One of the most important people in Martin Luther’s life was, of course, his wife, Katharina von Bora, or Katie. As the Reformation progressed, Luther had many demands on his time, and so, like many married couples, they had to work to make sure they had time together. One way they did that was by having benches installed at the entrance to their home in the former Augustinian cloister in Wittenberg. Katie had the benches installed so they would have a place where they could talk in the midst of Luther’s busy schedule.
Luther, of course, was a former monk and Katie was a former nun. She was at the Nimbschen Convent and she was there with some other nuns who were actually rescued by a friend of Luther’s who was a fish merchant. His name was Leonard Kopp and he ended up at the monastery with barrels of herring to drop off. It was late in the evening, and the nuns who wanted to escape got into those herring barrels on his cart, and in the morning he went right out the gate with them. He brought them to Wittenberg and Luther found husbands for many of them. But he had a hard time finding a husband who would please one of them. This was Katharina; she had her eyes on Martin.
Martin wasn’t all that interested in getting married at the time. He was an outlaw; he had a death sentence on him for the rest of his life. While he could live with that, he didn’t want to put that burden on a wife and possible children. But he relented. Luther said he married Katie for three reasons. The first was to make the pope angry. The second was to show that he believed in his theology. Luther was preaching against a celibate clergy as early as 1518 and 1519, and he was marrying priests and former monks as early as 1520. And so, he wanted to show that he believed in his theology. And the third reason to get married, Luther said, was that he owed his parents grandchildren.
As they continued in their married life, a singular reason rose to the surface, and it was his deep love for her. What we see when we look at this relationship is that Luther honored Katie. She was a very busy woman, and much of what kept her busy was running their household. The Luthers had six children: Hans; Elizabeth, who died at eight months old; Magdalena, who died at twelve years old; Paul; and Margarethe. In addition, they had goats, chickens, pigs, and a dog. If that wasn’t enough, they also had a brewhouse, which Katie ran, along with a fish hatchery and a large garden. Katie was a very busy woman who not only had all of those things going on but was also married to the great Dr. Martin Luther, and so she entertained the many people who came to stay with them and to learn from Martin.
At one point, Luther said, “I shall die as one who loves and lauds marriage.” Before Luther, marriage was not highly regarded. The priests and nuns, of course, were not to be married, and there was a sense in which marriage was looked down upon. Luther, through his marriage and his teaching, helped to redeem marriage. And so, indeed, he died as one who both loved marriage and lauded marriage, and he loved his wife, Katie.