About the Guest
If you think Christians of yesteryear were bores when it came to romance, think again. We turn back the pages of history as Michael Haykin, professor of church history at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, talks about the romances and love letters of some of our most well-known theologians, including Martin Luther and John Calvin.
Dr. Michael Haykin talks about the romances and love letters of some of our most well-known theologians.
Bob: When you think of men who are history-making spiritual leaders, do you think of men who have great passion for their wives? Here is Professor Michael Haykin.
Michael: John Broadus, who was one of the founding four men of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, where I teach, and a name that is renowned in Southern Baptist circles. He is away—I think he is in Virginia—his wife is back in Kentucky. Once you get into the letter, you suddenly find that there has, obviously, been a quarrel between them before he left. He is, basically, asking for forgiveness.
It is not just, “Please forgive me.” It’s, “Please, please....” It goes on for a number of lines, where he is repeating the same thing: “I do love you. I dearly love you.” It shows you that, even in the best of marriages, there will be times of conflict and tension. The critical question is dealing with those things, biblically.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, February 14th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I am Bob Lepine. There is a lot we can learn from our spiritual forefathers about God, about theology, even about romance and marriage. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I just have the sense that what we are going to talk about today—if Hollywood was listening, there could be multiple movies made out of the stories our listeners are going to hear today. Don’t you think?
Dennis: Yes. And the thing that would be refreshing about it, Bob, is it would be about real love.
Bob: Yes. Hollywood loves love stories. They love romances and romantic comedies. We are going to hear some great stories of, as you said, the real item—the genuine article.
Dennis: Well, Bob, to your point, here is an excerpt of a love letter from Martin Luther to his wife Katie. It was written January 25, 1546. Now, that is an enduring love letter—you know what I mean? It begins, “Martin Luther to my kind and dear Katie Luther, a brewer, and a judge at the pig market at Wittenberg.” Now, isn’t that romantic? [Laughter]
Bob: That just kind of causes the little cockles of your heart to swell; doesn’t it?
Dennis: A brewer and a judge at the pig market at Wittenberg?
Bob: I think we need some help on this particular letter.
Dennis: I think we need a historian to help us find our way out of this. Dr. Michael Haykin joins us on FamilyLife Today. He is a professor of history—so he can help us out. Welcome, Michael.
Michael: Good to be here.
Dennis: Michael is a Canadian and journeys down to Southern Seminary, every week, to teach at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a professor of church history and biblical spirituality. He and his wife Allison, along with their two children, live just about 40 miles north of Niagara Falls. How often do you get down there? Tell the truth.
Michael: To Niagara Falls?
Michael: Probably about once a year, if that.
Bob: When you have visitors come in, they want to go see it?
Michael: Yes. Yes. The falls themselves are beautiful, but the city is really scudzy. It has got a big casino that has moved in there.
Dennis: Wait a second! This is a time of romance. We are talking about Niagara Falls, which is a glorious place—a romantic place—for us, Americans.
Michael: Yes. It may have been in the past.
Bob: But, not anymore?
Michael: Not anymore.
Dennis: Well, you have written a book called The Christian Lover. Being an historian of Church history, take us back and tell us why you decided to take a look at some of the great leaders of the past and their love letters to their spouses.
Bob: Hold on. Before you tell us that, tell us what a judge at the pig market and a brewer—explain that for us before we get too far away from that.
Michael: Well, the judge at the pig market was that she had actually inherited a pig farm. So, she was kind of ruling over this pig farm. That is the ruling context.
Dennis: Katie Luther took care of pigs?
Dennis: Was that her vocation?
Michael: No. No. I mean, her vocation would be, kind of, Luther’s wife and working in the home and so on; but she had inherited this pig market, which would have provided a context for food, and meat, and employment, and—
Bob: And the brewer? Did she brew his beer?
Michael: I gather that the pig market, being a farm context, would also be involved in some brewing.
