Vol. 7, Chapter V. The Inner Development of the Reformation from the Peasants’ War to the Diet of Augsburg, a.d. 1525-1530

76. The Three Electors

G. Spalatin: Friedrich d. Weise, Lebensgeschichte, ed. by Neudecker and Preller, Jena, 1851. Tutzschmann: Fr. d. W., Grimma, 1848. Ranke, vol. II. Kolde: Friedrich der Weise und die Anfänge der Reformation, Erlangen, 1881. Köstlin in the Studien u. Kritiken, 1882, p. 700, (vers. Kolde). Comp. §§26 and 61.

Shortly before the close of the Peasants’ War, Frederick III., surnamed the Wise, Elector of Saxony (1486-1525), died peacefully as he had lived, in his sixty-third year, May 5, 1525. His last hours at the castle of Lochau form a striking contrast with the stormy and bloody scenes around him. He hoped that the common people would not prevail, but admitted that they had reason to complain of harsh treatment. “Dear children,” he said to his servants, “if I have wronged any one of you, I beg you to forgive me for God’s sake; we princes do many naughty things to the poor people.” Shortly before his death, he partook of the holy communion in both kinds. This is the only distinct Protestant act in his life. His body was removed to Wittenberg, and buried in the castle church at which Luther had posted his Ninety-Five Theses. Melanchthon delivered a Latin oration; Luther wrote letters of condolence to his brother and nephew, who succeeded him, and praised his wisdom, his kindness to his subjects, his love of justice and hatred of falsehood. Aleander, the Pope’s legate at Worms, called him the old fox of Saxony, but in history he bears the name of the Wise. He had charge of the German Empire after the death of Maximilian; he modestly declined the imperial crown; he decided the election of King Charles of Spain, and was the only Elector who did not sell his vote.

Frederick was a devout Catholic, a believer in relics and indulgences, but at the same time a lover of fair dealing, an admirer of Luther, and much concerned for his university. He saved the German Reformation by saving the Reformer, without openly breaking with the Catholic Church. He never saw Luther, except at a distance in the Diet of Worms, and communicated with him chiefly through his chaplain and secretary, Spalatin. His cautious reserve was the best policy for the time.

Frederick was succeeded by his brother, John the Steadfast or Constant (1525-1532). He was less prudent and influential in politics, but a more determined adherent of the Reformation. He was too fat to mount his horse without the aid of a machine. He went to sleep at times under Luther’s sermons, but stood by him at every cost. His motto was: “The word of God abideth for ever,” which was placed on his ensigns and liveries. He was the first to sign the immortal protest of Speier in 1529, and the Confession of Augsburg in 1530.

His son and successor, John Frederick the Magnanimous (1532-1554), survived Luther. He founded the University of Jena. He suffered the disastrous defeat at Mühlberg (April 24, 1547), and would rather lose his Electorate and half of his estates than deny the evangelical faith in which he was brought up. How different was the conduct of Elector Augustus the Strong of Saxony, who sold the Lutheran faith of his ancestors for the crown of Poland (1697), and disgraced both by his scandulous life.

Luther has left some characteristic remarks about his three sovereigns. Of Frederick, whom he only knew from a distance, he said, “He was a wise, intelligent, able, and good man, who hated all display and hypocrisy. He was never married. His life was pure and modest. His motto ‘Tantum quantum possim’ was a sign of his good sense …. He was a fine manager and economist. He listened patiently in his council, shut his eyes, and took notes of each opinion. Then he formed his own conclusion. Such a prince is a blessing from God.” Of John he said, “He had six pages to wait on him. They read the Bible to him for six hours every day. He often went to sleep, but when he awoke he had always some good text in his mouth. At sermon he used to take notes in a pocket-book. Church government and secular affairs were well administered. The Emperor had only good to say of him. He had a strong frame, and a hard death. He roared like a lion.” John Frederick he judged to be “too indulgent, though he hates untruth and loose living. He fears God, and has his five wits about him. You never hear an impure or dishonorable word from his lips. He is a chaste husband, and loves his wife, — a rare virtue among kings and princes. One fault he has: he eats and drinks too much. Perhaps so big a body requires more than a small one. Otherwise he works like a donkey; and, drink what he will, he always reads the Bible or some good book before he goes to sleep.”

These three Electors of Saxony are the model princes of the Lutheran Reformation, which owes much to their protection. Philip of Hesse was more intelligent, brilliant, liberal, and daring than any of them, but his bigamy paralyzed his influence. He leaned more to the Reformed side, and stood on good terms with Zwingli. The most pious of the princes of Germany in the sixteenth century was Frederick III., surnamed the Pious, Elector of the Palatinate (1559-1576), who introduced the Heidelberg Catechism.

The Protestant sovereigns became supreme bishops in their respective dominions. They did not preach, nor administer the sacraments, but assumed the episcopal jurisdiction in the government of the Church, and exercised also the right of reforming the Church (jus reformationis) in their dominions, whereby they established a particular confession as the state religion, and excluded others, or reduced them to the condition of mere toleration. This right they claimed by virtue of a resolution of the Diet of Speier, in 1526, which was confirmed by the Peace of Augsburg, 1555, and ultimately by the Peace of Westphalia, 1648. The Reformers regarded this secular summepiscopate as a temporary arrangement which was forced upon them by the hostility of the bishops who adhered to the Pope. They justified it by the example of Josiah and other pious kings of Israel, who destroyed idolatry and restored the pure worship of Jehovah. They accepted the protection and support of the princes at the sacrifice of the freedom and independence of the church, which became an humble servant of the state. Melanchthon regretted this condition; and in view of the rapacity of the princes, and the confusion of things, he wished the old bishops back again, and was willing even to submit to the authority of a pope if the pope would allow the freedom of the gospel. In Scandinavia and England the episcopal hierarchy was retained, or a new one substituted for the old, and gave the church more power and influence in the government.


