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The Reformer as Husband – Luther and his Wife (1529, 1534, and 1546)

Martin Luther married Katharina von Bora (1499-1552) in 1525, two years after she had given up her life as a professed Cistercian nun. He wrote letters to her when he traveled, which he did quite frequently. The three letters reproduced below are typical of his correspondence. Luther mixes reports of his activities and experiences with expressions of humor and affection, sending kisses to the two children and giving Katharina the humorous epithets “holy,” “professor,” “doctor,” and “preacher.” Luther wrote the first letter (October 4, 1529) from Marburg, in Hesse, where he and Ulrich Zwingli of Zurich debated, in the interest of Protestant unity, their differing interpretations of the doctrine of the Eucharist.

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1. Martin Luther to his Wife
[Marburg] October 4, 1529

To my kind, dear Master Katharina Luther, Doctor, Preacher in Wittenberg

Grace and peace in Christ, dear Master Käth! Know that our friendly colloquy in Marburg has ended, and we have agreed on nearly all points, except that our opponents vainly insist that only bread is present in the Lord’s Supper, though they acknowledge the spiritual presence of Christ therein. Today, the landgrave [Philip I of Hesse] is endeavoring [to determine] whether we could become united, or, if we remained divided, whether we could at least consider each other brethren and members of Christ. The landgrave is working very hard at this. But while we do not wish to be brethren and members, we do want peace and good will. I reckon that tomorrow, or the day after, we shall set out and journey to Your Gracious Lord in Schleit in Vogtland, whither His Electoral Grace has summoned us.

Tell Mr. Pommer that best arguments were those of [Ulrich] Zwingli, that corpus non potest esse sine loco, ergo Christi corpus non est in pane [the body cannot be without place, therefore the body of Christ is not in the bread], and those of [Johannes] Oecolampadius, that Sacramentum est signum corporis Christi [the sacrament is the sign of the body of Christ]. I reckon that God has blinded them so that they have nothing more to put forward. I still have much to do, and the messenger is in a hurry. Bid good night to all and pray for us! We are all still well and healthy and are living like princes. Kiss Lenchen and Hänschen for me! On the day of St. Francis, 1529.

Your willing servant
Martinus Luther

p.s. John Brenz, Andrew Osiander, Doctor Stephen of Augsburg have also come here.

People here are mad with fear of the [English] sweating plague. Yesterday about fifty people fell ill, one or two of whom have died.

Source of original German text: “Luther an seine Frau. [Marburg,] 4. Oktober 1529,” in D. Martin Luthers Werke. Weimarer Ausgabe (Sonderedition). Part 3: Briefwechsel. Vol. 5, pp. 153-54.

Translation: Thomas Dunlap

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