Celibacy

The celibacy of the clergy was one of the strongest pillars on which the
proud edifice of Romish power rested. It was a stupendous partition-wall
which separated the clergy from all other interests, and thus
consolidated the wide-spread authority of the Pope. It cut off the
secular clergy, as well as the monks, from all domestic ties. They
forgot father, mother, and friends. Political obligations to their
sovereign and country were disregarded, but the cord which bound them to
the interests of Rome was only the more tightly drawn.

Superior purity was the presumed ground of the system, but a total
surrender of all rights, and complete submission to the will of the
Pope, were its legitimate results. He was regarded as the only parent of
the clergy—the only sovereign to whom they owed allegiance—the only
protector in whom they were to confide, and, as dutiful sons, obedient
subjects, and grateful beneficiaries, they were obliged to exert
themselves to the utmost to maintain his authority and extend his
dominion. Clerical celibacy was regarded not only as a duty, but as the
highest attainment in moral perfection. The system was introduced with
caution and maintained with sleepless vigilance and zeal. There were
some who saw its errors and disadvantages, and desired its abolition,
but their remonstrances were unheeded and their clamors silenced.

That, however, which was considered impossible by the whole Christian
world, was accomplished by a single man, who himself had been a monk,
and whose first duty as such was a vow of celibacy! That man was Martin
Luther, Augustinian Monk, Doctor of Theology at the University of
Wittenberg, who, by his heroic conduct in relation to this subject, has
only added to the other inappreciable services he has rendered the
Church. It was he who was bold enough to abandon the monastic order,
and, in spite of the principles of the Church as they prevailed in that
age, _to enter the married state_. This adventurous step led to the
deliverance of a large portion of the clergy from the chain of Papal
power. From having been the slavish satellites of a foreign master in
Italy, they became patriotic subjects and useful men at home.

Several years before, two friends of Luther, who were his noble
assistants in the work of the Reformation, Melanchthon and Carlstadt,
had written treatises against clerical celibacy. Their books on this
subject were equally as unexpected, and created as much excitement among
the clergy, as Luther’s Theses against Indulgences had done six years
before.

Luther was not the first priest of those days who practically rejected
celibacy. As early as 1521, one of his friends and fellow-laborers,
Bernhardi, superintendent of the churches at Kemberg, had the boldness
to marry. He was the first ecclesiastic in Saxony who took this step,
and his wedding-day was long regarded as the _Pastors’ Emancipation
Day_; but Caspar Aquila, a priest residing near Augsburg, was married as
early as 1516, Jacob Knabe in 1518, and Nicolas Brunner in 1519.

Luther was free from all participation in Bernhardi’s marriage, for at
that time he was a prisoner in Wartburg Castle, and the first
intelligence came so unexpectedly, that whilst he admired the courage of
his friend, he was very apprehensive it would occasion him and his cause
many severe trials. Not long after, Bernhardi’s metropolitan, the
Cardinal Archbishop Albert, of Mainz and Magdeburg, demanded of the
Elector of Saxony, Frederick the Wise, to send Bernhardi to Halle, to
answer for his presumptuous act. Frederick did not yield to the demand
of the Archbishop, and the latter professed to be satisfied with an
anonymous defence of Bernhardi.

Luther himself sent a petition to Albert in behalf of the clergy who had
already married and of those who intended to marry. Subsequently,
however, Bernhardi suffered severely. When, in 1547, more than twenty
years after his nuptials, the Emperor Charles V. captured Wittenberg,
his savage Spaniards seized Bernhardi, and bound him fast to a table.
His wife rescued him from their murderous hands; but, soon after, others
laid hold of him, and after cruelly beating him, tied him to a horse and
dragged him to the camp at Torgau. A German officer, after much trouble,
had him liberated, and he finally, after unexampled suffering, reached
his family at Kemberg. A considerable number of priests followed the
example of Bernhardi. They were not deterred by the ban of the bishops,
nor by the fear of deposition and imprisonment. But all this would not
have created such immense excitement if Luther himself, to whom all eyes
were directed, had not resolved, by his own example, to strike a deadly
blow at priestly celibacy.