77. Luther’s Marriage. 1525

I. Luther’s Letters of May and June, 1525, touching on his marriage, in De Wette’s collection, at the end of second and beginning of third vols. His views on matrimonial duties, in several sermons, e.g., Predigt vom Ehestand, 1525 (Erl. ed., xvi. 165 sqq.), and in his Com. on 1 Cor. vii., publ. Wittenberg, 1523, and in Latin, 1525 (Erl. ed., xix. 1-69). He wished to prevent this chapter from being used as a Schanddeckel der falsch-berümten Keuschheit. His views about Katie, in Walch, XXIV. 150. His table-talk about marriage and woman, in Bindseil’s Colloquia, II. 332-336. A letter of Justus Jonas to Spalatin (June 14, 1525), and one of Melanchthon to Camerarius (June 16).

II. The biographies of Katharina von Bora by Walch (1752), Beste (1843), Hofmann (1845), Meurer (1854). Uhlhorn: K. v. B., in Herzog2, vol. II. 564-567. Köstlin: Leben Luthers, I. 766-772; II. 488 sqq., 605 sqq.; his small biography, Am. ed. (Scribner’s), pp. 325-335, and 535 sqq. Beyschlag: Luther’s Hausstand in seiner reform. Bedeutung. Barmen, 1888.

III. Burk: Spiegel edler Pfarrfrauen. Stuttgart, 3d ed. 1885. W. Baur (Gen. Superintendent of the Prussian Rhine Province): Das deutsche evangelische Pfarrhaus, seine Gründung, seine Entfaltung und sein Bestand. Bremen, 1877, 3d ed. 1884.

Amidst the disturbances and terrors of the Peasants’ War, in full view of his personal danger, and in expectation of the approaching end of the world, Luther surprised his friends and encouraged his foes by his sudden marriage with a poor fugitive nun. He wrote to his friend Link: “Suddenly, and while I was occupied with far other thoughts, the Lord has plunged me into marriage.”

The manner was highly characteristic, neither saint-like nor sinner-like, but eminently Luther-like. By taking to himself a wife, he wished to please his father, to tease the Pope, and to vex the Devil. Beneath was a deeper and nobler motive, to rescue the oldest ordinance of God on earth from the tyranny of Rome, and to vindicate by his own example the right of ministers to the benefit of this ordinance. Under this view, his marriage is a public event of far-reaching consequence. It created the home life of the evangelical clergy.

He had long before been convinced that vows of perpetual celibacy are unscriptural and unnatural. He held that God has created man for marriage, and that those who oppose it must either be ashamed of their manhood, or pretend to be wiser than God. He did not object to the marriage of Carlstadt, Jonas, Bugenhagen, and other priests and monks. But he himself seemed resolved to remain single, and continued to live in the convent. He was now over forty years of age; eight years had elapsed since he opened the controversy with Rome in the Ninety-Five Theses; and, although a man of powerful passions, he had strictly kept his monastic and clerical vow. His enemies charged him with drinking beer, playing the lute, leading a worldly life, but never dared to dispute his chastity till after his marriage. As late as Nov. 30, 1524, he wrote to Spalatin “I shall never take a wife, as I feel at present. Not that I am insensible to my flesh or sex (for I am neither wood nor stone); but my mind is averse to wedlock, because I daily expect the death of a heretic.” But on April 10, 1525, he wrote to the same friend: “Why do you not get married? I find so many reasons for urging others to marry, that I shall soon be brought to it myself, notwithstanding that enemies never cease to condemn the married state, and our little wiseacres (sapientuli) ridicule it every day.” He got tired of his monastic seclusion; the convent was nearly emptied, and its resources cut off; his bed, as Melanchthon tells us, was not properly made for months, and was mildewed with perspiration; he lived of the plainest food; he worked himself nearly to death; he felt the need of a helpmate.

In April, 1523, nine nuns escaped from the convent of Nimptsch near Grimma, fled to Wittenberg, and appealed to Luther for protection and aid. Among them was Catharina von Bora, a virgin of noble birth, but poor, fifteen years younger than Luther, not remarkable for beauty or culture, but healthy, strong, frank, intelligent, and high-minded. In looking at the portraits of Dr. and Mrs. Luther in their honeymoon, we must remember that they were painted by Cranach, and not by Raphael or Titian.

Catharina had been attached and almost engaged to a former student of Wittenberg from Nürnberg; but he changed his mind, to her great grief, and married a rich wife (1523). After this Luther arranged a match between her and Dr. Glatz of Orlamünde (who was afterwards deposed); but she refused him, and intimated to Amsdorf, that she would not object to marry him or the Reformer. Amsdorf remained single. Luther at first was afraid of her pride, but changed his mind. On May 4, 1525, he wrote to Dr. Rühel (councilor of Count Albrecht of Mansfeld, and of Cardinal Albrecht of Mainz), that he would “take his Katie to wife before he died, in spite of the Devil.” He left his friends ignorant of the secret, deeming it unwise to talk much about such delicate matters. “A man,” he said, “must ask God for counsel, and pray, and then act accordingly.”

On the evening of June 13, on Tuesday after Trinity Sunday, he invited Bugenhagen, Jonas, Lucas Cranach and wife, and a professor of jurisprudence, Apel (an ex-Dean of the Cathedral of Bamberg, who had himself married a nun), to his house, and in their presence was joined in matrimony to Catharina von Bora in the name of the Holy Trinity. Bugenhagen performed the ceremony in the customary manner. On the following morning he entertained his friends at breakfast. Justus Jonas reported the marriage to Spalatin through a special messenger. He was affected by it to tears, and saw in it the wonderful hand of God.

