Catharine de Bora Social and Domestic Scenes in the Home of Luther

- By John G. Morris
Font Size
John Godfrey Morris (December 7, 1916 – July 28, 2017) was an American picture editor, author and journalist, and an important figure in the history of photojournalism. Morris was born on December 7, 1916 in Maple Shade, New Jersey and grew up in Chicago.
Luther's Reflections-Example of the Apostles-Celibacy-Gregory VII.-Luther's Change of Mind-Luther's Marriage-Character of Catharine.
All these preliminary steps were not unpremeditated by Luther. Encouraged by the example of other clergymen who had married, he now began seriously to reflect on the propriety of clerical matrimony. In these reflections he found no difficulty as regards the secular clergy, that is, those who officiated as pastors of churches, because he considered their office as divinely instituted, and he knew from history that their celibacy was forced by the popes under the most cruel oppression. For although Paul advised the 28 Christians of Corinth to remain unmarried during the season of persecution,[1] yet the first teachers of Christianity, and even Peter and most of the other apostles, were married men.[2] Besides, celibacy is no where regarded as a meritorious condition in the New Testament. Christ himself distinctly commends matrimonial affection and harmony, and Paul teaches that it is better to lead a married, than an unchaste life.[3] 1 Cor. 7; 2, 9, 28.
Notwithstanding all this, even during the first three centuries, a peculiar merit began to be attached to celibacy. Many bishops, who were, it is true, poorly enough supported, abstained from matrimony, or, if they were 29 married, separated from their wives. A second marriage was particularly disapproved. But as yet there was no law on the subject, and the celibacy of the bishops was far from being general. Many of them were married men. It was only in the fourth century that it became a general custom for the bishops to lead single lives, and several councils held during this period, in this respect severely oppressed the secular clergy. At the council of Nice, held in the year 325, the first serious attempt was made to introduce celibacy, but the attempt failed through the influence of Bishop Paphnutius, of Upper Thebes. From this time, most of the bishops tried their utmost to prevent their secular clergy from marrying. Some Popes, since the end of the fourth century, such as Siricius, Innocent I., Gregory II., Nicolas I., and Leo IX. also made attempts to restrain the priests. The predictions of Paul in 1 Tim. 4; 1, 3, were soon fulfilled. Scarcely had Gregory VII. arrived at the papal dignity than he exerted all his influence to render the secular clergy independent of the state, and this he thought could be best accomplished through celibacy. The orders which he communicated 30 to the council held at Rome in 1074 in relation to this subject were very severe; the married clergy were to be separated from their wives or be deposed, and from that time forth no man was to be ordained to the clerical office who would not bind himself to remain unmarried all his life. The opposition to this severe regulation was strong. In Germany they even committed violence on the papal ambassador, and openly reproached the Pope as a heretic, who disregarded the plain instructions of the Scriptures and introduced regulations which militated against human nature and Divine Providence, and which would lead to the most scandalous improprieties. When Archbishop Siegfried of Mainz held a council at Erfurt, and communicated the commands of the Pope to the secular clergy, the excitement was so great that he was in danger of his life. The Archbishop of Passau did not fare better. At the council of Worms, in 1076, Germans and French violently opposed the Pope, and proclaimed him as a usurper of the papal sovereignty. At a meeting in Pavia, the Italian bishops even put this Pope under the ban.
Notwithstanding all this opposition, Gregory 31 could not be turned from his purpose. He executed his orders with all possible severity, and even demanded of the princes to forbid those priests who would not obey him from administering the sacraments or reading mass. Thus his unnatural law triumphed in 1080, though not universally, for Urban II. felt himself compelled in 1089 and 1095 to re-enact it, and it was reserved for Innocent III. in 1215 more firmly to establish celibacy as a disciplinary law, although, long before this, marriage had been declared to be a sacrament. In his address in 1520 to his Imperial Majesty and German nobility, Luther strenuously advocated the marriage of the secular clergy.
He entertained different views, however, with regard to the monastic order, and he made their celibacy a subject of investigation at Wartburg castle. Although, thought he, their office is not of divine appointment, yet they had chosen it, and had consecrated themselves to God; in most instances they had voluntarily assumed the vow, and hence were bound to keep it. Melanchthon, who had married a short time before, and Carlstadt, who followed his example a short time after, to Luther's 32 great joy, had both advocated the marriage of the monastic clergy in their writings, although not altogether with his approbation.[4] "Our Wittenbergers even wish the monks to have wives!" thus he wrote to Spalatin, August 6th, 1521, "but they shall force no wife on me! I wish Carlstadt's book had more light and distinctness, for it contains much talent and learning."[5]
But Luther's penetrating mind soon discovered the truth. He communicated his new-formed opinion to his father, and openly came out in favor of the marriage of the monks. Although he now sturdily maintained this side 33 of the question, yet he did not at this time feel himself inclined to matrimony. This was in the autumn of 1522. Two years after this (1524), when he heard of a report in circulation that he was to be married, he thus wrote to Spalatin: "From the opinion which I have hitherto had, and now have, it is probable I shall never marry; not that I do not feel myself to be flesh and blood, for I am neither wood nor stone, but I feel no inclination in that way." Still, he highly honored the married relation as an institution of God. Long after this he wrote thus to his friend Stiefel: "I did not marry as though I expected to live long, but to establish my doctrine by my example, and to leave behind me a consolation for weak consciences." "I married also for the purpose of opposing the doctrine of Satan, and putting to shame the scandalous immorality practised in the papacy, and if I had no wife I would now marry even in my old age, just to honor the divine institution and to pour contempt on the ungodly lives of so many popish priests."
Luther's mind gradually underwent a change. He now secretly resolved to marry Catharine, 34 who had already, as we shall see below, expressed a tender feeling towards him. An intimation of his purpose we have in a letter to his relative, Dr. John Ruhl, of May 4, 1525: "If I can manage to spite the devil, I will marry Catharine before I die if I hear that my enemies continue their reproaches." From this it is evident that he would not have married, at least at this time, if the clamor of his enemies, the fear and weakness of his friends, and various other circumstances, had not determined him to take the step. The generous and public declaration of John the Constant[6] in favor of the Reformation, as well as his own opposition to the celibacy of the clergy, and the desire of gratifying the long-expressed wish of his father, hastened the consummation of his design. "Thus," says he, "I could no longer deny this last act of obedience to my dear father, who earnestly entreated me to marry." Besides this, he wished to set an example to others around him, for many whom he advised to marry had reproached him for writing against 35 monastic celibacy and yet not practising his own doctrine.