Catharine de Bora, a nun of the celebrated Bernhardin or Cistercian
convent at Nimtschen, in Saxony, was the person whom Luther chose as his
wife. She was born on the 29th of January, 1499. There is no authentic
record of the place of her birth, and the history of her childhood is
wrapped in obscurity. It is only as the nun Catharine that we first
became acquainted with her. Her Romish calumniators (and no innocent
woman was ever more bitterly and cruelly defamed,) declare that her
parents compelled her to become a nun against her will, because they
were poor and could not support her, and particularly because her
conduct was so objectionable that her seclusion was necessary. As
regards the first, it is true; she was not wealthy when she became the
wife of Luther; but, if she had been compelled to enter the nunnery, it
is likely that Luther would have mentioned it as an additional
justification of her flight. Her objectionable morality is based by her
enemies on the fact of her escape, and hence the accusation has no
ground whatever. There is not a particle of proof to establish the
calumnious charge.

This Convent was designated by the name of _The Throne of God_. It was
founded in 1250 by Henry the Illustrious. No trace of it remains at the
present day. In 1810-12 its ruins were removed to make room for the
erection of an edifice connected with a school for boys established at
that place.

Most of the inmates of this Convent were of noble birth, for at that
day, as well as at present, it was the policy and interest of the Romish
clergy to induce as many ladies of high rank as possible to take the
veil, thereby rendering the profession respectable, and securing large
sums as entrance fees if they were wealthy, and all their patrimony
after their decease.

It may seem strange that Catharine de Bora, who, according to her own
confession, was devout, industrious in the discharge of conventual
duties, and diligent in prayer, should have determined with eight other
“sisters” to escape from their prison. But when it is considered that
the convent was situated within the territory of the Elector Frederick
the Wise, who was Luther’s friend and patron—that Luther himself visited
a neighboring monastery at Grimma as Inspector—that in 1519, after the
dispute with Eck at Leipzig, he spent a few days in the town of
Nimtschen—that the principles of the Reformation had already made some
progress in that vicinity, and that several monasteries not far distant
had been abandoned—the circumstance is easily explained. It is scarcely
credible that amid the excitement of the times, no word of Luther’s
doctrine should have entered the convent halls, and that the stirring
events occurring around them should have been entirely concealed from
the unobtrusive occupants. Could not some of those courageous friends of
Luther, who afterwards, at his suggestion, effected the escape of the
nuns, have previously introduced some of Luther’s tracts into the
convent? He had at that time already written several small books against
the monastic life, and it is likely that some of these had been
clandestinely introduced, the perusal of which convinced these “sisters”
that their profession was not sanctioned by the Scriptures, and that it
was dangerous to their morals. They became so thoroughly assured of the
enormous error they had committed in thus secluding themselves from the
world, and were so heartily weary of the unnatural restraint imposed
upon them, that they earnestly besought their relatives to liberate them
for their souls’ sake! But these appeals were unheard, and now probably
the unhappy petitioners turned immediately to Luther. He not only
favored their resolution to escape, but selected his courageous friend,
Bernhard Koppe, a citizen of Torgau, to execute the project. Two other
citizens of the same place accompanied him on the adventure.

George Spalatin, Court Chaplain and Secretary of the Elector, reports
that they fled from the convent on the night before Easter, April 4,
1523. There were nine of them in all.

The accounts of the manner in which their rescue was effected, differ.
Some historians report that prudence required them to preserve the
strictest secrecy as long as they were traversing the territory of Duke
George, who was violently opposed to the Reformation, and hence they
were conveyed away in a covered wagon, and a few affirm, on the
authority of reliable documents, that they were concealed in casks. The
historians, however, agree that Koppe performed his part in the
enterprise with consummate courage and skill. It is very likely that the
nuns were aware of Koppe’s design, and held themselves in readiness at
the appointed time. Tradition tells us that they escaped through the
window of Catharine’s cell. To this day, they show at Nimtschen a
slipper which they say Catharine lost in the hurry of the flight.

