If you love Martin Luther, you will want to read Michelle DeRusha’s new book, Katharina & Martin Luther. A story of “the radical marriage of a runaway nun and a renegade monk.”
(I have to share this. My dad had a 1715 Martin Luther Bible (German) and I now have it. It’s falling apart. I had the page framed for us that contains John 3:16 with part of the cover and I had the page framed that contains my mother’s two favorite verses (Phil. 4: 13 and 19) for her. I have hers now. Two prized possessions.)
This is the story of two remarkable people. And five centuries later, we’re still talking about them.
Most of us know some facts about Martin Luther, the German monk who questioned Catholic dogma and brought about the Protestant Reformation. Luther’s teachings on salvation as grace alone and his writings against monasticism spread and brought about the closing of convents and monasteries in Germany.
However, we don’t usually know too much about his other half. Katharina.
Katharina had three brothers and possibly a sister when her mother died. After her father remarried, several other children were born. Because of her father’s inability to provide for his large family, he ended up in debt. Therefore, he chose Katharina, at the age of six, to be sent to a cloister school to be cared for and schooled, which was a proper thing to do in the 16th century.
After changing convents, she remained behind their walls and lived a cloistered life for the next eighteen years. She was eager to abandon the monastic life she was put into and planned an escape. And afterwards, her love for a man was spurned.
With no means of support, Katharina was out of options. Luther attempted to set her up with other suitors. But she did something unheard of at that time: she dared to ask Luther to marry her.
Marriage was not regulated by the church then and a promise made by two, even at the young ages of 14 and 12, meant they were married. Luther changed all that.
He began the tradition most couples observe today: become engaged, announce it, plan the wedding, get married usually by a priest or minister in church with friends and family in attendance, and celebrate afterwards.
Martin learned there was much to get used to in the first year of marriage. He once wrote, “One wakes up in the morning and finds a pair of pigtails on the pillow which were not there before.”
Their home filled with six children and the adoption of four orphaned children from relatives. The house was always filled with the noise of people, taking in all who came to their door. Sometimes housing 25 people.
Though they did not marry for love, love bloomed and grew with respect over the years, triumphing over trials and heartache and blossoming into a tender love story.
Luther called his wife Katie, Katy, Kate, or in German Kethe. And once in a letter to a friend, he referred to her as his “rib,” referring, of course, to Adam and Eve. And would sometimes lovingly refer to her as Kette (German for chain), for they enjoyed teasing one another.
So much detail in this book, it is difficult in a few short sentences to relay it all. If you admire Luther or love biographies, this book is a must read. Though it reads more like a work of fiction.
Michelle writes, “For a variety of reasons, Katharina von Bor and Martin Luther each determined that marriage – the most radical of options – was also the best one. Not only did that choice impact them personally as individuals, it also had a powerful and lasting effect on their own early Renaissance culture and society. Today, five hundred years later, the impact of their choice continues to reverberate in the lives and faith of Christians across the globe.”
It was a privilege to be on the launch team and receive a preview book. This book comes in time for the 500 year anniversary of the Reformation. You’ll find this story contains messages for all of us.