In the meantime, he wrote frequently to his friends on this subject, and what gratified him much in the prospect of his marriage was the chagrin it would occasion the Romish party, and subsequent experience proved that he was not disappointed in his hopes. Anxious as he was to consummate the event, yet his choice of Catharine was not precipitate. It was only after he was assured of the superlative excellence of her character that he offered her his hand. She conducted herself in her lowly circumstances with such a reserved and womanly dignity that he thought her to be somewhat prudish and proud, and it was only after a more intimate acquaintance that he perceived her numerous good qualities. "If I had felt a disposition to marry thirteen years ago," says he, "I would have preferred Eva Schönfield, who is now the wife of Dr. Basilius. I did not love my Catharine at that time, for I suspected her of being proud. But it has pleased God otherwise, and, blessed be His name, all things have turned out well, for I have a pious, faithful wife, as Solomon says, 36 Prov. 31; 11, my heart doth safely trust in her, and she contributes so much to my content and manages my affairs so prudently, that I have no need of spoil, that is, I have no temptation to envy the wealth of others or to prey upon my neighbors."
Nor was she, on her part, in a hurry about giving her consent, but she deliberated long. Though she was poor, yet she followed the inclination of her heart. Before he thought of marrying her himself he recommended her to Jerome S. Baumgartner, a Nurnberg Patrician, and a student of theology, who had a very tender regard for Catharine, and to whom she was not altogether indifferent. Luther wrote to him (Oct. 12, 1524,): "If you have made up your mind to marry Catharine, you had better be in a hurry before another takes her who is near at hand. She has not ceased to love you, and I should be much gratified to see you marry her." But his recommendation was of no avail, probably because Baumgartner, after his return home, was captivated by some other lady. The other suitor to whom Luther alludes was Dr. Caspar Glacius, vicar of the Archdeaconate of the Castle Church 37 at Wittenberg. Luther favored his pretensions to her hand, and this led her to complain to Amsdorff, Luther's friend. She requested him to induce Luther to cease his importunity in behalf of Glacius, for whom she had no inclination whatever. She, however, honestly acknowledged to Amsdorff she would not refuse an offer either from himself or Luther. She was not mistaken in her estimate of Glacius, for he was an ill-tempered man, who never was at peace with his congregation, and was dismissed from his office in 1537.
The marriage of a nun was, until that time, unheard of, and hence we need not wonder that Luther's enemies took every opportunity to calumniate him as well as his intended wife. As Erasmus says, "It was at that time an almost universal sentiment that the Antichrist would be the son of a monk and a nun;" and he remarks in relation to this old saying, "If this were true, the world has had thousands of Antichrists!" His enemies knew too well how to make the most of this popular belief, but they went still further, and charged him with all the misfortunes that befel the country; the demolition of the convents in the Peasants' 38 War, and other similar calamities, for they said that he inflamed the hatred of the peasants against monastic life and the possessions of the clergy, "And all this he did," they affirmed, "that he might marry."
But many of his friends also disapproved of such an alliance. "Our wise men are fiercely excited on the subject," wrote Luther, after his marriage, to Stiefel. "They must confess it is the work of God, but my professional character, as well as that of the lady, blinds them and makes them think and speak unkindly. But the Lord lives, who is greater in us than he who is in the world, and there are more on my side than on theirs." It was perfectly in character with Luther not to delay the execution of a purpose he had once formed. He was particularly opposed to long-standing matrimonial engagements, and hence says, "I advise a speedy marriage after a positive engagement; it is dangerous to postpone the consummation, for Satan is ready to oppose many obstacles, by means of slanderers, and sometimes the friends of both parties interfere. Hence do not postpone the affair. If I had not married secretly, and with the knowledge 39 of but few friends, my marriage would have been prevented, for my best friends exclaimed, 'Do not take this one, but another.'" Hence we are not surprised to learn that his final engagement to Catharine and his marriage occurred on the same day.
His friends did not maintain that he should not marry at all, but they did not esteem it wise that one who had been a monk should marry a lady who had been a nun. They feared that the step would retard the Reformation among the common people, who did not look with indifference on the violation of the vow of chastity.[7] But Luther thought otherwise, and believed that by marrying a nun he would inflict a terrible blow on the whole system of monasticism.
The most minute attention was at that time paid to Luther's doctrine and conduct, and the most unimportant circumstances in his eventful life were reported with the greatest care. We should hence suppose that the precise date of 40 his marriage would also be noted, and yet the reports are very different. Melanchthon's statement is the most reliable, for he lived at that time in Wittenberg; he had daily intercourse with Luther, and hence may be supposed to be intimately acquainted with his domestic circumstances. In a letter to Camerarius (July 21, 1525,) he gives the true date of Luther's marriage: "As it may happen," he writes, "that no one will give you a correct account of Luther's marriage, I have thought it proper to inform you of the facts. On the 13th of June, 1525, he, quite unexpectedly, married Catharine De Bora." There is no good reason to doubt Melanchthon's report of the date, which is established by many other witnesses, and hence it is unnecessary to refute those who give other dates.
Agreeably to these accounts, compared with others, it appears that Luther on the Tuesday after Trinity, June 13, 1525, in order to avoid all excitement, took with him John Bugenhagen (Pomeranius) pastor of the City Church, Dr. John Apel, Professor of Canonical Law, and Louis Cranach, Court Painter, Councillor, and Chamberlain, without the knowledge of his other 41 friends, and proceeded to the house of the town-clerk, Reichenbach, with whom Catharine lived, and there, in the presence of these three friends, he asked her consent in marriage. Unexpected as this declaration was, yet she yielded to the solicitation of her former deliverer and benefactor. Soon after, the Provost, Dr. Justus Jonas, and the wife of Cranach, entered, and Luther was there married in the presence of these four witnesses, Bugenhagen performing the ceremony. Luther was forty-two years of age, and Catharine twenty-seven. He did not even ask the consent of the Elector; but, as we shall subsequently see, he sent him an humble request for some game to supply his wedding dinner-table.
Before the wedding, Luther offered the following prayer: "Heavenly Father, inasmuch as thou hast honored me with the office of the ministry, and wilt also that I should be honored as a husband and the head of a family, grant me grace to govern my household in a godly and Christian manner. Grant me wisdom and strength to direct and train all the members of my family in the right way. Give them willing hearts and pious dispositions to be obedient, and 42 to follow in all things the instructions of thy word. Amen."
The golden wedding-rings of Luther and his wife were probably not exchanged on this evening, but afterwards. The celebrated artist, Albert Dürer, of Nurnberg, made them at the order and expense of the Patrician and Councillor von Pirckenheim. They are minutely described by some writers, and exact representations of them are given in various curious works. One of these rings has exchanged hands many times by gift, sale, and inheritance. Numerous imitations of them have been made, and sold to collectors of such articles.
When, on the following day, the marriage of Luther became generally known, the town council of Wittenberg sent him various articles, such as are usually considered essential to wedding festivals of every age and country.