Bob: There you go!
Dennis: Okay. Why the book?
Michael: I think the book comes out of a number of contexts. Some of it extends out of my role as teaching. One of the things that I started to realize, over the past 25 years of being in seminary, is that when we teach through Church history, we hit the big names. We hit the big theological issues, but certain things never come up. They are never dealt with. I was never taught anything about Christian marriage in the history of the Church.
As I began to reflect on that area, especially in the last, probably, 25 years, we’ve seen the implications, on a massive social level, of the social experiment that has been going on, in our culture, since the ‘60s. I think it is absolutely vital for those who are training for ministry to have some idea of what Christian marriage has historically looked like.
The other area, too, is that, in the past, probably 10 years, it has been upsetting to me that a number of the men that I have trained—their marriages have collapsed. These are students who have gone into ministry. I could name five to seven men, right off the bat, who I thought had great potential—good, good men—and their marriages are nowhere, today. They are, nowhere, ministering today because of the failure of their marriages.
Bob: The ministry is a stressful kind of endeavor—an occupation—a calling. It does put a strain on the marriage relationship. That is not only true in our day, but that has been true throughout the history of the Church. I hadn’t really stopped to think about it—but prior to the Reformation, there weren’t any married pastors in the Church; were there?
Michael: Well, you have to go back to the very early Church, roughly from 400 through to the 1500s. Technically, celibacy is the rule. It is not until the 1100s that it is required that a parish minister be celibate, but it is certainly frowned upon. If your parish priest—say in the 500s, 600s—was a married man, he was basically living a substandard Christian life because it was understood that celibacy was the context in which Christian discipleship—sanctification was to take place.
Bob: And the thought was that this man was not giving his full devotion to the ministry—if he has got a wife and if he has got children—but at the same time, parishioners did not have any kind of a model, other than to look at one another, to see what should a godly marriage look like. To that extent, that was absent from their screen—in terms of how they are to live out their own Christian marriages.
Michael: Yes. That is correct.
Dennis: So, there was nothing coming, by way of example. I mean, if they weren’t married, they weren’t preaching the Scriptures, coming out of what they were experiencing, at home, with their spouse. So, as the Reformation came, and as Martin Luther gave leadership to birthing this spiritual movement, you are saying the roots really do sink back in to marriage and family.
Michael: Yes; very much so. I think there is a rediscovery of the Christian marriage. It is the Reformers—but especially, the Puritans, after them—who create, for us, what we call the Christian home today.
Bob: Was there tension for Luther? He had gone to a monastery in his early years—right? —training for the priesthood—when he came to a fresh understanding of the Gospel, reading through the book of Romans; wasn’t it?
Bob: When he began to push away from the trappings of Rome, was this issue of marriage, for him, something that was hard for him to embrace?
Michael: There is no evidence that I have seen that it was something that he wrestled with. By the time you move into the 1520s, he is starting to reconsider a variety of things, in terms of tradition that he has been taught. Marriage would certainly have been one of these issues. There is no indication—that prior to the arrival of Katie on the scene—that he was actually thinking about marriage.
The story of her coming into his life is an interesting one. She was a nun in a nearby nunnery, not far from Wittenberg, and had come to reformed thinking because they had read some writings of Luther. She arranged to be smuggled out of the nunnery with 11 other nuns in pickle barrels. Whoever delivered pickles to the nunnery—and obviously, if they’ve got 12 pickle barrels, they must be eating a lot of pickles! The empty barrels were being taken back to wherever they made the pickles. She got smuggled out and deposited on Luther’s doorstep, with the other nuns. He then proceeded to marry them off—no indication that he had any idea of marrying one of them.
He had two marriages set up for her. Both of them fell through because she had her eyes on Martin. So, it was that he ended up in 1526 marrying Katie. When he did so, he realized that he did so in violation of the vow he had made of celibacy. But, what he did do was rethink, “Was that a valid vow that I could make before God—that as a minister of the Word of God, I would commit to a celibate lifestyle?” He realized, “The Scriptures do not bind my conscience in that direction. Therefore, the vow itself is not valid; and I can marry.”