On June 27 Luther celebrated his wedding in a more public, yet modest style, by a nuptial feast, and invited his father and mother and his distant friends to “seal and ratify” the union, and to “pronounce the benediction.” He mentioned with special satisfaction that he had now fulfilled an old duty to his father, who wished him to marry. The University presented him with a rich silver goblet (now in possession of the University of Greifswald), bearing the inscription: “The honorable University of the electoral town of Wittenberg presents this wedding gift to Doctor Martin Luther and his wife Kethe von Bora.” The magistrate provided the pair with a barrel of Eimbeck beer, a small quantity of good wine, and twenty guilders in silver. What is very remarkable, Archbishop Albrecht sent to Katie through Rühel a wedding gift of twenty guilders in gold; Luther declined it for himself, but let Katie have it. Several wedding-rings of doubtful genuineness have been preserved, especially one which bears the image of the crucified Saviour, and the inscription, “D. Martino Luthero Catharina v. Boren, 13 Jun. 1525.” It has been multiplied in 1817 by several copies. They lived together in the old Augustinian convent, which was now empty. He was not much interrupted in his studies, and at the end of the same year he published his violent book against Erasmus, who wondered that marriage had not softened his temper.

The event was a rich theme for slander and gossip. His enemies circulated a slander about a previous breach of the vow of chastity, and predicted that, according to a popular tradition, the ex-monk and ex-nun would give birth to Antichrist. Erasmus contradicts the slander, and remarked that if that tradition was true, there must have been many thousands of antichrists before this. Melanchthon (who had been invited to the feast of the 27th of June, but not to the ceremony of the 13th), in a Greek letter to his friend Camerarius (June 16), expressed the fear that Luther, though he might be ultimately benefited by his marriage, had committed a lamentable act of levity and weakness, and injured his influence at a time when Germany most needed it.

Luther himself felt at first strange and restless in his new relation, but soon recovered. He wrote to Spalatin, June 16, “I have made myself so vile and contemptible forsooth that all the angels, I hope, will laugh, and all the devils weep.” A year after he wrote to Stiefel (Aug. 11, 1526): “Catharina, my dear rib, salutes you, and thanks you for your letter. She is, thanks to God, gentle, obedient, compliant in all things, beyond my hopes. I would not exchange my poverty for the wealth of Croesus.” He often preached on the trials and duties of married life truthfully and effectively, from practical experience, and with pious gratitude for that holy state which God ordained in paradise, and which Christ honored by his first miracle. He calls matrimony a gift of God, wedlock the sweetest, chastest life, above all celibacy, or else a veritable hell.


78. Luther’s Home Life

Luther and Katie were well suited to each other. They lived happily together for twenty-one years, and shared the usual burdens and joys. Their domestic life is very characteristic, full of good nature, innocent humor, cordial affection, rugged simplicity, and thoroughly German. It falls below the refinement of a modern Christian home, and some of his utterances on the relation between the two sexes are coarse; but we must remember the rudeness of the age, and his peasant origin. No stain rests upon his home life, in which he was as gentle as a lamb and as a child among children.

“Next to God’s Word,” he said from his personal experience, “there is no more precious treasure than holy matrimony. God’s highest gift on earth is a pious, cheerful, God-fearing, home-keeping wife, with whom you may live peacefully, to whom you may intrust your goods and body and life.”

He loved his wife dearly, and playfully called her in his letters “my heartily beloved, gracious housewife, bound hand and foot in loving service, Catharine, Lady Luther, Lady Doctor, Lady of Zulsdorf. Lady of the Pigmarket, and whatever else she may be.” She was a good German Hausfrau, caring for the wants of her husband and children; she contributed to his personal comfort in sickness and health, and enabled him to exercise his hospitality. She had a strong will, and knew how to take her own part. He sometimes speaks of her as his “Lord Katie,” and of himself as her “willing servant.” “Katie,” he said to her, “you have a pious husband who loves you; you are an empress.” Once in 1535 he promised her fifty guilders if she would read the Bible through; whereupon, as he told a friend, it became a very serious matter with her.” She could not understand why God commanded Abraham to do such a cruel thing as to kill his own child; but Luther pointed her to God’s sacrifice of his only Son, and to the resurrection from the dead. To Katie and to Melanchthon he wrote his last letters (five to her, three to Melanchthon) from Eisleben shortly before his death, informing her of his journey, his diet and condition, complaining of fifty Jews under the protection of the widowed Countess of Mansfeld, sending greetings to Master Philip (Melanchthon), and quieting her apprehensions about his health.

“Pray read, dear Katie, the Gospel of John and the little Catechism …. You worry yourself about your God, just as if He were not Almighty, and able to create ten Doctor Martin Luthers for the old one drowned perhaps in the Saale, or fallen dead by the fireplace, or on Wolf’s fowling floor. Leave me in peace with your cares; I have a better protector than you and all the angels. He — my Protector — lies in the manger and hangs upon a Virgin’s breast, but He sits also at the right hand of God, the Father Almighty. Rest, therefore, in peace. Amen.”

In his will (1542), seventeen years after his marriage, he calls her a “pious, faithful, and devoted wife, full of loving, tender care towards him.” At times, however, he felt oppressed by domestic troubles, and said once he would not marry again, not even a queen. Those were passing moods. “Oh, how smoothly things move on, when man and wife sit lovingly at table! Though they have their little bickerings now and then, they must not mind that. Put up with it.” “We must have patience with woman, though she be it times sharp and bitter. She presides over the household machinery, and the servants deserve occasionally a good scolding.” He put the highest honor of woman on her motherhood. “All men,” he said, “are conceived, born, and nursed by women. Thence come the little darlings, the highly prized heirs. This honor ought in fairness to cover up all feminine weakness.”

Luther had six children, — three daughters, two of whom died young, and three sons, Hans (John), Martin, and Paul. None inherited his genius. Hans gave him much trouble. Paul rose to some eminence as physician of the Elector, and died at Dresden, 1593. The sons accompanied their father on his last journey to Eisleben. His wife’s aunt, Magdalen von Bora, who had been a nun and head-nurse in the same cloister, lived with his family, and was esteemed like a grandmother by him and his children. Two orphan nieces, and a tutor for the boys, an amanuensis, and a number of students as boarders, belonged to the household in a portion of the former convent on the banks of the Elbe. The chief sitting-room of the family, his bedroom, and the lecture hall are still shown in “the Lutherhaus.”