Current Page: 1


Questions and Answers

Please wait while we generate questions and answers...

Ratings & Comments

Write a Review
5 Star
4 Star
3 Star
2 Star
1 Star

0 Ratings & 0 Reviews

Word Lists:

Celibacy : the state of abstaining from marriage and sexual relations

Monastic : relating to monks, nuns, or others living under religious vows, or the buildings in which they live

Clergy : the body of all people ordained for religious duties, especially in the Christian Church

Secular : denoting attitudes, activities, or other things that have no religious or spiritual basis

Militate : (of a fact or circumstance) be a powerful or conclusive factor in preventing

Calumniate : make false and defamatory statements about

Consummation : the action of making a marriage or relationship complete by having sexual intercourse

Matrimony : the state or ceremony of being married; marriage

Papal : relating to a pope or to the papacy

Marriage : the legally or formally recognized union of two people as partners in a personal relationship (historically and in some jurisdictions specifically a union between a man and a woman)


Additional Information:

Rating: C

Words: 2782

Unique Words : 923

Sentences : 124

Reading Time : 12:21

Noun : 807

Conjunction : 264

Adverb : 177

Interjection : 4

Adjective : 166

Pronoun : 298

Verb : 460

Preposition : 370

Letter Count : 12,811

Sentiment : Positive / Positive / Positive

Tone : Neutral

Difficult Words : 608

EdSearch WebSearch