In the last post, we began a study of Luther’s private life and we considered his prayer life and his counseling methodology. In this post, we will focus on Luther’s family life and his educational methods.
Luther: A Family Man
Most Protestant pastors today are married men. This legacy is due to Luther’s personal example. During the Reformation, Luther called into question an age-old teaching of the Catholic church that priests should be celibate. Luther rejected the church’s interpretation of 1 Corinthians 7 by which she (i. e. the church) concluded that celibacy was a higher calling than marriage. The great reformer came to believe that celibacy was a special calling, and that God did not place this calling on all men — including priests.
Influenced by Luther’s teaching, many monks and nuns gave up their vows of celibacy and started getting married. However, some nuns from Luther’s neighboring village, who could not find eligible men, came to him for counsel. Luther took it upon himself to find suitable husbands for these nuns. He was able to find husbands for all
of them but one, Katherine Van Bora.
Some people suggested to Luther that he himself should get married to Katherine. Luther resisted such suggestions partly because of his “residual Catholic instincts” and partly because he expected to be martyred. Nevertheless, he later changed his mind and decided to marry Katherine. His reasons were: to leave behind an evangelical witness through his progeny and to break with the legalistic tradition of celibacy imposed by the catholic church.¹ On the eve of his marriage, Luther commented: “I hope all the angels will laugh and the devils weep.”
Luther loved his wife Katherine and set up an exemplary Christian home with her. Luther wrote of his wife: “I would not exchange Katie for France or for Venice, because God has given her to me.”² Luther and Katherine had six children through their marriage. Besides raising their own children, Luther and Katherine also adopted four more children of their relatives who had become orphaned due to a plague which struck Wittenberg at that time. Not only did children fill their homes, but also students. The Luthers housed several students in their home on various occasions. Luther would often lecture these students casually around his dinner table on various topics. The students relished these lectures and took voluminous notes on them. These notes were later compiled into a book titled Tabletalk.
Thus, Luther’s family life influenced his students and friends alike, and his home became a paradigm in the Protestant movement.
Luther: The Educator
Luther tirelessly worked towards educating the next generation in the Bible. The Refomer translated the Greek New Testament into German in the space of just three months in 1522. The translation of the Hebrew Bible followed twelve years later. The Luther Bible quickly became the treasured possession of nearly every German Protestant home and increased their Bible literacy immensely.
For Luther, however, translating the Bible was only the first step. Luther had a special concern for training children. To train them in sound theology, he produced a catechism. This catechism came to be known as the Shorter Catechism. Luther’s catechism covered basic topics like the Ten Commandments, the Apostle’s Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Baptism, Lord’s Supper, confession, morning and evening prayers, and even meal prayers. Below is a brief sample from his Catechism:
1. Thou shalt have no other gods. What does this mean?
Answer. We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.
2. Our Father who art in heaven. What does this mean?
Answer. God would thereby [with this little introduction] tenderly urge us to believe that He is our true Father, and that we are His true children, so that we may ask Him confidently with all assurance, as dear children ask their dear father.
Apart from the Shorter Catechism, Luther also produced a larger Catechism for training pastors. This catechism covered the same topics as the shorter catechism although in much greater detail.
The Protestant movement following Luther’s example excelled in producing catechisms. Individual Protestants and various Protestant bodies produced as many as 100 catechisms between 1517 and 1650. Today, however, the practice of catechizing has fallen on hard ground. Luther’s example calls us back to it.
This article and the previous have scratched the surface of Luther’s contributions to the Protestant church. His contributions in the areas of he areas of prayer, counseling, family, and education are nothing short of revolutionary. Sadly, however, Luther remains a very unknown figure among Indian Protestants today. Hopefully, these articles will change that trend and stimulate an interest among us to study the life of this great Reformer.
1 Roland Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (New York: Penguin,1995), 288.
2 Ibid., 288.