Consciously or not, we will come to imitate what we have learned. This is especially true, I believe, when it comes to how we conduct our relationships, specifically marriage. We can see marriages and families lived out in front of us in first person today, but we can also glean from those who have gone before us. Take for example, the marriage of Martin and Katie Luther who lived 5 centuries ago. Watching their marriage play out from today’s perspective enables us to learn some key biblical and pragmatic principles that work in today’s family as much as it did then.
Before we begin examining the Luther’s marriage, be warned. You may be shocked to read what Martin said to and about Katie. One thing I suggest we all take away is be careful what we say to and about our spouses. It could be recorded throughout history. For example, when asked about Katie’s looks, Martin said Katie wasn’t much to look at. I really wouldn’t want that to be my husband’s quote about me that lasts for 500+ years
Marriage was not always seen as a virtue of a Christian ministry leader. Martin Luther, the great protestant reformer of the 1500s, was encouraged to take a wife as an example to other protesters in support of a gospel of grace alone, by faith alone, through Christ alone, according to scripture alone, for the glory of God alone. In opposition to the religious tradition of the time in which singleness was venerated, Martin finally followed the call to be married and married a woman of strong character to whom he once said as she herself struggled with whom to marry, “You can ill afford to be fussy.” Not the most romantic conversation, but they did indeed wed.
As for romance, Martin described his emotional relationship with Katie by saying, “I’m not madly in love, but I cherish her.” Their passion was most seen in their commitment to one another as they talked and fought their way through figuring out how to live life together. Luther spoke about their conflict by putting it into perspective; “Think of all the squabbles Adam and Eve must have had in their 900 years together.” All marriages must figure out romance and conflict, one may seem arbitrary and the other unavoidable, but both are key players in a successful marriage. As Martin and Katie discovered, both need our attention and time to experience an enjoyable and effective relationship.
As Katie and Luther’s marriage progressed throughout the years, Luther reflected upon it: “Marriage is like the wine of Cana, the best is saved for last.” Marriages that last the distance often figure out how to negotiate, compromise, serve and love more fully as they have learned to embrace self-denial and live together “as one.” We can glean several key principles from the Luther’s marriage of 21 years that help us navigate toward “the best which is saved for last.”
- Marriage is a good gift from God. Asceticism is to deny ourselves, to sacrifice ourselves harshly in order to attain a level of spiritual maturity. It embraces the idea of “do not do” as a way to holiness. Marriage at the time of Luther for those called into ministry flew in the face of such an attitude. Instead of celibacy, the call of the reformers was to embrace the goodness of marriage which Paul purports in 1 Corinthians 7:7, “I wish that all were as I myself am (single). But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind (single) and one of another (married).” While the apostle Paul embraced the single life, he in no way espoused that singleness was the only choice for a godly person. Both positions, married and singleness, are choices that are good and godly in their own right. To raise one over another is neither helpful nor Biblically informed.
- Husbands and wives were made to complement one another. Genesis 2:18, “Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’ ” Men and women are different in many ways let alone that each person comes with their own unique personality. Marital competency, like cultural competency, requires embracing that which makes us similar as well as that which makes us unique. And instead of having our unique attributes clash, we should strive to see how they complement one another. Our differences do not need to lead to bitterness, but a betterment of each person; we are better together than apart.
How did Martin and Katie better one another? Martin’s stellar theological and biblical passion fed the flame of faith in Katie; Katie indeed was Martin’s biggest fan and most ardent scholar and delighted in learning from him. Katie provided for Martin a home which nurtured his physical and emotional stability, both which he sorely need. This can be seen in the practical everyday matters that any married couple needs to navigate. For example,
- “Martin didn’t make his bed for a year.” Beds were made of straw and if not tended to regularly, the straw would rot; such was the case for Martin. Katie entered the home and quickly corrected this situation as well as supplying her husband with a pillow (he never took the time to get one for himself).
- “She ruled both her household and her husband, a situation which the latter accepted resignedly, since he was totally incapable of organizing the affairs of even the smallest household. She brought order into his life and not always to his satisfaction.” While Martin did not always enjoy being organized, he thrived under the implementation of it. He enjoyed hot meals, bills being paid and medical care for himself and anyone in his household and home. He did not always enjoy having his time usurped by necessary marital conversations or engagement in the mundane duties of the pastorate and yet, Martin Luther also said, “In domestic affairs I defer to Katie. Otherwise, I am led by the Holy Spirit.”
- Katie was an ex-nun who was created to lead; she naturally stepped into situations of chaos and need and brought order and resolution. Overseeing a home and making sure that it not only ran well, but was financially viable, was the “dream” job for Katie. Martin allowed her God-given talents to rise to the forefront of her life and encouraged her to thrive under the mantle of responsibility she wore. She was known for her work and work ethic and serves as an inspiration for women to embrace industry with godliness.
3. Marriage takes work. In today’s world, obsessed with entertainment, work is something we work hard to get rid of or over with as quickly as possible. If my “free” time is so prized that I see work as an inconvenience and not my duty or calling, then laziness is in danger of becoming a covert value of the home. We can learn from the work that both Martin and Katie accomplished which we all now benefit from in our understanding of faith and family.
Facts of the Luther household:
- 6 children, 6 nieces and nephews, 4 children from a friend who lost his wife in the plague.
- A large number of guests were often found in the home including tutors for the 16 children as well as student borders; Martin gave nearly-daily lectures and spent countless hours teaching and writing.
- Katie managed the farms, gardens, cattle, the livestock, and the family brewery. The household was self-supporting by growing peas, beans, turnips, melons, and lettuce in the garden and grew 8 different fruits in the orchard. She caught fish in the brook, and oversaw the taking care of 8 pigs, 5 cows, 9 calves, chickens, pigeons, geese, and a dog named Tolpel (translated, “idiot”).
- The Luthers inherited another farm which Katie oversaw; she was also always looking to expand her real-estate ventures.
From marriage to being a good gift from God, to gender complementation to work both within and outside the home, we have a marvelous opportunity to reflect on what we learn from observing the Luther household. We can start by asking ourselves these questions:
- How might I have bought into the unfair and unnecessary dichotomy of holding one position as more valuable than the other – singleness vs. marriage?
- What areas of responsibility and giftedness do I need to appreciate more in my spouse?
- If work is inherently required in marriage, where do I struggle in my attitude and action when it comes to fulfilling my responsibilities to the family (where am I selfish with my time and efforts)?
Dear Reader, I am always convicted as I learn from those around me, especially the saints of old like Martin and Katie Luther. What an opportunity for us to learn from watching how they navigated the waters of marital bliss. May we always be learners and never miss a teachable moment that can lead to our own sanctification for ourselves and home.
Learning with you! Fondly, Elizabeth