He began the day, after his private devotions, which were frequent and ardent, with reciting in his family the Ten Commandments, the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and a Psalm. He went to bed at nine, but rose early, and kept wide awake during the day. Of his private devotions we have an authentic account from his companion, Veit Dietrich, who wrote to Melanchthon during the Diet of Augsburg, 1530, when Luther was at Coburg, feeling the whole weight of that great crisis: — 

“No day passes that he does not give three hours to prayer, and those the fittest for study. Once I happened to hear him praying. Good God! how great a spirit, how great a faith, was in his very words! With such reverence did he ask, as if he felt that he was speaking with God; with such hope and faith, as with a Father and a Friend. ‘I know,’ he said, ‘that Thou art our Father and our God. I am certain, therefore, that Thou art about to destroy the persecutors of Thy children. If Thou doest not, then our danger is Thine too. This business is wholly Thine, we come to it under compulsion: Thou, therefore, defend.’ … In almost these words I, standing afar off, heard him praying with a clear voice. And my mind burned within me with a singular emotion when he spoke in so friendly a manner, so weightily, so reverently, to God.”

Luther celebrated the festivals, especially Christmas, with childlike joy. One of the most familiar scenes of Christian family life in Germany is Luther with his children around the Christmas-tree, singing his own Christmas hymn:

“Good news from heaven the angels bring,

Glad tidings to the earth they ring.”

Nothing can be more charming or creditable to his heart than the truly childlike letter he wrote to his oldest boy Hans, then four years of age, from Coburg, during the sessions of the Augsburg Diet in the momentous year 1530.

“Grace and peace in Christ, my dear little boy. I am pleased to see that thou learnest thy lessons well, and prayest diligently. Go on thus, my dear boy, and when I come home, I will bring you a fine fairing. I know of a pretty, delightful garden, where are merry children that have gold frocks, and gather nice apples and pears, cherries and plums under the trees, and sing and jump and are happy; they also ride on fine little horses with gold bridles and silver saddles. I asked the man who owns the garden, who the children were. He said, ‘These are the children who love to pray and to learn, and are good.’ Then I said, ‘Dear man, I also have a son who is called Hans Luther. May he not come to this garden and eat such pretty apples and pears, and ride on such fine little horses, and play with these children?’ The man said, ‘If he likes to pray and to learn, and is pious, he may come to the garden, and Lippus and Jost may come also; and if they all come together, they shall have pipes and drums and lutes and fiddles, and they shall dance and shoot with little crossbows.’

“Then he showed me a smooth lawn in the garden laid out for dancing, and there hung the golden pipes and drums and crossbows. But it was still early, and the children had not dined; therefore I could not wait for the dance. So I said, ‘Dear sir, I will go straight home and write all this to my little boy; but he has an aunt, Lene, that he must bring with him.’ And the man answered, ‘So it shall be; go and write as you say.’

“Therefore, dear little boy Johnny, learn and pray with a good heart, and tell Lippus and Jost to do the same, and then you will all come to the garden together. And now I commend you to Almighty God. Give my love to aunt Lene, and give her a kiss for me. Anno 1530.

Thy loving father,

“Martinus Luther”

He was deeply grieved by the early death of his favorite daughter Lena (Magdalen), a pious, gentle, and affectionate girl of fourteen, with large, imaginative eyes, and full of promise. “I love her very much,” he prayed; “but, dear God, if it is thy holy will to take her hence, I would gladly leave her with Thee.” And to her he said, “Lena dear, my little daughter, thou wouldst love to remain here with thy father: art thou willing to go to that other Father?” — “Yes, dear father,” she replied, “just as God wills.” And when she was dying, he fell on his knees beside her bed, wept bitterly, and prayed for her redemption. As she lay in her coffin, he exclaimed, “Ah! my darling Lena, thou wilt rise again, and shine like a star, — yea, as a sun. I am happy in the spirit, but very sorrowful in the flesh.” He wrote to his friend Jonas: “You will have heard that my dearest child is born again into the eternal kingdom of God. We ought to be glad at her departure, for she is taken away from the world, the flesh, and the devil; but so strong is natural love, that we cannot bear it without anguish of heart, without the sense of death in ourselves.” On her tomb he inscribed these lines: — 

“Here do I Lena, Luther’s daughter, rest,

Sleep in my little bed with all the blessed.

In sin and trespass was I born;

Forever would I be forlorn,

But yet I live, and all is good — 

Thou, Christ, didst save me with thy blood.”

Luther was simple, regular, and temperate in his habits. The reports to the contrary are slanders of enemies. The famous and much-abused adage, — 

“Who does not love wife, wine, and song,

Remains a fool his whole life long,”

is not found in his works, nor in any contemporary writing, but seems to have originated in the last century, on the basis of some medieval saying. He used beer and common wine according to the general custom of his age and country; but he abhorred intemperance, and justly complained of the drink-devil (Saufteufel) of the Germans. Melanchthon, his daily companion, often wondered (as he reports after Luther’s death) how a man with such a portly frame could live on so meager a diet; for he observed that Luther sometimes fasted for four days when in good health, and was often contented for a whole day with a herring and a piece of bread. He preferred “pure, good, common, homely fare.” Occasionally he received a present of game from the Elector, and enjoyed it with his friends.

He had a powerful constitution, but suffered much of the stone, of headache, and attacks of giddiness, and fainting; especially in the fatal year 1527, which brought him to the brink of the grave. He did not despise physicians, indifferent as they were in those days, and called them “God’s menders (Flicker) of our bodies;” but he preferred simple remedies, and said, “My best medical prescription is written in Joh_3:1-36: ‘God so loved the world.’” He was too poor to keep horse and carriage, but he kept a bowling-alley for exercise. He liked to throw the first ball himself, and elicited a hearty laugh when he missed the mark; he then reminded the young friends that by aiming to knock down all the pins at once, they might miss them all, as they would find out in their future calling. He warned Melanchthon against excess of study, and reminded him that we must serve God by rest and recreation as well as by labor, for which reason He has given us the fourth commandment, and instituted the Sabbath.

