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§ 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.582582    From his little farm. Lady of the Pigmarket,583583    Saumärkterin. They lived near 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."584584    Feb. 7, 1546, In De Wette, V. 787.

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.585585    Nobbe, Stammbaum der Familie des Dr. M. Luther, Grimma, 1846. 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."586586    The Nativity hymn,—
   "Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her ,"

   was written for his children in 1535. He abridged it in 1543:—

   "Vom Himmel kam der Engel Schaar ."


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 1530.587587    De Wette, IV. 41 sq. Comp. Luther’s Brief an sein Söhnlein Hänsigen. With woodcuts and original drawings by Ludwig Richter, Leipz. 1883. Fronde calls it "the prettiest letter ever addressed by a father to a child."Luther, p. 53.


"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 Lippus588588    Philip, son of Melanchthon. and Jost589589    Jodocus, son of Jonas. 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,590590    Great-aunt, Magdalen. 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.591591    Erl. ed., vol. LXV. 237, in Latin and German. Lena died Sept. 20, 1542. See her picture by Cranach in Köstlin’s small biography, p. 545. "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,"592592    "Wer nicht liebt Weib, Wein und Gesang,
   Der bleibt ein Narr sein Leben lang."
-


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 mediaeval saying.593593    The lines appeared first in the present form in the Wandsbecker Bote for 1775, No. 75, p. 300, and then in 1777 in the Musenalmanach of J. H. Voss (the poet, and translator of Homer), who was supposed to be the author, and to have foisted them upon Luther. Herder gave them a place among his Volkslieder, 1778, I. 12. Seidemann, in Schnorr’s "Archiv," vol. VIII. (1879), p. 440, has shown that the sentiment is substantially pre-Lutheran, and quotes from Luther’s Table Talk, Ser. IV., a sentence somewhat analogous, but involving a reproach to the Germans for drunkenness: "Wie wollt ihr jetzt anders einen Deutschen vorthun denn Ebrietate, praesertim talem qui non diligit Musicamet Mulieres?" See Köstlin, II. 678 sq. Another similar sentence has since been found by L. Schulze in the "Reformatorium viae clericorum " of 1494: "Absque Venere et mero rite laetabitur nemo." He used beer594594    He liked the beer of Eimbeck and Naumburg. In one of his last letters (Feb. 7. 1546) to his wife from Eisleben, where he was treated like a prince by the counts of Mansfeld, he gives her this piece of information: "We live here very well, and the town-council gives me for each meal half a pint of ’Rheinfall’ (Rhine wine), which is very good. Sometimes I drink it with my friends. The wine of the country here is also good, and Naumburger beer is very good, though I fancy its pitch fills my chest with phlegm. The Devil has spoilt all the beer in the world with pitch, and the wine with brimstone. But here the wine is pure, such as the country gives." De Wette, V. 788. 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.595595    He preached some strong sermons against intemperance, and commends the Italians and Turks for sobriety. See Colloquia, ed. Bindseil, I. 195 sqq. 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 John 3: ’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.596596    He wrote to Justice Menius, Aug. 24, 1535 (De Wette, IV. 624), that he was often deceived, "per fictas Nonnas et generosas meretrices." 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.597597    See St. Louis ed. of Walch, vol. XXII., much improved by Hoppe, 1887. 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."598598    Köstlin, small biography, N. Y. ed. p. 554, Ger. ed. p. 592. But In his large work, vol. II. 519, he makes this just qualification: "Derbe, plumpe, unserm Ohre anstössige Worte kommen in Luther’s Reden wie in seinen Schriften, ja einigemale sogar in seinen Predigten vor. Seine Art war in der That keine feine; sie steht aber auch so noch bedeutend über dem Ton, der damals durchschnittlich in weltlichen und geistlichen Kreisen, bei Bürgern, hohen Herren und Kirchenfürsten herrschte, und jene ungünstigen Eindrücke müssen der edeln Kraft, dem Salz und Mark gegenüber, die seine Gespräche und Schriften durchdringen, auch für uns weit zurücktreten." 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 Esop’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 all 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.599599    See above, p. 334 sq. 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.600600    See a curious tract of Andrew D. White, A History of the Doctrine of Comets, in the "Papers of the American Historical Association," N. Y., 1887, vol. II. 16. 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.601601    On Luther’s Vermögensumstände, see Seidemann, Luther’s Grundbesitz, 1860. Köstlin, II. 498 sqq., and his references, p. 678. 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.602602    See the description of Mosellanus, p. 180, and Cranach’s engraving from the year 1520, in Köstlin, p. 120 (Scribner’s ed.). 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."



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