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Luther and Marriage


Outline of Lecture on

Luther and Marriage

Reformation conviction supported justification by faith, communion in both kinds, and clerical marriage.


The Protestant understanding of marriage contradicted late mediaeval estimations:

marriage is an unhappy estate

marriage is vitiated by the depravity of women.

Luther was the 16th┬ácentury’s chief critic of Aristotle concerning marriage

women are botched males

if copulation and conception were error-free, a male would result every time.(Aristotle regarded a woman as halfway between an animal and a man.)



L faulted the church having written nothing good about marriage (e.g., Jerome, Cyprian, Augustine, Gregory.)

A 1494 vernacular catechism maintained that laity “sin in the marital duty” (i.e., commit the 3rd┬ádeadly sin) by [1] unnatural positions for intercourse (any position that maximizes pleasure while

minimizing the likelihood of conception), contraception or masturbation,

[2] fantasizing about a non-spouse while performing with spouse,

[3] fantasizing about a non-spouse while not performing with spouse,

[4] withholding sex for no acceptable reason, thus precipitating one’s spouse to


[5] having sex during forbidden seasons (any season of Penance), menstruation, final

weeks of pregnancy, while one’s wife was lactating,

[6] by continuing to have sex with one’s spouse when (s)he was known to be


[7] having sex for sheer pleasure of it.


L transferred the mediaeval praise of monastic life to marriage. (Contrast Jerome’s scale [0-100]: 100 for virginity, 60 for widowhood, 30 for marriage.)


Modern feminists criticize the Reformers for regarding women chiefly in their roles as wife and mother. Feminists argue that women had far more autonomy in the cloister and the bordello. Still, the Reformers implicitly recognized women as persons in insisting that there was no self-respect for women in a bordello, and many women had been placed in cloisters against their will, and could there be easily bullied by superiors.


L encouraged families to removed daughters from convents and encouraged the publication of testimonies of escaped nuns.

L opposed the “dishonest” arrangements that the mediaeval church had encouraged:

e.g., secret marriages,

e.g., forbidding marriage for exaggerated rules of consanguinity and “spiritual affinity”

(between candidate for marriage and siblings of godparents)

e.g., forbidding marriage for defective eyesight or speech

e.g., forbidding marriage between Christian and non-Christian.

Note: marriage is a “creation mandate”, an order of

creation and a commandment of God. It is not a sacrament,

since (i) it doesn’t have dominical institution, (ii) a

means of grace shouldn’t be accessible to married people



L preferred that parental permission be secured, but didn’t require it.

L extolled marriage, and endlessly praised his wife, Katarina von Bora.

L broke new ground in “estate planning” by willing everything to his wife.

L insisted that physical attraction might initiate a relationship, but it would never bet he ground of it. The “cement” in marriage is the persistent willingness to make sacrifices.

“It’s when the spouse is sick that one learns the meaning of marriage.”


L permitted the re-marriage of divorced people, and permitted secret bigamy to divorce/re-marriage in cases involving impotence.


L opposed harsh penalties for adultery lest the estranged couple be driven further apart.


L loved his six children (Hans, Elizabeth, Magdalene, Marta, Paul, Margaretha), and was disconsolate at the deaths of Elizabeth (18 months) and Magdalene (13 years.)