Luther exercised a generous hospitality, and had always guests at his table. He was indiscriminately benevolent to beggars, until rogues sharpened his wits, and made him more careful. There was an unbroken succession of visitors — theologians, students, princes, noblemen, and ladies, anxious to see the great man, to get his advice and comfort; and all were favorably impressed with his frank, manly, and pleasant bearing. At times he was wrapt in deep thought, and kept a monkish silence at table; but at other times he talked freely, seriously and merrily, always interestingly, about every thing under the sun. His guests called his speeches their “table-spice,” and recorded them faithfully without discrimination, even his most trivial remarks. Once he offered a premium for the shortest blessing. Bugenhagen began in Low German: — 

“Dit und dat,

Trocken und nat

Gesegne Gott.”

Luther improved upon it in Latin:

“Dominus Jesus

Sit potus et esus.”

But Melanchthon carried the palm with

“Benedictus benedicat.”

To the records of Veit Dietrich, Lauterbach, and Mathesius, which were often edited, though in bad taste, we owe the most remarkable “Table-Talk” ever published. Many of his sayings are exceedingly quaint, and sound strange, coarse, and vulgar to refined ears. But they were never intended for publication; and making due allowance for human weakness, the rudeness of the age, and his own rugged nature, we may agree with the judgment of one of his most accurate biographers, that “in all his words and deeds Luther was guided constantly by the loftiest principles, by the highest considerations of morality and religious truth, and that in the simple and straightforward manner which was his nature, utterly free from affectation or artificial effort.” After dinner he indulged with his friends and children in music, sacred and secular songs, German and Latin hymns. He loved poetry, music, painting, and all the fine arts. In this respect he was ahead of those puritanical Reformers who had no taste for the beautiful, and banished art from the church. He placed music next to theology. He valued it as a most effectual weapon against melancholy and the temptations of the Devil. “The heart,” he said, “is satisfied, refreshed, and strengthened by music.” He played the lute, sang melodiously, and composed tunes to his hymns, especially the immortal, “Ein feste Burg,” which gives classic expression to his heroic faith in God and the triumph of the gospel. He never lost his love for Virgil and Cicero, which he acquired as a student at Erfurt. He was fond of legends, fables, and proverbs. He would have delighted in the stories of old “Mother Goose,” and in Grimm’s “Hausmährchen.” He translated some of Aesop’s Fables, and wrote a preface to an edition which was published after his death.

He enjoyed the beauties of nature, loved trees and flowers, was fond of gardening, watched with wonder the household of the bees, listened with delight to the singing birds, renewed his youth with the return of spring, and adored everywhere the wisdom and goodness of nature’s God. Looking at a rose, he said, “Could a man make a single rose, we should give him an empire; but these beautiful gifts of God come freely to us, and we think nothing of them. We admire what is worthless, if it be only rare. The most precious of things is nothing if it be common.” “The smallest flowers show God’s wisdom and might. Painters cannot rival their color, nor perfumers their sweetness; green and yellow, crimson, blue, and purple, all growing out of the earth. And yet we trample on lilies as if we were so many cows.” He delighted in a refreshing rain. “God rains,” he said, “many hundred thousand guilders, wheat, rye, barley, oats, wine, cabbage, grass, milk.” Talking of children, he said, “They speak and act from the heart. They believe in God without disputing, and in another life beyond the present. They have small intellect, but they have faith, and are wiser than old fools like us. Abraham must have had a hard time when he was told to kill Isaac. No doubt he kept it from Sarah. If God had given me such an order, I should have disputed the point with Him. But God has given his only begotten Son unto death for us.”

He shared in the traditional superstitions of his age. He believed in witchcraft, and had many a personal encounter with the Devil in sleepless nights. He was reluctant to accept the new Copernican system of astronomy “because Joshua bade the sun stand still, not the earth.” He regarded the comets, which he calls “harlot stars,” as tokens of God’s wrath, or as works of the Devil. Melanchthon and Zwingli held similar opinions on these irregular visitors. It was an almost universal belief of mankind, till recent times, that comets, meteors, and eclipses were fire-balls of an angry God to scare and rouse a wicked world to repentance. On the other hand, he doubted the calculations of astrology. “I have no patience with such stuff,” he said to Melanchthon, who showed him the nativity of Cicero from the stars. “Esau and Jacob were born of the same father and mother, at the same time, and under the same planets, but their nature was wholly different. You would persuade me that astrology is a true science! I was a monk, and grieved my father; I caught the Pope by his hair, and he caught me by mine; I married a runaway nun, and begat children with her. Who saw that in the stars? Who foretold that? Astronomy is very good, astrology is humbug. The example of Esau and Jacob disproves it.”

Luther gave himself little concern about his household, and left it in the hands of his wife, who was prudent and economical. He calls himself a negligent, forgetful, and ignorant housekeeper, but gives great credit to his “Herr Kathie.” He was contented with little, and called economy the best capital. All the Reformers were poor, and singularly free from avarice; they moved in a lofty sphere, and despised the vanities of the world.

