Well, it was Easter morning, and you would’ve thought that the twelve nuns would be preparing for Easter services; instead, they were climbing into twelve fish barrels, trying to get smuggled out of their convent. So, this entire scheme was devised by a man named Martin Luther, the great German Protestant reformer.
He lived from 1483 to 1546, and he is one of the most prolific and influential men, outside of the Bible, in the history of the world. The story is that he was walking along, nearly struck by lightning, and he took it as a revelation from God that God was displeased with him. And so he then committed his life to going into ministry as a monk.
He took a vow of celibacy and poverty. He was a brilliant legal mind. And he drove himself almost mad studying the Bible over and over and over, looking at all of God’s commands and decrees, and realizing how woefully short he, in fact, fell. Now, this led to severe depression, him spending hours in the confessional with a priest, actually harming his own body, trying to pay penance and to pay God back to atone for his sin, by his own suffering.
And then Martin Luther had the most amazing moment. He was studying the Bible, and he went to places like Habakkuk, which is quoted in Romans and also in Galatians, where it says that the righteous shall live by faith. And it dawned on him—it’s like the Holy Spirit dropped on him, and he realized, “I’m not saved by my works and what I do. I’m saved by Jesus and faith in his works, his sinless life, his substitutionary death, his bodily resurrection.”
And that was, in some regards, the real beginning of what we now call the Protestant Reformation. And he took his convictions and nailed them to a door in a place called Wittenberg, and it was the 95 Theses, as they are called, and it was kind of like a bulletin board or a Facebook wall today. It’s where you would post something that you wanted others to discuss. And that led to this massive alteration in how Christians were viewing the salvation that God gives, and this is all in the context of a time in history with Johannes Gutenberg and the printing press, and Copernicus, and Galileo. It’s this season of massive, global change, and Martin Luther is on the forefront of that, spiritually.
And one of the things that he concludes is that marriage is a good thing, and children are a blessing. And in that time, the basic teaching of the Catholic church was primarily that the best life of all was the life of a monk or a nun, to be celibate, and to give oneself to poverty, and to live in simplicity, and that marriage and children, well, those were sort of base instincts and for those who couldn’t withhold their passions and were, to some degree, spiritually less mature. Maybe they needed to choose that course, but the holiest people of all would be chaste virgins for their lives, living in poverty, devoted only to God.
And Martin Luther decided that’s not true, and he started reading the Bible, and he decided, “I’m going to quit being a monk. I’m going to go enjoy my life.” And he wrote a little tract called On Monastic Vows, and in it he renounced his vows, and he encouraged other monks and nuns to renounce their vows, and for a priest to leave the priesthood, and for nuns to leave the convent.
Well, this tract found its way into one particular convent, where there were a dozen nuns, most of them young, and they got their hands on this little tract from Martin Luther, and they started reading, “It’s a good thing to get married. It’s a good thing to make babies.” And they decided, “It’s a good thing for us.” So, they wrote a letter to the great Martin Luther, basically asking, “Please break us out of the convent,” which was illegal.
And then Martin Luther devised this scheme where a man who was supposed to be delivering food into the nuns on Easter, brought with him twelve empty barrels and snuggled—and snuggled—wrong word. [Congregation laughing] This is not a Mormon story with polygamy. [Congregation laughing] He didn’t snuggle twelve women. He smuggled twelve women out of the convent. (Don’t worry, the Holy Spirit will show up eventually, and it’ll get better.) He smuggled twelve nuns out of the convent.
Now, many of them went back to their families. The other women were quickly, generally speaking, married off, with one exception. There was one woman that no one would marry. Her name was Katharina von Bora, and she, at one point, actually was engaged to a man that Martin Luther had connected her with, and he, at the last minute, backed out. The reasons we find, historically, are many. She was unattractive and unpleasant. Those would be the two primary reasons.
Martin Luther said she was stubborn, and she had pride. Let’s just say she was a colt that was hard to get a saddle on. That was Katharina von Bora. And so she was finally brash and bold enough that she actually approached the great Martin Luther, and she told him, “You know, my mom died when I was about six. I went into the convent when I was around nine or ten. I became a nun when I was sixteen. Now, as an adult woman, I have read your biblical teaching. I’ve renounced my life as a nun. I have fled from the convent, and you owe me a husband; and if you don’t find me a husband, since you’re single, you’re going to be my husband.” That’s pretty bold for a gal in any age, but especially, especially in that day.
Martin Luther said, quote, “Good Lord, they will never thrust a wife on me.” He did not want to marry. He was forty years old and a virgin—the original forty-year-old virgin, the great Martin Luther. No one would marry Katharina. And he was not attracted to her or interested in her, but on June 13, 1525, he basically asked her—I think, in part, so she would leave him alone, “Will you marry me?” She said yes. They were married that day, quick.
His friends wept bitterly. [Congregation laughing] Some of you go, “This is sounding very familiar.” When they came to the great Martin Luther and asked him, “Why did you marry her?” he said, quote, “To spite the devil,” which is the least romantic reason given in the history of the world, why one man would marry one woman. It’s theologically correct, but no woman wants to hear that.
