History of Martin Luther: Part 8 — Family Man

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How did Martin Luther, the , the…

…how did he become the very model of a modern Christian Family Man?

My Lord Katie

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It started by marrying Katharine von Bora. As I discussed in my previous article Luther came upon marriage rather unexpectedly:

He called her “my Lord Katie.” A feisty redhead in her mid-20s, she took good care of Luther. Even on her wedding night, she attended to unexpected refugees who came to their house. Gifted to them by the Prince, the Luthers had moved into the nearly abandoned Black Cloister‘s Augustinian monastery in Wittenberg, named for the color of the monk’s habit. She remodeled the old monastery to eventually take in 30 students and guests, some paying boarders, some not.

She was fifteen years younger than Luther — poor, not remarkable for beauty or culture — but healthy, strong, frank, intelligent, and high-minded. The bachelor Luther hadn’t made his bed for a year… it was “foul from sweat.” He once remarked:

Morning Star

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She was called the “Morning Star of Wittenberg” and rose at 4 am. Katie took over the household, particularly the household expenses; it is said that Dr. Luther did not have a clue how to run a household. She was locally famous as a massage therapist, herbalist, and brewer of beer — the latter useful in treating Luther’s insomnia. When I was there twenty-five years ago, before the monastery was fully converted to a museum, you could visit a cafe in the basement and have a liter of “Luther Beer.”

She was a model housewife and accomplished business woman. She handled Luther’s finances since he was always giving away his money:

There was a time that he sent a gift to a friend, confessing:

He came to trust her in all areas of his business, having her edit his writings and work with a publisher.

He called her “my sweetheart Kate,” “my dearly beloved Kate,” or “my true love.” He also called her “Mrs. Doctor” and “.”

She also planted the fields, cared for an orchard, harvested a fish pond, looked after the barnyard, bought and managed a farm, and slaughtered the livestock. He named her “my Lady of the Pig Market.”

He once chided himself for giving “more credit to Katherine than to Christ, who has done so much for me.” And he declared, “I would not give my Katie for France and Venice together.” They did not always agree:

The story is told of Luther’s deep depression. It could last for days. Katie decided to dress all in black mourning clothes. Luther finally noticed and asked, “Are you going to a funeral?” She replied:

This remark would so undo him that he would come out of his funk. She assuaged his depression.

Six Children

The Luthers had six children. His parents knew the superstition that if a monk and nun had a child together, it would be a two-headed monster. Their firstborn was a (normal) son. As Luther held him in his arms he said:

Luther sometimes had to wash diapers, but he declared defiantly that even if neighbors should snicker at such “unmanly” labor,

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Luther loved his six “little heathen” and would play for them his , which he had learned when he was young, and returned to it after he left the Erfurt monastery.

In 1529 Luther wrote later known as as a guide for fathers in teaching the main points of the gospel to their children. He considered it one of his most important works.


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Luther loved Christmas. Legends persist that Luther, returning home at night one Christmas, saw the stars twinkling through a tree. As he endeavored unsuccessfully to describe it to his children, he went outside, returned with a tree, and lit candles upon its branches, giving us the lighted Christmas Tree.

He was disconsolate at the death of his daughter Elizabeth who died just short of 8 months. When his daughter Magdalene suddenly fell ill at 13 years, Luther fell on his knees before her bed and, weeping bitterly, prayed that God might would save her. Luther asked Magdalena as she lay upon her deathbed:

She replied,

Then she died in his arms. Luther said as she was buried:

Four of his children reached adulthood. His oldest, Hans, named after Luther’s father, studied law; Martin Jr. studied theology; and Paul became a doctor. His surviving daughter Margarete married a Prussian nobleman.

Table Talk

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Luther’s Table and Katie’s Window Chair

After dinner, some of Luther’s students or guests would gather at the table, while his wife would sit nearby in the window seat. The Hungarian refugee, Conrad Cordatus, was the first to record Luther’s “Table Talks.” Other guests followed suit. This apparently disturbed Katie, who finally expressed her feelings with rather pointed remarks. The writers responded by commenting mockingly on what they assumed to be her attempts to remain in control of the house. In spite of their disputed authenticity, the table talks are an inexhaustible source of insights into Luther’s character, his life, and his work. They document, in a unique fashion, the personal and day to day life and words of this reformer.

Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood historian

Silicon Valley Tech Exec: Cloud, Data Storage, Automation. Author of fascinating articles about history, tech trends, andpop culture. Blog: http://billpetro.com

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