Did Martin Luther allow divorce?

This is an interesting fact. I’m interested in what source you used that documents Staupitz released Luther from his religious vows. Thanks, JS

I don’t know where Jon got his info, but please read

Luther believed Matthew’s exception clause “except for porneia” disolved a valid Sacrament.

The Catholic Church does NOT interpret Matthew’s exception clause this way.

Thanks for the link, but the information I’m interested in isn’t documented in the link. Normally, I’d spend the time searching it out myself, but I’m time-challenged today. I suspect that it is true, Staupitz did release Luther… That would make sense given the tense historical battle between Luther and Rome during that time period. I think Steido01 was the person who originally posted it, not Jon. Steido01 probably knows I’m not asking for this information so as to nitpick him. Rather, I think it’s a very interesting fact that I’d like to utilize if I had better documentation.

I am all in favor of proper documentation. :grinning:

It is! Good to see you around again, James.

I’m not certain whether Staupitz’s original written release of Luther still exists, or how much it would vary from what was spoken. It likely wasn’t so dramatic as the 2003 Joseph Fienes movie made it out to be. :smile: Nor am I sure on the primary source for knowledge of the release itself. Presumably, someone has a big pile of Luther’s correspondences with Staupitz somewhere. But we can be certain this happened, even if the release itself has been lost to history (not saying it has, mind you, only noting the meager limit of my knowledge). There is no question that Staupitz released Luther from his monastic vows. The release of Luther meant that no one was immediately responsible for him, which meant Leo X would have to wait before he could find his special guest for a bonfire. The move resulted in Staupitz being removed from his post and Luther being, effectively, homeless.

This has never, to my knowledge, ever been seriously questioned-- certainly not by any published writer or serious historian. Even poorly-researched or biased internet sources like New Advent acknowledge this (I have to laugh – it seems almost dismayed that Luther’s release from his vows meant he wasn’t killed at Augsburg).

Every good Luther biographer will document his relationship with Staupitz and, necessarily, the former’s release from the latter’s authority. Good ol’ Oberman has some real, solid quotes on the subject. He speaks about it on page 197 of Luther: Man between God and the Devil:


What about his wife? Did she break her vows and run away from a convent? The accusation was made above. How can her actions be defended?

Great thanks. I looked up Oberman’s footnote, and will check his source at some point. Thanks again for taking the time to provide me with this… I suspect it’s also in Brecht, I will check that as well. JS

1 Like

No, the poster accused Luther of “inducing” her to break her vows. Luther did no such thing. Katerina made her own choices, in everything from her husband to escaping the monastic life.

She was confined to a monastic life at age 5 or 6, and after years of indoctrination, took vows at age 15, as did all the other “unwanted” girls of her time. The only other option available to a woman of her time and place would’ve been marriage, which was impossible since she had no means of paying any dowry after her family abandoned her to the church. Point is, her vows were not made freely in the least. Age alone would throw into question whether proper ‘consent’ existed, and when the choice is essentially “take the vow or take the vow,” you take the vow. As soon as she saw a potential escape, she seized it.

1 Like

Thanks. And a vow under duress is not binding. Do you have documentation that this happened to her?

On the ‘Luther-Bashing’ thread I cited this thread as an example of Luther-Bashing. Prime example, where history is distorted for the sake of polemics. I am making myself very popular over there, I think. Not long for this forum…

Pick any biography. The only variances will be in exactly what age she was sent to the convent. Most settle around 5 or 6, some outliers say as young as 3.

Maybe they rejected making those oaths?

I dont think the Reformers practiced vows of celibacy.

Perhaps they have some ground in James?

But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath, but let your “Yes” mean “Yes” and your “No” mean “No,” that you may not incur condemnation.

Then again, “that is an epistle of straw”…

Luther was not completely against vows, but he did believe they were not eternally binding. The Lutheran criticism of monastic vows is contained in Article 27 of the Augsburg Confession:

18] First, concerning such as contract matrimony, they teach on our part that it is lawful for all men who are not fitted for single life to contract matrimony, because vows cannot annul the ordinance and commandment of God. 19] But the commandment of God is 1 Cor. 7:2: To avoid fornication, let every man have 20] his own wife. Nor is it the commandment only, but also the creation and ordinance of God, which forces those to marry who are not excepted by a singular work of God, according to the text Gen. 2:18: It is not good 21]that the man should be alone. Therefore they do not sin who obey this commandment and ordinance of God.

