Nine young nuns who lived in a convent began studying the Bible and discovered that living a cloistered, or closed up, life in a convent would not make them holier or more deserving of salvation. They wrote to their parents in 1523 telling them that they would like to return to their parents’ homes.
Rejected by Family
The parents of the nuns were afraid of the trouble they would get into with the Roman Church and the scandal that would result if they allowed their daughters to return home. After all, the nuns would be breaking the vows they had made to the church, which was a crime, according to church laws. Because of this, the parents would not allow their daughters to return home.
Escape from the Convent
Luther himself arranged for the nuns’ escape from the convent. Luther’s friend, a city councillor named Leonhard Koppe, was also a merchant who regularly sold herrings to the convent. Koppe agreed to help the young women and hid them among the herring barrels in his covered wagon, carrying them to Wittenberg. Luther found homes for the women and eventually they married.
Katharina von Bora was one of the nuns. Her parents sent her to a convent to get an education at the age of five. When she was nine years old she moved to the monastery called Mary’s Throne where she had an aunt, the sister of her mother, who was also a nun. Katharina remained at this monastery until she left it in 1523.
Luther arranged for Katharina to live with the family of Wittenberg’s city clerk. After a while, she moved in with the famous Reformation artist Lucas Cranach and his family. Although several men wanted to marry her, Katharina refused marriage until Luther proposed to her.
Luther resisted marriage. Perhaps he thought, as other reformers told him, that if he married, he would ruin the work of reform that he’d done because no one would take him seriously. In fact, Luther has been accused of rebelling against the Roman Church and monastic life, that is, the life of a monk, because all he really wanted was to have a wife. But this can’t be true because Luther was single for eight years from the date that he nailed the 95 theses on the church door.
Another reason Luther did not want to marry was that he expected to be burned at the stake at any time. So, why should he cause grief to a woman and leave her a widow, possibly with children to look after? he must have reasoned. His father, on the other hand, wanted him to get married.
Marriage According to the Bible
Katharina lived two years in Wittenberg before she married Luther. Luther faced much criticism and anger for his decision. His friend Melanchthon approved, however, and said, “It is false and slanderous to maintain that there is anything unbecoming in Luther’s marriage. I think that in marrying her he must have done violence to himself. A married life is one of humility, but it is also a holy state, if there be any such in the world, and the Scriptures everywhere represent it as honourable in the eyes of God.”
Luther’s marriage to Katharina seems to have been good for both of them. The couple seemed to be happy together. Luther said, “The best gift of God is a pious and amiable wife, who fears God, loves her family, with whom a man may live in peace, and in whom he may safely confide.” He called he “My Lord Katie.” She called him “Sir Doctor.”[i] Together, they had six children.
As a married couple, Luther and Katharina set an example for Christians. Luther not only preached that ministers should marry as the Bible teaches, but he showed by his example that he trusted God’s Word in this regard. Katharina showed by her industry and management of the home the God-given roles of a Christian wife and mother. Katharina was a hard worker. She raised cattle and ran a brewery to supply the many students and visitors that stayed with them and ran a hospital to care for the sick.
In contrast to the disgraceful conduct of many priests of the day, the Luthers demonstrated the truth of God’s Word which states, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18).