They arrived at Wittenberg on the 7th of April, under circumstances
calculated to excite the sympathy of every feeling heart. As they
deserted the convent against the will of their relatives, and most of
them probably being orphans, they did not know where to find shelter or
support. But Luther, who had advised their flight, and aided in
effecting it, kindly received them, and spared no pains to render their
condition comfortable. In a few but expressive words to Spalatin, he
announced their arrival and depicted their destitution. He thus writes
on the 10th of April: “These eloped nuns have come to me; they are in
destitute circumstances, but as very respectable citizens of Torgau have
brought them, there can be no suspicion entertained as to their moral
character. I sincerely pity their forlorn state, and particularly that
of the great number still confined in convents, who are going to ruin in
that condition of constrained and unnatural celibacy. * * * How
tyrannical and cruel,” continues Luther, “many parents and relatives of
these oppressed women in Germany are! But ye popes and bishops! who can
censure you with sufficient severity? who can sufficiently abominate
your wickedness and blindness for upholding these accursed institutions?
But this is not the place to speak at large on this subject. You ask,
dear Spalatin, what I intend to do with these nuns? I shall report these
facts to their relatives, so that they may provide for them. If they
should refuse, I shall look to some other persons, for several have
promised aid. Their names are Margaretta Staupitz, Elizabeth de Carnitz,
Eva Grossin, Eva Schönfield and her Sister Margaret, Lunette de Golis,
Margaret de Zeschau and her sister Catharine, and Catharine de Bora.
They are, indeed, objects worthy of compassion, and Christ will be
served by conferring favors on them.”

As he could not afford to support them himself, he begged his friend to
solicit donations at court, that these fugitives might be supported for
several weeks. By that time he hoped to send them to their friends or
patrons. As Spalatin did not reply immediately, Luther wrote again, and
begged not to be forgotten. He added, “Yea, I even exhort the Prince to
send a contribution. I will keep it a profound secret, and tell no one
that he gave anything to these apostate nuns who have been rescued from
their prison.”

There is no doubt that the Elector, who esteemed Luther highly, sent him
the desired relief. The pacific Prince only wished the fact of his
contribution to be kept secret, that he might not give the Romish
clergy, and particularly Duke George of Saxony, occasion for new
complaint.

Luther’s intercessions in behalf of the nuns with their relatives seem
to have been fruitless, but the people of Wittenberg were liberal beyond
his expectations in their donations for their support. They were kindly
received into various families, and hospitably entertained. In this way
Philip Reichenbach, a magistrate of the city, became the protector or
foster-father of Catharine de Bora, who, by her virtuous and dignified
behavior, rendered herself worthy of his paternal benevolence. This is,
of itself, a sufficient refutation of the slanders of Romish writers,
who charge her with leading a dissolute life until her marriage with
Luther; for no city official, such as Reichenbach, would have hazarded
his own character by harboring a licentious woman. Neither would Dr.
Glacius and other eminent divines have sought her hand in marriage, as
they perseveringly did, nor would she have enjoyed the friendship and
confidence of Amsdorff and other professors of the University if she had
not sustained a character above suspicion. The epitaph on her tomb-stone
at Torgau commemorates her virtues in most exalted terms of eulogy, from
the time of her escape to her death.

The flight of the nuns was itself an unusual event, but it became
immensely important, for extraordinary consequences resulted from it.
Pains were taken to conceal the bold step they had assumed, especially
from all other convents. But these exertions were useless; nuns at other
places heard what their more adventurous sisters at Nimtschen had dared
to do, and they also undertook to fly from their narrow, unwholesome
cells to breathe the pure air of heaven. The abbess and four other nuns
of the Benedictine convent at Zeitz; six at Sormitz; eight at Pentwitz,
and sixteen at Wiedenstadt, escaped in a short time. Luther’s enemies
now assailed him with ferocious malignity. They regarded him as the
author of all this enormous mischief, and tried to show that his work
was productive of nothing but unmitigated evil, because it occasioned
such abominable results as the flight of poor nuns from their convent
prisons. Luther replied to them very briefly; he represented the dark
side of the picture of conventual life, and narrated some striking facts
in illustration. He published the life of a nun, _Florentine de
Oberweimer_, who had escaped from a convent at Eisleben. “I was but six
years old,” she says, “when I was sent to the convent by my parents.
When I was eleven, without knowing or being asked whether I could or
would observe the rules, I was compelled to take the vow. When I was
fourteen, and I began to find out that this mode of life was against my
nature, and hence complained to the abbess, she told me that I must be
contented and should continue to be a nun no matter what I thought or
felt. I then wrote to the learned Dr. Luther and begged his advice: but
my letter was intercepted by my superiors, who immediately put me in
prison, where I remained four weeks and suffered much. The abbess then
put me under the bans. (Florentine then minutely describes the severe
treatment she received before the ban was dissolved.) After that, I
wrote to my relative, Caspar de Watzdorf, who loved the gospel truth,
and complained of my treatment. This also became known to the abbess,
and I cannot tell to strangers how shamefully I was abused by her and
others. _I was so violently beaten by her and four other persons that
they became completely exhausted._ She put me in prison again and
fastened my feet with iron chains,” &c., &c.

