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  • 6/13/2010

The Day in History:

Martin Luther Marries a Catholic Nun (1525)


Martin Luther (November 10, 1483–February 18, 1546) was a German monk, theologian, university professor and church reformer whose ideas inspired the Protestant Reformation and changed the course of Western civilization.

Luther"s theology challenged the authority of the papacy by holding that the Bible is the only infallible source of religious authority and that all baptized Christians under Jesus are a universal priesthood. According to Luther, salvation was a free gift of God, received only by true repentance and faith in Jesus as the Messiah, a faith given by God and unmediated by the church.

Luther"s confrontation with Charles V at the Diet of Worms over freedom of conscience in 1521 and his refusal to submit to the authority of the Emperor resulted in his being declared an outlaw of the state as he had been excommunicated from the Roman Catholic Church.

He translated the Bible into the vernacular, making it more accessible to ordinary people, had a tremendous political impact on the church and on German culture. It furthered the development of a standard version of the German language, added several principles to the art of translation, and influenced the translation of the English King James Bible. His hymns inspired the development of congregational singing within Christianity. His marriage to Katharina von Bora set a model for the practice of clerical marriage within Protestantism.

Much scholarly debate has concentrated on Luther"s writings about the Jews. His statements that Jews" homes should be destroyed, their synagogues burned, money confiscated and liberty curtailed were revived and used in propaganda by the Nazis in 1933–45. As a result of this and his revolutionary theological views, his legacy remains controversial.


Marriage and Family

Katharina von Bora, Luther"s wife, by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1526On the evening of June 13, 1525, Luther married Katharina von Bora, one of a group of 12 nuns he had helped escape from the Nimbschen Cistercian convent in April 1523, arranging for them to be smuggled out in herring barrels. "Suddenly, and while I was occupied with far different thoughts," he wrote to his friend Link, "the Lord has plunged me into marriage." Katharina was twenty-six years old, Luther forty-two.

A few priests and former monks had already married, including Andreas Karlstadt and Justus Jonas, but Luther’s marriage set the seal of approval on clerical marriage. He had long condemned vows of celibacy on biblical grounds, but his decision to marry surprised many, not least Melanchthon, who called it reckless. Luther had written to Spalatin on November 30, 1524, "I shall never take a wife, as I feel at present. Not that I am insensible to my flesh or sex (for I am neither wood nor stone); but my mind is averse to wedlock because I daily expect the death of a heretic." Melanchthon reveals in a letter that prior to his marriage, Luther had been living on the plainest food, and that his mildewed bed was not properly made for months at a time.

Luther and Katharina moved into a former monastery "The Black Cloister," a wedding present from the new elector John Frederick, and embarked upon what appears to have been a happy and successful marriage. Between bearing six children, Katharina, whose judgement Luther respected, helped earn the couple a living by farming the land and taking in boarders. Luther confided to Stiefel on August 11, 1526: "Catharina, my dear rib ... is, thanks to God, gentle, obedient, compliant in all things, beyond my hopes. I would not exchange my poverty for the wealth of Croesus."

By the time of Katharina"s death, the surviving Luther children were adults. Hans studied law and became a court advisor. Martin studied theology, but never had a regular pastoral call. Paul became a physician. He fathered six children, and the male line of the Luther family continued through him to John Ernest Luther, ending in 1759. Margareta Luther, born in Wittenberg on December 17, 1534, married into a noble and wealthy Prussian family, to Georg von Kunheim (Wehlau, July 1, 1523 – Mühlhausen, October 18, 1611, the son of Georg von Kunheim (1480 – 1543) and wife Margarethe, Truchsessin von Wetzhausen (1490 – 1527)) but died in Mühlhausen in 1570 at the age of thirty-six. However, her descendants have continued to the present, and include President Paul von Hindenburg, the Counts zu Eulenburg, and Princes zu Eulenburg und Hertefeld.

Source: encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com

Other Links:

The Day in History: Zoot Suit Riots Come to an End (1943)

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The Day in History: Mary Dyer

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