And then she got pregnant, and this was quite a scandal, because there was a bit of an old wives’ tale and folklore in Germany that the Antichrist would come from union between a rebellious nun and a renegade monk. So she got pregnant, and everybody was thinking, “Here comes the bride of Chucky. This is going to be the end of the world.” She did give birth, and they ended up going on to have six children—three boys, three girls—and their thirteen-year-old daughter tragically died, and they write of this as a devastating season for them.
They were very socially awkward, because they’d not been around members of the opposite sex, since, well, for her, since she was a little girl. So, the stories are told that she would be sitting with him, as a married couple, and not have any idea how to talk to a man, so she would just throw stuff out like, “Who’s the King of Prussia?” Just trying—and he would be like, “What is this weird woman, addicted to Jeopardy, who I am married to?” She would just throw out these random statements. And they were very socially awkward.
And when she moved into their home, it was a complete bachelor pad. It was an old monastery, and guys were coming and going, and she’d have up to one hundred people over for dinner a night, because the Reformation was sort of exploding out of their home. And he was such a nasty guy. He really was a bachelor. He slept in straw, but hadn’t changed it for years. Yeah, nasty. And so she cleaned up his house, threw out a bunch of stuff—I’m assuming burned the rest—and she turned it into a lovely home, and then she planted a garden, because he had a horrible diet, destroyed his digestive tract. He had legendary flatulence. Actually, there are many stories in the Reformation just connected to that particular fact, that I would share with you, but we won’t. And she was a bit of a naturopath, so she started growing vegetables and helping him to heal physically.
And do you know what happened, over time? They really built an amazing friendship. And you don’t get this from reading the theology of Martin Luther. He’s usually just railing against the pope, which is fun, but— [Congregation laughing] But when you read their letters—and I think there’s a few dozen remaining letters that we have between them—the tone, over the years, gets really affectionate and sweet.
There are occasions, too, where she saved his life. She had a dream that he was going out to preach, and men were lying in wait to murder him, and so she told him, “Honey, I don’t think you should go,” and he didn’t go, because he trusted the Holy Spirit in his wife. And he got a letter, saying, “It’s a good thing you didn’t come. It was all true. You would’ve been killed.”
She became a great confidante and ally. As he’s writing letters, and books, and treatises, oftentimes, she was literally just sitting at his side as his friend. And so she’s included in some of his correspondences to others, you know, “Katharina’s here. She says hi.” They were friends. In the letters, he calls her “Lord Katie,” “dear rib,” “the empress,” “my true love,” “my sweetheart,” “gracious lady,” “wise woman,” “doctor,” “your grace,” “holy lady,” “dear wife,” and “a gift of God.” He’s got nicknames for her. I call Grace, “Beauty.” That’s what I’ve called her for years. He had a lot of nicknames for his lovely wife.
And what I love about her, as well, is she had a really strong sense of humor, irony, and sarcasm, which was necessary for a big personality like Martin Luther. So, once in a while, he would start to pick at her a little bit, and she would just look at him and say, “Obviously, you didn’t pray about that sermon you’re about to preach,” and she would really sort of hold her ground.
And there was one occasion, where he would get very melancholy, very depressed. He would go into serious bouts with depression, and she knew how to snap him out of it. One occasion, the story is told that he was away and returning home, and she dressed in all black like a mourning widow, and opened the door, and he was sort of shocked. And she was standing there, and he asked her, “Who died?” And she said, “Well, if the great Martin Luther is this depressed, I just assumed that God has died.” She had a flare for the dramatic and the comedic.
And what happened to Martin Luther is that what started out as, “We’re not really friends. We don’t really like each other. I’m not really interested in her, but I kind of need to marry her, because I did jailbreak her out of a convent,” turned out to be one of the most glorious marriages, outside of the Bible, in the history of the world. I would go so far as to say that their marriage is the most important marriage, the most influential marriage in the history of the world, outside of the Bible, because now the view of Christian maturity was a husband and wife loving one another, and they had a friendship in a day when marriage was primarily functional.
And as I’ve read and studied Martin Luther on this issue, and as Grace and I were working on this book together, she was reading the biographies of Katharina von Bora, and I was reading the biographies of Martin Luther, and we were studying together and sharing notes. But one of the things that we noticed is that through the course of their life together, his thinking about marriage and his teaching on marriage changed. It went from, “Well, it just exists to keep us from carnal passions and to give us legitimate offspring,” to it really being about friendship. And the laws were changed, and the view of marriage was changed, and life, as we know it, regarding a healthy biblical view of Christian marriage can, in large part, be attributed to the Luthers.
And here is a statement that he gives a little later in his life about his wife: “There is no more lovely, friendly, and charming relationship, communion, or company than a good marriage.” What he’s talking about is friendship. This sermon is titled, “Friend with Benefits.” Unlike the culture, we don’t have friends with benefits—one friend, married friend, with non-medical or dental benefits. That’s what we’re talking about.
Mark Driscoll, Real Marriage, Friend with Benefits
To listen to the message or read the entire transcript, click above link.