History of Martin Luther: Part 6 – Monk Marries Nun


When Martin Luther returned from the Wartburg Castle to Wittenberg, he had much to do (see Part 5). The religious unrest and political protests that had occurred in the city while he was in seclusion needed to stop. At the beginning of Lent, he resumed his place in the pulpit of the Town Church of St. Mary by delivering eight sermons in as many days. He cut off his hair and beard, resumed his tonsured head and took up his monk’s cowl. The leader of the movement was back in the saddle again.

Luther appreciated that the pace that this movement was taking was faster than some could handle. His months of study at the Wartburg, his years of education, his devotion as a monk, and his pastor’s heart provided the citizens of Wittenberg the time they needed to accept the changes that the movement brought with it.

“Such haste and violence betray a lack of confidence in God.”

St. Mary

Town Church, St. Mary

Luther preached during the remaining ten months in Wittenberg some 117 Sunday sermons. The next year he preached 137 sermons there. By teaching and preaching, he led the “evangelical” movement, as it came to be called.

Luther on Marriage

Luther was in favor of marriage… for others. He often encouraged his friends to marry, even his fellow monks, in some cases pairing them off with women he knew. But it was not for him. Being under imperial ban, he expected to live a short life.

“I thought I would be the first to be martyred for the sake of this holy gospel.”

The Affair of the Nuns

In the Spring of 1523, a number of nuns at the Convent in Nimbschen had been reading Luther’s writings. They wrote to him asking him to help them escape. Despite the fact that aiding nuns in leaving a convent carried the death penalty, Luther arranged for their escape. One of his friends, Leonhard Koppe, was a fish merchant and burgher in nearby Torgau. Koppe, after delivering herring to the convent, the story goes, then secreted a dozen nuns out hidden in the empty barrels. While this sounds like the inspiration of the hobbits escaping the Woodland elves in barrels in J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy novel, it’s more likely the nuns were hidden among the contents of Koppe’s wagon as he left the convent.

In any event, the nuns found themselves freed from their captivity. Luther sent four of them to relatives; the remaining nine arrived in Wittenberg. Some became governesses; others had husbands found for them.

KatieThe one remaining was Katharine von Bora, or “Katie,” the daughter of an impoverished Saxon nobleman. Luther found her to be “too proud.” She met Jerome Baumgärtner, and the two fell in love. But he left town, never to return. Then an older theologian Dr. Kaspar Glatz became interested in her, but he was quite a bit holder than she was, and she was not interested. She confessed this to Luther’s friend Nicholas von Amsdorf. It was not that she was uninterested in marriage. She’d be willing to marry Amsdorf himself, or Herr Professor Doktor Luther. But Amsdorf was a “bachelor until the rapture” and not interested. Luther himself said:

“I will not marry. It is not that I do not feel my flesh or sex, since I am neither wood nor stone, but my mind is far removed from marriage, since I daily expect death and the punishment due to a heretic.”

Nevertheless, he continued to urge his friend Spalatin to marry, challenging him to keep up with “a famous lover like me.” However, three weeks later he wrote to another friend:

“If I can manage it, before I die I will still marry my Katie to spite the devil.”

Luther Marries

He visited his parents in Mansfeld, who were undoubtedly eager for their oldest son to marry and give them grandchildren. He was 42.

“Suddenly, and while I was occupied with far other thoughts, the Lord has, plunged me into marriage.”

Luther's WeddingLuther stated that he married to please his father, to tease the Pope, and to vex the Devil. On June 13, 1525, he had a small private wedding with a few witnesses, and then two weeks later a large public wedding, not unusual for 16th-century marriages. He wrote to a friend:

I feel neither passionate love nor burning for my spouse, but I cherish her.

Kathie was good for him. It is said that behind every great man there is a better woman. She helped make him great.

Continued in Part 7

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian

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About billpetro

Bill Petro writes articles on history, technology, pop culture, and travel. He has been a technology sales enablement executive with extensive experience in Cloud Computing, Automation, Data Center, Information Storage, Big Data/Analytics, Mobile, and Social technologies.

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