In the dedication of this little book to the Duke of Mansfeld, in whose
dominions the convent was located, Luther wrote on the 2nd of March,
1524, “What are you about, ye princes and lords, that ye drive the
people to God whether they will or not? It is not your office nor in
your power. To outward obedience you may compel them, but God will
regard no vow that is not cheerfully and voluntarily kept. Hence, my
dear, gracious sirs, I have published this little narrative that all the
world may know _what conventual life is, and the devil’s folly thus be
made known_. There are princes and lords who are very indignant about
this affair, and it is no wonder. If they knew what I know, they would
perhaps honor me more for it, and contribute much more towards spreading
it abroad than I am doing.”

But Luther was not the only one who was charged with being accessory to
the flight of these nuns. Leonard Koppe, as the chief instrument in
effecting their escape, was, perhaps, exposed to greater dangers and
persecutions than Luther, who was powerfully protected by his prince.
For although Koppe had formerly been a councillor and a government
auditor, yet he had reason to fear the worst treatment from the clergy
if his participation in the act should become generally known. Hence he
sought to conceal it: but Luther, who was a stranger to the fear of man,
and who, in all things, went to work openly and boldly, was of a
different opinion. Fully convinced that Koppe had performed a
meritorious act, of which he should not be ashamed, but rather boast, he
mentioned his name in a letter to Spalatin a few days after the escape
of the nuns; but he also deemed it prudent to write to Koppe and inspire
him with courage. “Be assured,” he writes, “that God has so ordained it,
and that it is not your work or counsel; never mind the clamor of those
who denounce it as a most wicked undertaking, and who do not believe it
was so ordered of God. Shame! shame! they will say; the fool, Leonard
Koppe, has suffered himself to be led by that cursed heretical monk, and
has aided nine nuns to fly from the convent at once and to violate their
vows. To this you will reply: ‘_This is indeed a strange way of keeping
the thing secret._ You are betraying me, and the whole convent of
Nimtschen will be up against me, or they will now hear that I have been
the robber.’ But my reasons for not keeping it secret are good: 1. That
it may be known that I did not advise it to be concealed; for what we
do, we do in and for God, and do not shun the light of day. Would to
heaven I could in this or some other way rescue all troubled consciences
and empty all convents! I would not be afraid to confess my own agency
in the business, nor that of all my assistants. Confidence in Jesus,
whose gospel is destroying the kingdom of Antichrist, would sustain me,
_even if it should cost me my life_. 2. I do it for the sake of the poor
nuns, and of their relatives, so that no one may be able to say they
were involuntarily abducted by wicked fellows, and thus be robbed of
their reputation. 3. To warn the nobility and pious gentry who have
children in convents to take them away themselves, so that no worse
thing befal them. You know that I _advised_ and _sanctioned_ the
enterprise; that you _executed_ it, and that the nuns _consented_ and
_earnestly desired_ it, and I will here briefly give the reasons for it
before God and the world. First, _The nuns themselves had before most
humbly solicited the help of their relatives and friends in effecting
their release; they gave them satisfactory reasons why such a life could
no longer be endured, for it interfered with their souls’ salvation, and
they promised to be faithful and dutiful children when they should be
released._ All this was positively denied to them, and they were
forsaken by all their relations. Hence they had the right, yea, were
compelled to relieve their burdened consciences, and save their souls by
seeking help from other quarters, and those who were in a position to
afford counsel and aid, were bound by Christian love to bestow them.
_Secondly_, It is not right that young girls should be locked up in
convents where there is no daily use made of the word of God, and where
the gospel is seldom or never heard, and where, of course, these girls
are exposed to the severest temptations. _Thirdly_, It is plain that a
person may be compelled to do before the world what is not cheerfully
done; but before God and in his service no one has a right to use
compulsion. _Fourthly_, Women were created for other purposes than to
spend a lazy and useless life in a convent.”