Dennis: So, you are saying that he could break his word with God?
Michael: Yes. In the sense that this was not a vow that was a legitimate vow of Scripture, in his mind.
Dennis: How about that?
Bob: So, he winds up marrying the woman who becomes the judge at the pig market and the brewer. Their relationship, like many of his relationships, was a fiery, feisty love relationship; wasn’t it?
Michael: Yes it is. The two letters I have included in the book are an element of that feistiness. One of them is she has been worrying, over duly about his health, etcetera. He basically writes back to kind of warn her, “Stop praying for me in this regard because I am fine, and etcetera.”
Dennis: Yes. Let me read what you captured here. He refers to her—he says, “Martin Luther to the Holy Lady, full of worries.” Was he kind of tongue-in-cheek, at that point?
Michael: Oh yes. He is critiquing her for worrying about his situation. He is quite certain God’s looking after him.
Dennis: He kind of goes on—through the letter—near the end, he says, “Pray and let God worry. You have certainly not been commanded to worry about me or yourself. ‘Cast your burden on the Lord, and He will sustain you,’ as is written in Psalm 55, verse 22, and many more passages.” Then, he signs it, “Your Holiness’s willing servant.” Now, what is behind that statement?
Michael: “Your Holiness’s willing servant?”
Michael: Well, I think that’s probably—if you wanted to track it back, biblically, you’d be going back to a passage, like Ephesians 5, where you are to “submit to one another”. Before Paul talks about the relationships between husbands and wives, in the context of marriage, there is, nonetheless, as fellow believers, a mutual submission that is going on here.
Dennis: And he was to present her blameless and spotless. Would that not also be reflected in here?
Michael: Yes; very much so.
Bob: So, were he and Katie together, throughout his ministry?
Michael: Yes, once they were married in 1526, until his death, 20 years later. There would be preaching trips he would take and these are written on preaching trips.
Bob: So, when you think of the great marriages of the Reformation, would you put the Luthers at the top of the list?
Michael: Yes. There is no doubt about it. Their marriage becomes known throughout Europe—first, because of the prominent role Luther played in the beginning of the Reformation—and then, he gets married; and he marries a nun—but also, through the book, Table Talk.
The students would come at Wittenberg. They would sit down and take down everything Luther said. So, for instance, the off comment—one time, he says, talking about personal cleanliness—he says, “Before I married Katie, I used to have a bath once a year; but after I married Katie, Katie would not have it so.” [Laughter] So, I mean, that sort of thing gets published—it becomes a very widely-publicized marriage.
Bob: What about Calvin’s marriage?
Michael: Calvin’s marriage is in some respects very, very different. It is different because we just don’t know about a lot about the inner workings. Calvin is a very different figure from Luther. Luther is a man who wears his heart on his sleeve. Calvin is very reticent for things that are going to be read in the public to detail his inner feelings. Thus, we don’t know a lot about what went on in their marriage.
Dennis: So, what you are saying there is—perhaps, John Calvin might have been more like a CPA—more of a process-oriented person, who is weighing the facts—being very careful about what he puts out there. Is that what you are saying?
Michael: Oh, yes. You see it in Calvin’s preaching. Calvin, as a preacher, rarely refers to himself—rarely. Luther, as a preacher, is always talking about how God saved him from the papacy. It is a very different type of character.
Bob: We do see insight into Calvin’s love for his wife upon her death; don’t we?
Michael: We do. Yes, we do. There are two letters—both written to very close friends—one to Pierre Viret, who is a co-laborer, there at Geneva, and eventually went on to be involved in other churches in the francophone world—and one to Guilhem Farel.
