected a Dr. Glatz but she would not accept him. In those days, a woman of 26 was viewed as at the upper limits of eligibility for marriage. She asked a Dr Amsdorf of Magdeburg to tell Luther that she could not abide Glatz but she would take Amsdorf himself, or Luther.

He did not respond seriously to the suggestion until he went home to visit his parents. His father said it was a realistic proposal. In May 1525 he decided to marry Katie. It was no love match, though. He gave three reasons for his marriage - to please his father; to spite the pope and the Devil; and to seal his witness before martyrdom. On 27 June 1525 they were married. His invitation to Spalatin read, "You must come to my wedding. I have made the angels laugh and the devils weep."

Thus a 42-year-old former monk and a 26-year-old former nun voluntarily entered into holy matrimony on June 13, 1525.

On home and his wife, Luther is reputed to have said in 1534:

“At home I have good wine and beer and a beautiful wife, or (shall I say) lord.”

Luther liked to tease Katherine and she gave him back as good as she got. During one dinner table conversation, Luther remarked,

“The time will come when a man will take more than one wife.” Katherine responded, “Let the devil believe that!” to which Luther answered, “The reason, Katy, is that a woman can bear a child only once a year while her husband can beget many.” Undismayed, Katherine cited from First Corinthians 7:2. “Paul said that each man should have his own wife.” Luther quipped back, “Yes, ‘his own wife’ and not ‘only one wife,’ for the latter isn’t what Paul wrote.” The jesting continued for a while longer until Katherine ended the discussion when she said, “Before I put up with this [polygamy], I’d rather go back to the convent and leave you and all our children.”

I suggest that when all the available accounts are put together, we get a balanced picture which does not require an "either, or" conclusion. It seems to me that they grew in mutual love and respect, without losing any of their individuality and characters. But I doubt very much if they were “in love” with each other prior to their wedding. It might be worth mentioning that the Bible commands Christian husbands to so love their wives as Christ loved the church he died for (before the still-future marriage of Christ to his bride), and wives are to respect their husbands. The key point seems to me to be that husbands must do what they find most difficult to do - show considerate love - while wives must do what they find most difficult to do - give respect. Nowhere in scripture are married couples exhorted to "be in love" with each other prior to marrying. Yet love is a key requirement in matrimony, not least because it engenders respect.

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    It's unclear to me which parts of your answer are quotes from the book you mention. Can you put that into quote blocks? – Thunderforge Sep 19 '18 at 18:09
  • Chapter 17, 'Here I Stand' has most of the quotes, from page 286 through to page 293. Supplementary detail comes from various places in 'Katharina - Deliverance'. I have avoided the novel part of that latter book. – Anne Sep 19 '18 at 18:49
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    An excellent answer to a near-impossible question. It was an honor to be the first to upvote it. – b and d restore Monica Sep 19 '18 at 19:09

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