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 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 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 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 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
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
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, 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 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, 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 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’ 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 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 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 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 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.

Thus had Luther, actuated by the purest motives, suddenly and silently,
entered into this matrimonial alliance. Now it was no longer secret, and
in compliance with a custom common in that day he determined to invite a
number of his friends, in and out of Wittenberg, including his parents,
to a wedding-dinner. This was to occur on the 27th of June, two weeks
after his marriage. On that day also, he purposed to conduct his wife
publicly to his own residence at the Augustinian monastery. To his
absent friends he sent written invitations, seven of which are still
extant. But he was particularly desirous of having his parents, who
resided at Mansfeld, present on the occasion. He was anxious to show
them that he had finally gratified their most ardent wishes in
abandoning the monastic life and entering on matrimony. But he also
wished to make them personally acquainted with Catharine, and to receive
from them their parental blessing. They, with three or four others of
his friends, accepted the invitation. At this, as well at the other more
private festival on the day after his marriage, the town council of
Wittenberg expressed their highest respect for Luther by sending him
some essential contributions to his dinner.

It may appear remarkable, at first sight, that Melanchthon, Luther’s
most intimate friend and inseparable companion, should not have been
present at this nor at the previous solemnity, nor even consulted by
Luther on the subject of his marriage. But he well knew the timidity and
excessive sensitiveness of Melanchthon. He knew that his friend was so
painfully concerned for his reputation and peace of mind, that though he
could not disapprove of the act, yet he would reprove him for the manner
and time, fearing the evil consequences that might result to the work of
the Reformation. Hence Luther did not consult Melanchthon, and even
avoided his company at this time. The whole circumstance occasioned much
painful anxiety to Melanchthon, not because he did not sanction the act
in itself, but because it would give the numerous enemies of Luther
fresh occasion for more bitter persecution and more virulent calumny.

Although Luther had acted with great deliberation in this affair, making
it a subject of most fervent prayer, and hastening its consummation in
order only to avoid excitement, yet occasionally he sometimes seemed
deeply depressed on that very account, because in the opinion of many,
the whole transaction was calculated to injure his reputation. But
through the fraternal consolations of Melanchthon, he was soon restored
to his usual vivacity. He felt himself happy in the possession of
Catharine; for his marriage, instead of interfering with his numerous
professional engagements, only inspired him with renewed courage and
strength in the prosecution of his work. In many of his letters written
at this period, he expresses the most affectionate interest in his wife
and the most perfect satisfaction with his connubial state.

It would, however, have been surprising if the enemies of Luther had
passed in silence his marriage with a former nun. The most outrageous
slanders and abominable falsehoods might have been anticipated. Their
hatred of the man who had shaken the pillars of their spiritual
despotism, was also to be vented against the woman whom he had chosen
for his wife. “See,” cried out these despicable slanderers, “see the
real design of his apostasy from the Catholic Church! It was only that
he might marry.” And yet Luther was not married until eight years after
he had taken the first step towards the Reformation. They loaded
Catharine with the most opprobrious and disgraceful epithets, and
endeavored to cover her husband with shame and contempt. But they did
not reflect that if Luther had been inclined to an irregular course of
life, he might more easily, with much less excitement and much less
censure too, have indulged his evil propensities as an unmarried monk
than as a married clergyman. Even King Henry VIII. and Duke George of
Saxony sent him letters most bitterly censuring his course. The language
of the royal slanderer of England is especially vulgar, and his
accusations are infamous. But his more recent enemies have not been less
virulent. Luther, in dealing such a terrible blow on their forefathers,
has fearfully wounded them also, and that wound will never heal. They
most dishonestly perverted his language, and endeavored to dishonor the
name of Catharine by the most wretchedly contrived and disgraceful
fables. The principal object of Luther’s enemies was to sever the
matrimonial bond which united him and his wife. They exerted all their
diabolical cunning to gain Catharine over by their machinations, and
induce her to separate herself from Luther in order to return to the
convent. Two young men, members of the University of Leipzig, were
employed to write _Eulogies on Monastic Life_, and send them to Luther
in the hope that they would fall into Catharine’s hands, and induce her,
as a penitent sinner, to resume the veil. But neither he nor his wife
honored these writings with much attention at that time. They were sent
back to their authors in not quite as good a condition as when received,
for the servants, without Luther’s knowledge, had taken special pains to
deface them. They accompanied the papers with the Latin word _asini_
(asses), so ingeniously arranged in a square, that beginning in the
centre the same word could be read in forty different directions. Some
time after, Luther answered these writings and constructed several
amusing fables on them. The treatment of these eulogies by Luther and
his wife, and especially by the servants, created such an excitement in
Leipzig that Jerome Walther, a councillor, found it necessary to
communicate a full report of the whole transaction to the Court
Chancellor of Duke George. The infamous attempt, however, to separate
Luther and his wife signally failed.

