When Martin Luther (the 42-year-old former monk) married Katharina von Bora (the 26-year-old former nun), perhaps it was appropriate that they moved into the dilapidated Black Cloister, which had once housed forty monks, including Luther—who had lived there for fourteen years.
On the night of the Luther’s public wedding ceremony and celebration, Andreas Karlstadt—a frequent adversary of Luther’s—showed up at their door. He had fled the Peasants’ War and was seeking shelter. Martin invited him to hide at the Black Cloister—and Karlstadt stayed for eight more weeks!
The house was filled with the sound of children. The Luthers had six children in their first nine years of marriage—three sons, and three three daughters (one of whom died at a few months of age, another at the age of 13). And then a few years into their marriage, the Luthers took into their home the six children of Luther’s sister. They also raised Katherine’s nephew. Martin often told them stories, taught them songs and games, played melodies on his lute, and instructed them in the faith.
University students often ate and boarded there, and Luther’s letters make reference to a steady stream of guests either coming or going.
There was a waiting list for those who wanted to room and board with the Luthers—no doubt because of the stimulating theological education and conversation, but also because for many years the Luther didn’t charge anyone for room and board.
As Martin lectured and wrote and debated and preached and traveled, Katie drove the wagon, took care of the field, bought cattle and put them out to pasture, brewed beer, prepared food for the graduation banquets, rented horses, sold linen, served as Martin’s publishing agent, and often nursed him back to health during his frequent illnesses.
Luther was very generous to the poor, and refused to charge for lecturing or to accept honoraria for his writing. The dynamic soon proved unsustainable, and the Luthers struggled with debt. But God always provided. Luther once wrote:
God put fingers on our hand for the money to slide through them so He can give us more. Whatever a person gives away, God will reimburse.
Another time Luther said:
Riches are among the most trivial things on earth and the smallest gift God gives to a person.
Luther compared their poverty to the riches he had found in marriage:
My Katie is in all things so obliging and pleasing to me that I would not exchange my poverty for the riches of Croesus [sixth century B.C. king famed for his riches].
Once, when Luther thought he was dying, he wrote:
My dear son and my dear Kate. I have nothing [in worldly goods] to bequest to you, but I have a rich God. Him I leave to you. He will nourish you well.
This word proved prophetic. Luther died in 1546 at the age of 62. Katie would live seven more difficult years without many earthly goods, dying in 1552 at the age of 53. But among her final recorded words was that the desire of her heart was to “cling to Christ like a burr to a dress.”
Prosperity and money are not inherently bad, but they must be informed by the gospel. The Luthers could have made different choices, but at the end of their day, their lives are a testimony to the vision Martin so eloquently wrote about:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.