Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Keeper at Home of the Month!

Since October is a time when we turn our hearts to remembering the reclaimed truths of the Reformation I would like to take the time post about a remarkable woman, Catherine or Katharina Von Bora. Behind every great reformer is a great wife!

Katharina von Bora, Martin Luther’s wife, was a remarkable woman whose life was as unusual and exciting as the reformer’s. She was born of impoverished noble parents in 1499. She had lived in a convent since she was three; her father had taken her there after her mother's death. In 1504 she went to the convent school of the Benedict order in Brehna (near Halle) Later on, at the age of ten, she entered the convent Nimbschen. (near Grimma; only in German) in 1508. In 1515 she took her vows and became a nun at the soonest possible date.

She was only eighteen at the time Martin Luther issued his now famous 95 theses from Wittenberg. Under the influence of Reformation she and other nuns believed the principles Luther taught, and they wanted to leave the cloisters. When Luther heard of this, he encouraged a merchant friend to help them escape. Merchant Kopp often delivered herring to the convent, and one evening in 1523, he bundled twelve nuns into his wagon in the empty fish barrels! Katharina fled with 11 other nuns, on Easter of 1523, from the convent in Nimbschen to Wittenberg. Several of the nuns returned to their families; Luther helped find homes, husbands, or positions for the rest. Within two years after their escape, all the nuns had been provided for except one—Katharina. She found shelter with the family of Lucas Cranach the Elder On June 13, 1525 Katharina got engaged and married to Luther; the wedding celebration took place on June 27, 1525. The Elector had given Luther the building of the Augustinian monastery at Wittenberg, and into the monastery Katie moved after her marriage.

Henceforth, Katharina Luther put the household in order. She cleaned up the monastery and brought some order to Luther's daily life. Katie managed the finances of the family and helped free Luther's mind for his work of writing, teaching, and ministering. Luther called her the "morning star of Wittenberg" since she rose at 4 a.m. to care for her many responsibilities. She became known as Luther’s domestic reformer! Melanchthon tells us that, to his knowledge, in earlier times Luther’s bed had not been made for a whole year—he was too busy to make it—and was ‘mildewed with perspiration’. ‘I was tired out’ said Luther, ‘and worked myself nearly to death, fell into bed and knew nothing about it’. She was a wonderful manager of the household for a big family and was an indispensable companion and adviser to her husband as well. She was a devoted wife to Luther, who referred to her as "my lord Katie".

Despite limited funds and a large number of guests, often there were as many as 30 students, guests, or boarders staying in the monastery, all came under Katie's care. She used the monastery’s right to brew beer, leased land for gardening were she grew vegetables and an orchard, she also tended a fishpond, and bought a farm to raise cattle and chickens. She even did the butchering herself!

Luther was often ill, and Katie was able to minister to him in his illnesses because of her great medical skill.

Katie's life was not just concerned with the physical, however. Martin encouraged his Katie in her Bible study and suggested particular passages for her to memorize.

Luther wrote a friend, "There is a lot to get used to in the first year of marriage. One wakes up in the morning and finds a pair of pigtails on the pillow which were not there before." After a year of marriage Luther wrote another 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." Luther, the former celibate monk, now exalted marriage, exclaiming, "There is no bond on earth so sweet, nor any separation so bitter, as that which occurs in a good marriage." Sometimes the reformer called his wife his ’dear rib’, in allusion to Genesis 2:21. In his will he described her as “his pious faithful and devoted wife, always loving, worthy and beautiful.”

Through Luther's writings, one can get a sense of Katharina's wit and personality as seen in this exchange:
Martin Luther said, "The time will come when a man will take more than one wife."
Katharina responded, "Let the devil believe that!"
The doctor said, "The reason, Katie, is that a woman can bear a child only once a year while her husband can beget many."
Katie responded, "Paul said that each man should have his own wife."
To this the doctor replied, "Yes, 'his own wife' and not 'only one wife,' for the latter isn't what Paul wrote." The doctor kidded for a long time
and finally the doctor's wife said, "Before I put up with this, I'd rather go back to the convent and leave you and all our children."
[Luther, Table Talk, no. 1461]

On June 7, 1526 Martin and Katharina's first son, Johannes (Hans), was born. On December 10, 1527 a daughter, Elisabeth, was born, but died after 8 months; Magdalena their daughter was born on May 4, 1529, but died at age 13. In 1531, 1533, and 1534, their sons, Martin and Paul, and daughter, Margarethe were born. All living descendants of Martin Luther come from Margarethe's line. Four out of six children who had been born of the couple reached adulthood.

Katharina fled from the Smalkaldian War in 1546 to Dessau and then to Magdeburg. She lived to see her children, except Magdalena who had died young, achieve positions of influence. She died on December 20, 1552 in Torgau where she had fled to get away from the plague in Wittenberg, six years after Martin Luther’s death.
References:
Sketches from church history CHI online exhibits http://www.lutherin.de/engl.html http://www.luther.de/en/bora0.htmlReformation Tours.com Wikipedia