The great restorer of the true gospel doctrine might have lived in open
profligacy as a monk, and it would not probably have been noticed; but
to marry was an unpardonable sin. The acknowledged teachers of the
priests have laid down such doctrine as the following: Cardinal de
Campeggi has taught that “It is a greater sin for a priest to marry than
to lead an infamous life.” The Jesuit Coster taught that “Although a
priest who indulges the most unnatural appetite commits a great evil,
yet he sins still more if he marries;” and Cornelius à Lapide remarks,
“For those who have taken the vow of chastity, it is better that they
live unchastely than marry.” The men who taught such morals were the
opponents of Luther’s marriage. The most influential of his enemies at
this time was Erasmus, who, in the beginning did not disallow Luther’s
merits, but he was fond of ridicule and sarcasm. He slandered Catharine
most infamously, but eight months afterwards he had the magnanimity to
retract his false accusations.

As we have already learned, Luther had determined to give a particular
wedding-festival especially for the sake of his own parents, but we have
no account of his having invited the parents of his wife. Every
unprejudiced reader will conclude that either her parents were
dissatisfied with her flight and marriage, or, what is more probable,
they were no longer living. For from the well-known letter of Luther to
Koppe, we cannot even with certainty conclude that her parents were
living at the time of her escape from the convent. He states that those
nine nuns had most earnestly implored their parents and _relatives_ to
deliver them from the prison, from which we presume that some of them
were orphans, and for this reason applied to their relations. But
Luther’s enemies still maintained that the parents of his wife were
living, but were of no account, and hence not mentioned at all. It is
likely that _poverty_ first moved them to place their daughter in a
convent early in life. Luther and some of his cotemporaries bear
testimony to the fact that she possessed no property. At one place he
thus expresses himself relative to the condition of her property, “As
thou gavest her to me, so I return her to thee again, O thou faithful
God, who richly aboundest in all things; support, sustain, and teach her
as thou hast supported, sustained, and taught me, thou Father of the
orphan and judge of the widow.” Even if she had taken property with her
into the convent, how could she have secured it in her flight? But when
Erasmus writes and says, “Luther has married a wife, a most beautiful
daughter of the celebrated family of Bora, but, as is said, without a
fortune,” this might also proceed from the dissatisfaction of her
relatives with her marriage and her flight from the convent.

But though those enemies of Luther could not exactly show the humble
condition of his wife’s parents, others tried hard to throw doubt, at
least, on her _noble_ birth. They could not deny that her mother was
entitled to that distinction of rank, but they totally reject her
father’s claim to it, and because Luther does not mention him in his
writings, they draw the unsound conclusion that he must have belonged to
the very lowest class of society. Catharine’s honor would not in the
least have been periled even if her father had been of humble birth. But
the most unimportant circumstances were industriously used by Luther’s
enemies to degrade him; hence, they would not allow her distinguished
birth, although the plainest proofs of the fact were given. His
opponents sometimes contradicted each other. They all agreed in most
scandalously calumniating him, but in their accusations they sometimes
singularly differed, and often unintentionally wrote something which was
more honorable to Luther than injurious. Cochlaeus, for example, charges
it as the greatest sin of Luther “that he rescued from the convent nine
nuns, _who were all_ of _noble rank_, and, to the eternal disgrace of so
many distinguished families, led them away.” Could this deadly enemy of
Luther only have conjectured that some of his brethren of the faith ever
intended to assail Catharine’s birth, he would have been more careful
than to have spoken of _noble_ rank and _distinguished_ families. But
the testimony of one such cotemporary is proof sufficient of her noble
origin, and we need not stop to refute those who maintain that there
never even existed a _family_ of _de Bora_.

You may also like