Dennis: I want you to read some of this letter to our listeners because it really is a sweet story of love. I think many times, Bob, we take a step back from Church history and think of these fiery reformers and all the good they did; but we don’t think about their humanity—that they had to carve out a place, in their own home, to learn how to love, and live, and forgive, and care for one another. You really hear some of these words in John Calvin’s statement of love to his wife, after she had died.
Michael: Yes. This is Calvin writing to Pierre Viret on April the 7th, 1549:
Although the death of my wife has been exceedingly painful to me, yet, I subdue my grief as well as I can. But you know well enough how tender, or rather, how soft my mind is. Had not a powerful self-control therefore been vouchsafed to me I could not have born up so long. And truly, mine is no common source of grief.
I have been bereaved of the best companion of my life, of one, who had it been so ordered, would not only have been the willing sharer of my indigence, but even of my death. During her life, she was the faithful helper of my ministry. From her, I never experienced the slightest hindrance. She was never troublesome to me throughout the entire course of her illness. She was more anxious about her children than about herself.
As I feared, these private cares might annoy her to no purpose. I took occasion, on the third day before her death, to mention that I would not fail in discharging my duty to our children. Taking up the matter immediately, she said, “I have already committed them to God.” When I said that was not to prevent me from caring for them, she replied, “I know you will not neglect what you know has been committed to God.”
What you see in that—is there is a window there—there is a window into a complete rediscovery of marriage. The Middle Ages—roughly, that 1,000 years—had failed to understand that the heart of marriage is companionship.
Augustine, for example, back in the 4th century, commenting on Genesis 2, talks about how marriage has been as a model of the relationship of Christ to His Church. It is given to prevent immorality. It is given for the purpose of procreation, but he says nothing about companionship. And he says, in fact, at one point, that if Eve couldn’t have born Adam children, she would have been no use to him—which is an amazing statement—but in the development of thinking about marriage, in the Middle Ages, that whole area of companionship is completely lost.
Bob: I think you make a very interesting point, here—and one that I don’t know that I have ever stopped to consider. In the 1500s, and with the onset of the Reformation, we had the work ethic. The protestant work ethic is often referred to as coming from that period. Work, outside of the Church, gained nobility that it had not had before. It sounds like what you are saying is—in that same period—marriage gained nobility that had been lacking from the Church’s understanding. All of a sudden, the relationship between a husband and wife was put in its biblical place.
Michael: Yes; very much so. In the Middle Ages, the context for romantic love is never marriage. If you look at the love ballads—the poetry of the high Middle Ages—it is these illicit affairs where men have affairs with women who can’t requite the love because they are already married.
Dennis: So, the romance wasn’t centered back at home.
Michael: No. It is adultery. A lot of the secular love poetry of the Medieval Period is adulterous in context because you basically have a standard in which the place of discipleship is in a celibate context. You don’t have any of the parish priests who are—technically, they are all celibate—they can’t reflect this. So, where are you going to find this? So, it is found outside of the bonds of marriage. Marriage was seen as primarily a place to procreate children and illustrates the union of Christ and His Church. It was not a loving companionship, which is demonstrated by physical intimacy.
Dennis: You know, it is interesting you say that because Barbara and I recently, in our own marriage, have kind of taken a step back. We have been married, now for 37 years [as of three years ago]. We just evaluated what we have been through over the past few years. We decided, “We need to have some fun—just some pure, laugh-all-the-time type of fun.
We are on a mission right now. Over the next 6 to 12 months, we are going to find ways we can have fun. I think what we are actually yearning for is some of what you are talking about here—the companionship that is not about problem solving, it is not about duty—it is really a matter of sharing life with someone you really do enjoy.
