Luther: Sex, Marriage and Motherhood

Martin Luther, explains Lyndal Roper, summarised his view of sex, marriage and motherhood in a letter he wrote to three nuns in 1524, 'A women does not have complete mastery over herself. God created her body that she should be with a man and bear and raise children'.

The Lord God has wanted three things made right again before the Last Day: the ministry of the Word, government, and marriage.

When, in 1532, Luther meditated on the central goals of the reformation of the church which he had set in motion, he numbered the changes in the institution of marriage as amongst the most important. Protestant reformers devoted much of their energies to condemning what they considered immorality, to promoting the estate of marriage, and to restoring what they regarded as the 'right order' in marriage and the household. Their articulation of a morality of sexuality and marriage had profound implications for Protestants' understanding of what it is to be a man or a woman. By examining Lutheran views of illicit sex, marriage and the household, we can begin to unravel the connections between the Protestants' conceptions of masculinity and femininity on the one hand, and their advocacy of the proper order in marriage and household on the other.

For Luther, marriage was the institution established by God for the expression of human sexuality: no other form of sexual relation was permissible. As the Biblical phrase so often quoted by the reformers put it, adulterers and fornicators shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven. When Lutheran reformers began to put pressure on secular authorities to make society more godly, one of their first objects of attack was the public brothel, the most conspicuous example of society's toleration of what reformers regarded as the sin of fornication.

To read this article in full you need to be either a print + archive subscriber, or else have purchased access to the online archive.

If you are already a subscriber, please ensure you are logged in. 

Buy Subscription | Buy Online Access | Log In

If you are logged in and still cannot read the article, please email digital@historytoday.com.

Get Miscellanies, our free weekly long read, in your inbox every week
X