22] What objection can be raised to this? Let men extol the obligation of a vow as much as they list, yet shall they not bring to pass that the vow 23] annuls the commandment of God. The Canons teach that the right of the superior is excepted in every vow; [that vows are not binding against the decision of the Pope;] much less, therefore, are these vows of force which are against the commandments of God.

24] Now, if the obligation of vows could not be changed for any cause whatever, the Roman Pontiffs could never have given dispensation for it is not lawful for man to annul an obligation which is simply 25] divine. But the Roman Pontiffs have prudently judged that leniency is to be observed in this obligation, and therefore 26] we read that many times they have dispensed from vows. The case of the King of Aragon who was called back from the monastery is well known, and there are also examples in our own times. [Now, if dispensations have been granted for the sake of securing temporal interests, it is much more proper that they be granted on account of the distress of souls.]

Continued in next post

27] In the second place, why do our adversaries exaggerate the obligation or effect of a vow when, at the same time, they have not a word to say of the nature of the vow itself, that it ought to be in a thing possible, that it ought to be free, 28] and chosen spontaneously and deliberately? But it is not unknown to what extent perpetual chastity is in the power of man. 29] And how few are there who have taken the vow spontaneously and deliberately! Young maidens and men, before they are able to judge, are persuaded, and sometimes even compelled, to take the vow. Wherefore 30] it is not fair to insist so rigorously on the obligation, since it is granted by all that it is against the nature of a vow to take it without spontaneous and deliberate action.

31] Most canonical laws rescind vows made before the age of fifteen; for before that age there does not seem sufficient judgment in a person to decide concerning a perpetual life. 32] Another Canon, granting more to the weakness of man, adds a few years; for it forbids a vow to be made before the age of eighteen. 33] But which of these two Canons shall we follow? The most part have an excuse for leaving the monasteries, because most of them have taken the vows before they reached these ages.

34] Finally, even though the violation of a vow might be censured, yet it seems not forthwith to follow that the marriages of such persons must be dissolved. 35] For Augustine denies that they ought to be dissolved (XXVII. Quaest. I, Cap. Nuptiarum), and his authority is not lightly to be esteemed, although other men afterwards thought otherwise.

Here is something on Katerina von Bora

Intersting. Thanks Itwin. I know you were probiding a source regarding vows in general.

This section seems to support the indissolubility of Marriage, no?

Yes, in most cases. However, Lutherans would also say that there are limited grounds in which a marriage is dissolved. I provided explanation for what those grounds are according to Luther himself earlier in the thread.

Yes, thanks again.

I find this reasoning unconvincing.

Matthew’s “exception clause” did not state adultery was grounds for remarriage. Rather, that a union of flesh which was a case of “porneia” can be divorced (or a betrothal which was broken through “porneia” can be divorced).

Let me explain one reason why! Mark, in chapter 10, records the same encounter with the pharisees questioning Him if it is lawful for a man to divorce his wife. Mark gives NO exception to divorce! But evangelicals claim Jesus’s answer in fact affirms adultery and abandonment are grounds for dissolving marriage! Well why would Mark (and Luke and Paul) leave out this very significant Teaching, unless Matthew was referring to an unlawful sexual union which can be dissolved?

St Paul specifically addresses the Sacrament and its terms. He recognizes no grounds for a Christian marriage to be disolved. He specifically upholds (and from the Lord) that even if spouses should separate, only death can release them from the law of God.

This struck me as funny. Maybe the advent of modern women’s empowerment?

P.S. Im not criticizing their marriage. If they had a good, legitimate Christian marriage, which endured, then I respect it very much.

I understand this is the official Catholic line, but it’s a disputed point as to what specifically was meant by porneia since the word had a range of meaning. Obviously, Luther thought it meant adultery. Not sure if he ever addressed his reasons for interpreting porneia as adultery.

What’s interesting is that Luther seems to say that. He appears to spiritualize the penalty for adultery under the Law (death) and says that essentially a spouse who commits adultery is, for purposes of the marriage, dead (the judge, i.e. God, has passed the sentence but has not taken his life) and because of that the innocent party should be free to remarry after being granted an official divorce.

1 Like
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.