Bob: Yes, we talk, at our Weekend to Remember ® marriage getaways, about God’s purposes for marriage. We talk about one purpose being to mirror His image—to reflect God’s glory. Another purpose is to multiply a godly legacy. Those purposes have been affirmed, by the Church, as being what the Bible teaches, for thousands of years. But we also talk about the aspect of mutually-completing one another—this companionship that God has designed marriage to be all about: “It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” I think couples, when they come to a Weekend to Remember, get a fresh sense of what it is the Bible teaches—the nobility that the Bible gives to the marriage relationship.
One of the reasons I’m thinking about the Weekend to Remember is because, last weekend, you spoke at a Weekend to Remember,at the Gaylord National, in the Washington, DC, area.
Dennis: And you are going to be at one in—
Bob: Hershey, Pennsylvania.
Dennis: Chocolates, valentines, and a Weekend to Remember.
Bob: The nation’s capital or the chocolate capital? I said, “I am going for the chocolate capital!” [Laughter] We still have some seats available in the ballroom for the Hershey conference, this weekend, if anybody would like to join us. But throughout this spring, there are going to be Weekend to Remember getaways happening in cities, all across the country. We’d love to have you join us at a Weekend to Remember. You can find out more on our website, FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY.
Dennis: Bob, one thing I wanted to say here, about companionship—we don’t think we need to be trained—but I think, biblically, that is what the Scriptures are trying to do. They are trying to teach us how to deny ourselves, which doesn’t come easy. If you are going to have true companionship, I believe at its core, it must be made up of self-denial, where you find out, “What would you think is really fun, Sweetheart?” I asked Barbara that. I said, “What would you think would be the ideal day for you or something really fun to go do?” Do you know what she said? “Work all Saturday, in the yard.”
Dennis: Now, let me ask you, is that anywhere in my top ten of what I would think would be fun and would be filled with companionship on a Saturday? Well, it didn’t used to be. But I have learned, because of my desire to love my wife, to lay aside my agenda of what I would like to go do and participate around the matters that she would like to do. I didn’t spend all day; but I got a half-day in! We had some good time together.
I think the question for our listeners is: “What would communicate companionship to you and your spouse? What are some practical ways you can make good on that, in terms of building that into your marriage?”
Bob: Yes. Coming out for the Weekend to Remember this weekend is just one of those options. It might be that listeners will want to get a copy of Dr Haykin's book. We have it in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. It is called, The Christian Lover: The Sweetness of Love and Marriage in the Letters of Believers. You can get more information about the book on our website, FamilyLifeToday.com.
Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com, and you will find information about Dr. Michael Haykin’s book; or call us at 1-800-FL-TODAY—1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and, then, the word, “TODAY”. Get in touch with us, and we will let you know how you can get a copy of Dr. Haykin’s book sent out to you. If you are interested in coming to the Weekend to Remember this weekend, or any of our future Weekend to Remember conferences, call us and we will answer any questions you have and get you registered, over the phone. Or go online at FamilyLifeToday.com.
At a recent Weekend to Remember, I had the opportunity to spend some time talking about marital intimacy—one of the subjects that we cover at the Weekend to Remember. We spend time at the Weekend to Remember talking about what the Bible has to say about the physical relationship between a husband and a wife. I presented that message, not long ago. We are making the CD audio of that message available, this week, for those of you who are able to help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount.
We are listener-supported. Your support is what makes this program possible in this community and in cities, all around the country. So if you’re able to help with a donation today, just go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the button that says, “I CARE”. Make an online donation, and mention that you’d like the CD of my message. Or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Make a donation, over the phone. Again, ask for the CD on marital intimacy. We are happy to send it out to you; and again, we appreciate you joining with us. It’s nice to have you as a partner in the ministry of FamilyLife Today.
And we hope you can be back with us again tomorrow. We’re going to ask Dr. Michael Haykin to tell us what kind of pastoral counsel a Puritan preacher might have given somebody in his congregation about marital romance and intimacy, back, hundreds of years ago. Dr. Haykin believes the Puritans get a bad rap on this subject. We’ll talk more about that tomorrow. Hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I am Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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