Luther’s income was very small, even for the standard of his times, and presents a striking contrast to the royal splendor and luxury of bishops and cardinals. His highest annual salary as professor was three hundred guilders; it was first a hundred guilders; on his marriage the Elector John doubled it; the Elector John Frederick added a hundred; a guilder being equal in value to about sixteen marks or shillings (four dollars) of the present day. He received no honorarium from the students, nor any salary as preacher in the town church; but regular payments in wood and grain, and occasional presents of a fine suit, a cask of wine, or venison, or a silver cup from the Elector, with his greetings. Admiring friends gave him rings, chains, and other valuables, which he estimated in 1542 at a thousand guilders. In his last years (from 1541) he, as well as Bugenhagen, Melanchthon, and Jonas, received an annual honorary pension of fifty guilders from the king of Denmark, who thereby wished to show his gratitude for the Lutheran Reformation, and had previously (1539) sent him a special present of a hundred guilders through Bugenhagen. From his father, who left twelve hundred and fifty guilders, he inherited two hundred and fifty guilders. The publishers offered him (as he reported in 1539) a yearly grant of four hundred guilders for the free use of his manuscripts, but he refused “to make money out of the gifts of God.” If he had been rewarded according to modern ideas, the royalty of his German Bible Version alone would have amounted to a handsome fortune before his death. He bought in 1540 from his brother-in-law a little farm, Zulsdorf, between Leipzig and Borna, for six hundred and ten guilders, as a home for his family. His wife cultivated a little garden with fruit-trees, even mulberry and fig trees, raised hops and brewed beer for domestic use, as was then the custom. She also had a small fish-pond. She enjoyed hard work. Luther assisted her in gardening and fishing. In 1541 he purchased a small house near the convent, for his wife. He willed all his property, which amounted to about nine thousand guilders, to his wife during her lifetime, wishing that “she should not receive from her children, but the children from her; that they must honor and obey her, as God has commanded.”

His widow survived him seven years, and suffered from poverty and affliction. The Elector, the Counts of Mansfeld, and the King of Denmark added small sums to her income; but the unfortunate issue of the Smalkaldian war (1547) disturbed her peace, and drove her from Wittenberg. She returned after the war. Melanchthon and Bugenhagen did for her what they could. When the pestilence broke out at Wittenberg in 1552, and the university was moved to Torgau, she followed with her children; but on the journey she was thrown from the wagon into a ditch, and contracted a cold which soon passed into consumption. She died Dec. 20, 1552, at Torgau; her last prayer was for her children and the Lutheran Church.

A few words about Luther’s personal appearance. In early life, as we have seen, he looked like an ascetic monk, pale, haggard, emaciated. But in latter years he grew stout and portly. The change is characteristic of his transition from legalistic gloom to evangelical cheerfulness. He was of middle stature, had a large head and broad chest, a bold and open face without any dissimulation lurking behind, prominent lips, short curly hair, and uncommonly brilliant and penetrating eyes. His enemies saw in them the fire of a demon. His countenance makes the impression of frankness, firmness, courage, and trust in God. He looks like a hero of faith, who, with the Bible in his hand, defies the world, the flesh, and the Devil. His feet are firmly planted on the ground, as if they could not be moved. “Here I stand, I cannot otherwise.” His voice was not strong, but clear and sonorous. He was neat in his dress, modest and dignified in his deportment. He exchanged the monastic gown in 1524 for a clerical robe, a gift of the Elector. He disliked the custom of the students to rise when he entered into the lecture-room. “I wish,” he said, “Philip would give up this old fashion. These marks of honor always compel me to offer a few more prayers to keep me humble; and if I dared, I would go away without reading my lecture.”

The same humility made him protest against the use of his name by his followers, who nevertheless persisted in it. “I pray you,” he said, “leave my name alone, and do not call yourselves Lutherans, but Christians. Who is Luther? My doctrine is not mine. I have not been crucified for any one. St. Paul would not that any one should call themselves of Paul, nor of Peter, but of Christ. How, then, does it befit me, a miserable bag of dust and ashes, to give my name to the children of Christ? Cease, my dear friends, to cling to those party names and distinctions, — away with them all! and let us call ourselves only Christians, after Him from whom our doctrine comes. It is quite proper, that the Papists should bear the name of their party; because they are not content with the name and doctrine of Jesus Christ, they will be Papists besides. Well, let them own the Pope, as he is their master. For me, I neither am, nor wish to be, the master of any one. I and mine will contend for the sole and whole doctrine of Christ, who is our sole master.”


79. Reflections on Clerical Family Life

The Reformers present to us the first noted examples of clerical family life in the Christian Church. This is a new and important chapter in the history of civilization.

They restored a natural right founded in the ordinance of God. The priests and high priests of the Jewish theocracy down to the father of John the Baptist, as well as the patriarchs, Moses, and some of the prophets, lived in wedlock. The prince of the apostles, whom Roman Catholics regard as the first pope, was a married man, and carried his wife with him on his missionary journeys. Paul claimed the same right as “other apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas,” though he renounced it for personal reasons. From the pastoral Epistles we may infer that marriage was the rule among the bishops and deacons of the apostolic age. It is therefore plainly a usurpation to deprive the ministers of the gospel of this right of nature and nature’s God.

But from the second century the opinion came to prevail, and still prevails in the papal communion, which is ruled by an unmarried priest, that marriage is inconsistent with the sacerdotal office, and should be forbidden after ordination. This view was based on the distinction between a lower and higher morality with corresponding merit and reward, the one for the laity or the common people; the other for priests and monks, who form a spiritual nobility. All the church fathers, Greek and Latin, even those who were themselves married (as Tertullian, Gregory of Nyssa, Synesius), are unanimous in praising celibacy above marriage; and the greatest of them are loudest in this praise, especially St. Jerome. And yet the mothers of Gregory Nazianzen, Chrysostom, and Augustin, are the brightest examples of Christian women in the ancient Church. Nonna, Anthusa, and Monica were more useful in giving birth to these luminaries of the Church than any nuns.

This ascetic feature marks a decided difference between the Fathers and the Reformers, as it does between the Catholic and Evangelical churches. Anglicanism, with all its respect for the Fathers, differs as widely from them in this respect as any other Protestant communion.

