Women of the Reformation: Katie Luther

"God’s highest gift on earth is a pious, cheerful, God-fearing, home-keeping wife, with whom you may live peacefully, to whom you may entrust your goods and body and life (M. Luther).”

Coming out of a monastic life, both Luther and Katie saw their wedding on June 13, 1525, as an act of confession and obedience to God’s act of creation. While Katie saw Luther as a liberator, Luther too found a freedom he had never known in his marriage with Katie. For this reason, Luther called Katie his Galatians. After one year of marriage, Luther wrote a friend, “My Katie is in all things so obliging and pleasing to me that I would not exchange my poverty for the riches of Croesus.” [3]

 

Merchant Leonard Koppe regularly delivered goods and supplies to the Marienthron convent in Nimbschen, but the Easter of 1523, he came away with a larger, most unusual export in his wagon—11 nuns escaping the convent. Koppe had earlier brought some of the writings of Martin Luther to the convent. As some of the nuns read the Luther’s work, they wanted to follow God’s Word and realized that monasticism was not based on the Scripture. When their families would not help them leave the convent, they secretly wrote Luther asking for his help. Luther sent his friend Leonard Koppe to rescue the ladies from the convent. Luther later wrote Koppe, “You have liberated these poor souls from the prison of human tyranny at just the right time—Easter, when Christ liberated the prison that held His own.” [1]

Within two years, all of the nuns were placed in homes to work, placed with relatives, or married to suitable husbands—all except twenty-four-year-old Katharina von Bora. Katharina was barely six when she had entered Marienthron nunnery, after her mother’s death and her father’s remarriage. Her aunt was in the nunnery, and this was a place of protection, education and prestige. At the convent, Katharina learned Latin, as well as domestic, medical and agricultural skills. At sixteen, Katharina was consecrated as a nun. However, after almost twenty years in the convent, Katharina was now out in the world. She almost became engaged to a former Wittenberg student from Nürnberg, but his parents disapproved of Katharina in favor of a rich wife for him. When another man with a doctor of theology sought to marry her, Katharina refused.  She said she would only marry Martin Luther, the one who had provided her liberty and whom she could trust.

Morning Star of Wittenberg

Luther, a former monk, had not contemplated marriage. He thought his life was too endangered to risk the commitment. Yet, Luther finally agreed to marry Katie—he was 42 and she was 26. Luther thought the marriage would “please his father, rile the pope, cause the angels to laugh and the devils to weep.”[2] Coming out of a monastic life, both Luther and Katie saw their wedding on June 13, 1525, as an act of confession and obedience to God’s act of creation. While Katie saw Luther as a liberator, Luther too found a freedom he had never known in his marriage with Katie. For this reason, Luther called Katie his Galatians. After one year of marriage, Luther wrote a friend, “My Katie is in all things so obliging and pleasing to me that I would not exchange my poverty for the riches of Croesus.” [3]

Luther had previously been given the Black Cloister in Wittenberg for a home. Katie cleaned and brought order to the large establishment. The Black Cloister became a kind of hotel and boarding house for students and visiting scholars, as well as the Luthers’ home. Katie oversaw the running of the household and capably managing the finances, freeing Luther’s time for his study, writing, and teaching. Katie was a cook, gardener, fruit grower, horse breeder, bee-keeper, vintner, fisher, and also made very good beer—all of this in addition to being a mother to six children, as well as taking in four orphans. Luther affectionately called Katie “The Morning Star of Wittenberg”, since she rose so early to begin her day’s activities.

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