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What Did Martin Luther Believe About Head Covering?

Head Covering: Church History Profiles

[Series introduction: This post is part of a series that will examine what certain leaders in church history believed about head covering. Their arguments, choice of language and conclusions should not be misconstrued as an endorsement from us. The purpose of this series is to faithfully show what they believe about covering rather than only selectively quoting the parts we agree with.]

Martin Luther (1483-1546) was a German theologian who was the catalyst behind the Protestant Reformation. He is author of many books, lectures, commentaries and hymns (including “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”). Luther also translated the Bible into German. Today there are more than 73 million Christians who identify with his theology, known as Lutherans.
Martin Luther

On January 15th 1525, Martin Luther preached a message on marriage. In his sermon he said this:

Women, be subject to your husbands as to the Lord, for the husband is the head of the wife” [Eph 5:22-23]. Again to the Colossians in the third chapter [3:18]. Because of this, the wife has not been created out of the head, so that she shall not rule over her husband, but be subject and obedient to him.

For that reason the wife wears a headdress, that is, the veil on her head, as St. Paul writes in 1. Corinthians in the second chapter, that she is not free but under obedience to her husband. 1) A sermon on marriage, 15 January 1525 WA XVII/I – Quoted from Susan C. Karant-Nunn & Merry E. Wiesner – Luther on Women: A Sourcebook (Cambridge University Press, 2003) page 95

Luther makes a direct connection between veiling and the creation order. He points out that woman was not created out of the man’s physical head, but from his side. Luther sees the place she was created from as important due to the symbolism. She wasn’t created from man’s head, as if she’s head over him, but rather she wears a headdress to show she’s under her husband and obeys him.

Commenting again on the need for wives to be veiled, Luther says:

Otherwise and aside from that, the wife should put on a veil, just as a pious wife is duty-bound to help bear her husband’s accident, illness, and misfortune on account of the evil flesh. 2) Weimar edition of Luther’s works – Table Talk 6 (No 6567 p67) – Quoted from Susan C. Karant-Nunn & Merry E. Wiesner – Luther on Women: A Sourcebook (Cambridge University Press, 2003) page 31

From that quotation we see that Luther did not see covering as optional. He said a wife should wear a veil in the same way that she is “duty-bound” to help her husband.

We also see that Luther was quite fond of head coverings (and apparently, fur). He said:

Fur and head coverings are women’s most attractive and honorable and most genuine and most necessary adornment… 3) WA TR IV, no 4090, page 129 – Quoted from Susan C. Karant-Nunn & Merry E. Wiesner – Luther on Women: A Sourcebook (Cambridge University Press, 2003) page 30

Switching away from the literary evidence, we can also confirm Martin Luther’s belief in head covering by examining ancient art.

At the National Museum in Copenhagen, Denmark there is a painting dating back to 1561 of Luther preaching. In this painting we see that not only are the women covered but the men remain bare-headed as well. So for Martin Luther’s church head covering was the standard practice.

Martin Luther Preaching Painting (1561)

(Click the image above to see it larger)

Paintings of his wife, Katharina Von Bora, also show her wearing a covering. This shows that not only was it the practice of those in his church, but it was practiced in his home as well.

Katharina Von Bora Head Covering

Summary of Martin Luther’s views:

Did he see the need for covering today?Yes
At what times does he believe women need to be covered?Unknown for sure, but paintings of his wife suggest he didn't see it as limited to church.
What did he see the covering as?A symbol relating to a wife's submission to her husband.

References

1.
 A sermon on marriage, 15 January 1525 WA XVII/I – Quoted from Susan C. Karant-Nunn & Merry E. Wiesner – Luther on Women: A Sourcebook (Cambridge University Press, 2003) page 95
2.
 Weimar edition of Luther’s works – Table Talk 6 (No 6567 p67) – Quoted from Susan C. Karant-Nunn & Merry E. Wiesner – Luther on Women: A Sourcebook (Cambridge University Press, 2003) page 31
3.
 WA TR IV, no 4090, page 129 – Quoted from Susan C. Karant-Nunn & Merry E. Wiesner – Luther on Women: A Sourcebook (Cambridge University Press, 2003) page 30

Jeremy Gardiner

Jeremy is the founder of the Head Covering Movement and the author of Head Covering: A Forgotten Christian Practice for Modern Times. He lives in Alberta, Canada with his wife and five children. In 2010, he founded (and continues to run) Gospel eBooks, a popular website that provides alerts for free and discounted Christian e-books. Jeremy also holds a Biblical studies degree from Moody Bible Institute.
Jeremy Gardiner

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