The Oriental churches, including that of Russia, stopped half way in this ascetic restriction of a divine right. They approve and even enjoin marriage upon the lower clergy (before ordination), but forbid it to bishops, and regard the directions of Paul, 1Ti_3:2, 1Ti_3:12 (compare 1Ti_5:9), as a concession to the weakness of the flesh, and as a prohibition of second marriage. The Latin Church, understanding the advice of Paul, 1Co_7:7, 1Co_7:32, 1Co_7:33, as, a counsel of perfection, “indicating a better way, imposed, as early as the fourth century, total abstinence from marriage upon all orders of the clergy, and brands the marriage of a priest as sinful concubinage. Pope Siricius, a.d. 385, issued the first prohibition of sacerdotal marriage. His successors followed, but it was not till Gregory VII. that the prohibition was rigidly enforced. It was done in the interest of hierarchical power, and at an enormous sacrifice of clerical purity. The Roman Catholic system makes marriage one of the seven sacraments; but by elevating celibacy above it, and by declaring it to be beneath the dignity of a priest of God, it degrades marriage as if it involved an element of impurity. According to the Gnostic and Manichaean theory, condemned by Paul as a doctrine of demons, 1Ti_4:1-3, marriage is a contact with sinful matter, and forbidden altogether.

In view of this state of public opinion and the long tradition of Latin Christendom, we need not wonder that the marriage of the Reformers created the greatest sensation, and gave rise to the slander that sensual passion was one of the strongest motives of their rebellion against popery. Erasmus struck the keynote to this perversion of history, although he knew well enough that Luther and Oecolampadius were Protestants several years before they thought of marrying. Clerical marriage was a result, not a cause, of the Reformation, as clerical celibacy was neither the first nor the chief objection to the papal system.

On a superficial view one might wish that the Reformers had remained true to their solemn promise, like the Jansenist bishops in the seventeenth century, and the clerical leaders of the Old Catholic secession in the nineteenth. But it was their mission to introduce by example as well as by precept, a new type of Christian morality, to restore and re-create clerical family life, and to secure the purity, peace, and happiness of innumerable homes.

Far be it from us to depreciate the value of voluntary celibacy which is inspired by the love of God. The mysterious word of our Lord, Mat_19:12, and the advice and example of Paul, 1Co_7:7, 1Co_7:40, forbid it. We cheerfully admire the self-denial and devotion of martyrs, priests, missionaries, monks, nuns, and sisters of charity, who sacrificed all for Christ and their fellow-men. Protestantism, too, has produced not a few noble men and women who, without vows and without seeking or claiming extra merit, renounced the right of marriage from the purest motives. But according to God’s ordinance dating from the state of innocency, and sanctioned by Christ at the wedding feast at Cana, marriage is the rule for all classes of men, ministers as well as laymen. For ministers are men, and do not cease to be men by becoming ministers.

The Reformation has changed the moral ideal, and elevated domestic and social life. The medieval ideal of piety is the flight from the evil world: the modern ideal is the transformation of the world. The model saint of the Roman Church is the monk separated from the enjoyments and duties of society, and anticipating the angelic life in heaven where men neither marry nor are given in marriage: the model saint of the Evangelical Church is the free Christian and useful citizen, who shows his piety in the performance of social and domestic duties, and aims at the sanctification of the ordinances of nature. The former tries to conquer the world by running away from its temptations — though after all he cannot escape the flesh, the world, and the Devil in his own heart: the latter tries to conquer the world by converting it. The one abstains from the wedding feast: the other attends it, and changes the water into wine. The one flees from woman as a tempter: the other takes her to his heart, and reflects in the marriage relation the holy union of Christ with his Church. The one aims to secure, chastity by abstinence: the other proves it within the family. The one renounces all earthly possessions: the other uses them for the good of his fellow-men. The one looks for happiness in heaven: the other is happy already on earth by making others happy. The daily duties and trials of domestic and social life are a better school of moral discipline than monkish celibacy and poverty. Female virtues and graces are necessary to supplement and round out the character of man. Exceptions there are, but they prove the rule.

It may be expected that in the fervor and hurry of the first attempts in the transition from slavery to freedom, some indiscretions were committed; but they are as nothing compared with the secret chronique scandaleuse of enforced celibacy. It was reserved for later times to cultivate a more refined style of family life; but the Reformers burst the chains of papal tyranny, and furnished the practical proof that it is possible to harmonize the highest and holiest calling with the duties of husband and father. Though falling short of modern Protestant ideas of the dignity and rights of woman, they made her the rightful companion of the Christian pastor; and among those companions may be found many of the purest, most refined, and most useful women on earth. The social standing of woman is a true test of Christian civilization.

Melanchthon was the first among the Reformers who entered the state of matrimony; but being a layman, he violated no priestly or monastic vow. He married, at the urgent request of his friends, Katharina Krapp, the daughter of the burgomaster of Wittenberg, in November, 1520, and lived with his plain, pious, faithful, and benevolent wife, till her death in 1557. He was seen at times rocking the cradle while reading a book.

Calvin was likewise free from the obligation of vows, but the severest and most abstemious among the Reformers. He married Idelette de Buren, the widow of an Anabaptist minister of Holland, whom he had converted to the Paedobaptist faith; he lived with her for nearly nine years, had three children who died in infancy, and remained a widower after her death. The only kind of female beauty which impressed him was, as he said, gentleness, purity, modesty, patience, and devotion to the wants of her husband; and these qualities he esteemed in his wife.

Zwingli unfortunately broke his vow at Einsiedeln, while still a priest, and in receipt of a pension from the Pope. He afterwards married a worthy patrician widow with three children, Anna Reinhard von Knonau, who bore him two sons and two daughters, and lived to lament his tragic death on the field of battle, finding, like him, her only comfort in the Lord Jesus and the word of God.

Ludwig Cellarius (Keller), Oecolampadius (the Reformer of Basel), Wolfgang Capito (the Reformer of Strassburg), and his more distinguished friend Martin Bucer (a widower who was always ready for union) were successively married to Wilibrandis Rosenblatt, the daughter of a Knight and colonel aid-de-camp of the Emperor Maximilian I. She accompanied Bucer to Cambridge in England, and after his death returned to Basel, the survivor of four husbands! She died Nov. 1, 1564. She must have had a remarkable attraction for Reformers. Oecolampadius thought her almost too young for his age of forty-five, but found her a “good Christian “and “free from youthful frivolity.” She bore him three children, — Eusebius, Alitheia, and Irene. It was on the occasion of his marriage that Erasmus wrote to a friend (March 21, 1528): “Oecolampadius has lately married. His bride is not a bad-looking girl” [she was a widow]. “I suppose he wants to mortify his flesh. Some speak of the Lutheran cause as a tragedy, but to me it appears rather as a comedy, for it always ends in a wedding.”

