Martin Luther on Marriage as a School of Character

From this Gospel Coalition article.

Perhaps nowhere is the “school of character” more evident than in raising children. If you are a parent you know how stressful it can be and how trying to your own sanctification it can be to have a child who is relentless, disturbing the entire household with screams during the night. I know I do, and my wife more than I. Luther’s household was no exception. Bainton writes,

The rearing of children is a trial for both parents. To one of his youngsters Luther said, “Child, what have you done that I should love you so? You have disturbed the whole household with your bawling.” And when a baby cried for an hour and the parents were at the end of their resources, he remarked, “This is the sort of thing that has caused the Church fathers to vilify marriage. But God before the last day has brought back marriage and the magistracy to their proper esteem.” The mother of course has the brunt of it. But the father may have to hang out the diapers, to the neighbors’ amusement. “Let them laugh. God and the angels smile in heaven.”

Life was hard. Family life was hard. Marriage was hard. And yet, Martin and Katie loved each other tremendously. They viewed marriage as a school of character, whereby God uses the hardships of daily family life to sanctify us. Bainton puts the matter as well as anyone:

In this sense it displaces the monastery, which had been regarded by the Church as the training ground of virtue and the surest way to heaven. Luther in rejecting all earning of salvation did not exclude exercise in fortitude, patience, charity, and humility. Family life is exacting.

Despite the hardship of daily life, Martin loved Katie enormously. And he knew that marital love grows stronger over time. “The first love is drunken. When the intoxication wears off, then comes the real marriage love.” And again Luther wrote, “Union of the flesh does nothing. There must also be union of manners and mind.”

Martin’s love for Katie was evident especially when she was sick. He wrote, “Oh, Katie do not die and leave me.” Martin could not stand the thought of losing his “rib,” as he so often called Katie in joking.

But Martin and Katie loved their children as well, and they loved them more than life itself. Perhaps the most difficult trial Martin and Katie experienced was the death of their 14-year-old daughter, Magdalena. On her deathbed Martin prayed, “O God, O love her so, but thy will be done.” Bainton explains what happened when she died:

Luther reproached himself because God had blessed him as no bishop had been blessed in a thousand years, and yet he could not find it in his heart to give God thanks. Katie stood off, overcome by grief; and Luther held the child in his arms as she passed on. When she was laid away, he said, “Du liebes Lenchen, you will rise and shine like the stars and the sun. How strange it is to know that she is at peace and all is well, and yet to be so sorrowful!”

Peace and sorrow. May the marriage of Martin and Katie, as well as their love for their children, remind us today of Christ’s love for his church and the Father’s love for us as his redeemed children.


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