Saturday, February 14, 2009

Love Letters from Martin to Katie

The following is a sample chapter from Michael Haykin's book, The Christian Lover.

Martin Luther (1483–1546) played a vital role in the recovery of the biblical doctrine of salvation at the time of the sixteenth-century Reformation. As noted in the introduction, though, the Reformation also involved a rediscovery of Christian marriage. Just as Luther’s experience of conversion proved to be paradigmatic for many in sixteenth-century Europe for the rediscovery of true Christian salvation, so his experience of wedlock became paradigmatic for the recovery of the biblical view of marriage.

At Easter 1523, Luther arranged for the escape of twelve Cistercian nuns in empty barrels from a nearby Roman Catholic nunnery. Luther found himself acting as a matchmaker for most of these women over the course of the next two years, until all were married save one, Katharina von Bora (1499–1552). She apparently had her heart set on marrying Luther.

When they eventually did marry, in June 1525, Luther had a strange trio of reasons for his entry into the state of matrimony: “to please his father, to spite the Pope and the Devil, and to seal his witness before his martyrdom”!1 Those were not the most romantic of reasons for marrying, but Martin and Katie came to have a fabulous marriage. One gets a glimpse of the joy they found in each other when he stated, “I give more credit to Katherine than to Christ, who has done so much more for me.”2

In the two letters of Luther that follow, written in the year of his death, one sees Luther’s keen sense of humor, but also his awareness of the responsibility of a married man or woman to pray for his or her spouse. Also evident is the responsibility to encourage one’s spouse in the faith.

Martin Luther to Katharina Luther,
Halle, January 25, 1546

Martin Luther to my kind and dear Katie Luther, a brewer and a judge at the pig market at Wittenberg3

Grace and Peace in the Lord! Dear Katie! Today at eight we drove away from Halle, yet did not get to Eisleben, but returned to Halle again by nine. For a huge female Anabaptist met us with waves of water and great floating pieces of ice; she threatened to baptize us again, and has covered the [whole] countryside.4 But we are also unable to return because of the Mulde [River] at Bitterfeld, and are forced to stay captive here at Halle between the waters—not that we are thirsty to drink of them. Instead we take good beer from Torgau and good wine from the Rhine, with which we refresh and comfort ourselves in the meantime, hoping that the rage of the Saale
[River] may wear itself out today. For since the ferryman and the people themselves were of little courage [to try to cross], we did not want to go into the water and tempt God. For the devil
is angry at us, and he lives in the water. Foresight is better than hindsight, and there is no need for us to prepare a fool’s delight for the pope and his hangers-on. I did not think that the Saale
could create such a flood and rumble over the stones and everything in such a way. No more for now. You people pray for us, and be good. I am sure that, if you were here, you too would have advised us to proceed in this way; [so,] you see, at least once we are following your advice. With this I commend you to God. Amen. . . .
—Martin Luther. Doctor

Martin Luther to Katharina Luther,
[Eisleben,] February 10, 1546

Martin Luther to the holy lady, full of worries, Mrs. Katharina, doctor, the lady of Zölsdorf, at Wittenberg, my gracious, dear mistress of the house.

Grace and peace in Christ! Most holy Mrs. Doctor! I thank you very kindly for your great worry which robs you of sleep. Since the date that you [started to] worry about me, the fire in my quarters, right outside the room, tried to devour me; and yesterday, no doubt because of the strength of your worries, a stone almost fell on my head and nearly squashed me as
in a mouse trap. For in our secret chamber6 mortar has been falling down for about two days; we called in some people who [merely] touched the stone with two fingers and it fell down. The
stone was as big as a long pillow and as wide as a large hand; it intended to repay you for your holy worries, had the dear angels not protected [me]. [Now] I worry that if you do not stop
worrying the earth will finally swallow us up and all the elements will chase us. Is this the way you learned the Catechism and the faith? Pray, and let God worry. You have certainly not
been commanded to worry about me or yourself. “Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you,” as is written in Psalm 55[:22] and many more passages. . . .
Your Holiness’ willing servant,
Martin Luther

1 Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (New York/Nashville: Abingdon, 1950), 288.
2 Cited in ibid., 293. For Luther’s views on marriage, see ibid., 298–302, and Michael Parsons, Reformation Marriage: The Husband and Wife Relationship in the Theology of Luther and Calvin (Edinburgh: Rutherford House, 2005), 103–212.
3 From Luther’s Works: Vol. 50: Letters III, ed. and trans. Gottfried G. Krodel (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1975), 286–287. Used by permission. Luther literally addressed his wife as “a brewress and she-judge.” The reference to Katharina being a judge was probably a reference to her ability at running their home. See Luther’s Works: Vol. 50: Letters III, 286, n10.
4 Luther is referring to a flood of water when a sudden thaw caused the Saale River to overflow its banks.
5 Luther’s Works: Vol. 50: Letters III, 305–306. Used by permission. Zölsdorf was a country estate that Luther purchased in the spring of 1540. See Luther’s Works: Vol. 50: Letters III, 208, n13.
6 That is, the toilet.

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