Archbishop Cranmer appears in an unfavorable light. His first wife, “Black Joan,” died in childbed before his ordination. Early in 1532, before he was raised to the primacy of Canterbury by Henry VIII. (August, 1532), he married a niece of the Lutheran preacher Osiander of Nürnberg, and concealed the fact, the disclosure of which would have prevented his elevation. The papal bulls of confirmation were dated February and March, 1533, and his consecration took place March 30, 1533. The next year he privately summoned his wife to England; but sent her away in 1539, when he found it necessary to execute the bloody articles of Henry VIII., which included the prohibition of clerical marriage. He lent a willing hand to the divorces and re-marriages of his royal master. And yet with all his weakness of character, and time-serving policy, Cranmer must have been an eminently devout man if he translated and reproduced (as he certainly edited) the Anglican liturgy, which has stood the test of many generations to this day.

John Knox, the Luther of Scotland, had the courage, as a widower of fifty-eight (March, 1563-64), to marry a Scotch lass of sixteen, Margaret Stuart, of royal name and blood, to the great indignation of Queen Mary, who “stormed wonderfully” at his audacity. The papists got up the story that he gained her affection by sorcery, and aimed to secure for his heirs, with the aid of the Devil, the throne of Scotland. His wife bore him three daughters, and two years after his death (1572) contracted a second marriage with Andrew Ker, a widower.

The most unfortunate matrimonial incident in the Reformation is the consent of Luther, Melanchthon, and Bucer to the disgraceful bigamy of Landgrave Philip of Hesse. It is a blot on their character, and admits of no justification. When the secret came out (1540), Melanchthon was so overwhelmed with the reproaches of conscience and a sense of shame that he fell dangerously ill at Weimar, till Luther, who was made of sterner stuff, and found comfort in his doctrine of justification by faith alone, prayed him out of the jaws of death.

In forming a just estimate of this subject, we must not only look backward to the long ages of clerical celibacy with all its dangers and evils, but also forward to the innumerable clerical homes which were made possible by the Reformation. They can bear the test of the closest examination.

Clerical celibacy and monastic vows deprived the church of the services of many men who might have become shining stars. On the other hand, it has been calculated by Justus Möser in 1750, that within two centuries after the Reformation from ten to fifteen millions of human beings in all lands owe their existence to the abolition of clerical celibacy. More important than this numerical increase is the fact that an unusual proportion of eminent scholars and useful men in church and state were descended from clerical families.

There is a poetic as well as religious charm in the home of a Protestant country pastor who moves among his flock as a father, friend, and comforter, and enforces his teaching of domestic virtues and affections by his example, speaking louder than words. The beauty of this relation has often been the theme of secular poets. Everybody knows Oliver Goldsmith’s “Vicar of Wakefield,” which describes with charming simplicity and harmless humor the trials and patience, the domestic, social, and professional virtues of a country pastor, and begins with the characteristic sentence: “I was ever of opinion, that the honest man who married, and brought up a large family, did more service than he who continued single, and only talked of population; from this motive I had scarcely taken orders a year, before I chose my wife, as she did her wedding-gown, not for a fine glossy face, but for such qualities as would wear well.” Herder read this English classic four times, and commended it to his bride as one of the best books in any language. Goethe, who himself tasted the charm of a pastoral home in the days of his purest and strongest love to Friederike of Sesenheim, praises the “Vicar of Wakefield,” as “one of the best novels, with the additional advantage of being thoroughly moral, yea in a genuine sense Christian,” and makes the general assertion: “A Protestant country pastor is perhaps the most beautiful topic for a modern idyl; he appears like Melchizedek, as priest and king in one person. He is usually associated by occupation and outward condition with the most innocent conceivable estate on earth, that of the farmer; he is father, master of his house, and thoroughly identified with his congregation. On this pure, beautiful earthly foundation, rests his higher vocation: to introduce men into life, to care for their spiritual education, to bless, to instruct, to strengthen, to comfort them in all the epochs of life, and, if the comfort for the present is not sufficient, to cheer them with the assured hope of a more happy future.” In his idyl “Hermann und Dorothea,” he introduces a clergyman as an ornament and benefactor of the community. It is to the credit of this greatest and most cultured of modern poets, that he, like Shakespeare and Schiller, never disparaged the clerical profession.

In his “Deserted Village,” Goldsmith gives another picture of the village preacher as

“A man who was to all the country dear,

And passing rich on forty pounds a year….

At church, with meek and unaffected grace,

His looks adorned the venerable place;

Truth from his lips prevailed with double sway,

And fools who came to scoff remained to pray.”

From a higher spiritual plane William Wordsworth, the brother of an Anglican clergyman and uncle of two bishops, describes the character of a Protestant pastor in his “Ecclesiastical Sonnets.”

“A genial hearth, a hospitable board,

And a refined rusticity, belong

To the neat mansion, where, his flock among,

The learned Pastor dwells, their watchful lord.

Though meek and patient as a sheathèd sword

Though pride’s least lurking thought appear a wrong

To human kind; though peace be on his tongue,

Gentleness in his heart — can earth afford

Such genuine state, pre-eminence so free,

As when, arrayed in Christ’s authority,

He from the pulpit lifts his awful hand;

Conjures, implores, and labors all he can

For re-subjecting to divine command

The stubborn spirit of rebellious man!”

A Romish priest or a Russian pope depends for his influence chiefly upon his official character, though he may be despised for his vices. A Protestant minister stands or falls with his personal merits; and the fact of his high and honorable position and influence in every Protestant country, as a Christian, a gentleman, a husband and father, is the best vindication of the wisdom of the Reformers in abolishing clerical celibacy.