IFWE has written a lot over the years in our books and blogs about the impact of Martin Luther, not only in the sphere of work but also in education, government, and other facets of society. Few may know that alongside this revolutionary man was a woman who also played an integral role in advancing Reformation ideas through her marriage to Martin Luther.
Luther’s wife, Katharina (Katie) von Bora, was a force of nature. Her personality, faith, work ethic, management skills, and ezer-like encouragement of her husband make you wonder what Luther’s impact would have been without her.
On October 31, 2017, many around the world will commemorate the five-hundredth anniversary of the launch of the Protestant Reformation, Luther’s nailing of the 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg. However you plan to mark this occasion, don’t miss the opportunity to cast your gaze on the life and impact of Katie Luther.
Following the Truth at Great Risk
Katie was placed in a convent at age five, but by her twenties, Reformation ideas were making their way into her world. Ruth Tucker, a recent biographer of Katie Luther, thinks that the challenge to priestly celibacy would have interested Katie. Together with a group of other nuns, twenty-six-year-old Katie fled the convent at great risk. Tucker writes:
No modern nun would be caught dead fleeing a convent in the middle of the night, hidden among herring barrels and transported in a wagon pulled by a team of horses over a bumpy dirt road.
Martin Luther arranged marriages for the escaped nuns, including, at Katie’s suggestion, one for himself to her. One can only imagine how the courage she expressed in escaping the convent would continue to be needed as both she and Luther faced opposition from the church.
Managing Household Affairs with Excellence
Katie and Martin were given an old, thirty-room monastery as a wedding present and Katie took over in turning it into an industrious, self-sustaining boarding house complete with a working farm and vineyard. According to Rudolf and Marilynn Markwald, Katie wore many hats in managing the facility:
Kate became gardener, fisher, brewer, fruit grower, cattle and horse breeder, cook, beekeeper, provisioner, nurse, and vintner.
In fact, Katie’s strong management skills allowed Luther the opportunity to spend more time meeting with guests to teach and advance the Reformation. Rather than feel threatened by his wife’s leadership, Martin saw how their strengths could mutually benefit each other and he encouraged her in that role. Carolyn McCulley and Nora Shank write:
Kate was the better financial manager and, after years of his overspending, Martin agreed to rely on her business acumen…Not only was she known for her hospitality, but the table she spread became an important place where [Reformation] ideas were shared and disseminated.
Speaking the Truth with Boldness
Katie’s eyes were not only focused on production and survival, her ears were in tune with her husband’s heart. Art Lindsley writes about one of her creative and provocative challenges to her husband’s prolonged isolation in his studies:
Once, Luther, who had for 41 years been used to solitude, locked himself in his study for three days until Katie took the door off the hinges. She was quite direct with her criticism of Luther.
Another time, she sought to wrench him from one of his lengthy bouts of depression:
Katie came to breakfast one morning in a funeral dress. Martin asked, “Who died?” Katie replied, “God died.” Martin proceeded to rebuke her for such an outrageous reply. She waited till he was done and said, “Well, Martin, the way you were acting, I thought he was dead.”
Katie needed truth and grace from Martin as well. Luther wrote about the importance of patience in marriage:
It is impossible to keep peace between man and woman in family life if they do not condone and overlook each other’s faults but watch everything to the smallest point. For who does not at times offend?
A “Blessed Alliance” to Advance God’s Kingdom
While likely far from a perfect marriage, Martin and Katie Luther’s relationship was a prominent example of a Christian marriage between a former monk and nun at a time when the church and society were changing.
The notion that things work better and human beings become their best selves when men and women work together is found on page 1 of the Bible. When God was launching the most ambitious enterprise the world has ever known, the team He put together to do the job was male and female…
Having created his male and female image bearers, “God blessed them,” then spread before them the global mandate to rule and subdue on His behalf. According to Genesis, male/female relationships are a kingdom strategy—designed to be an unstoppable force for good in the world.
While a marriage like the Luthers’ is a primary way this “Blessed Alliance” can be lived out, men and women don’t have to be married to reflect God’s image. As someone who was single for many years, I have been blessed with godly relationships with Christian men in the workplace and at church that were mutually encouraging and honoring to God. Certainly, more of these types of relationships are needed.
I hope you take some time to read more about Katie Luther via one of the great sources mentioned above and reflect on the ways your relationships with the opposite sex might reflect, even dimly, God’s glorious image to a broken world.
Editor’s Note: Read more about the Reformation and its impact on work in How Then Should We Work?
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