Years ago I read Kitty, My Rib by E. Jane Mall and was delighted by the story of Martin and his ex-nun wife, Katharina. But I never knew what was fact and what was fiction in that book.
Michelle DeRusha in Katharina and Martin Luther: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk has done a phenomenal job telling the story of this world-changing marriage.
The book focused on both Martin and Katharina equally which was not easy to do since Martin wrote so much himself and has been written about so often. On the contrary, all we have in Katharina’s own hand is eight letters. And they are mostly business.
But I still came away from the book feeling like I knew Katharina as a person…or at least what she could have been like. Mrs. DeRusha didn’t make hasty assumptions about how Katharina may have been thinking and feeling at different points in her life. Instead, she analyzes the possibilities. How did Katharina feel when she was dropped off at the convent when she was 6 years old? Did she see it as an adventure? Or did she dearly miss her family?
I also felt like the book did a terrific job explaining daily life during the time period and how the Reformation changed the world. This enabled me to put myself in the shoes of a commoner in Wittenburg and understand what Martin’s reforms would have meant for my life.
Not many biographers are able to balance fact and analysis while at the same time keeping the reader engaged. But Michelle DeRusha has expertly done so in Katharina and Martin Luther.
Early on in the book, I wondered: how did two people who had no (or virtually no) example to watch of a godly marriage end up with a successful marriage?
Katharina Von Bora was dropped off by her father at the convent when she was 6 years old. One less mouth to feed for his poor family! Katharina grew up at the convent, not leaving until she escaped as a grown woman. Two years after she left the convent, she married Martin Luther.
Her total isolation from society prevented her from witnessing any marriage, good or bad.
Luther, who was sent away at age 5 to a primary school forty miles from home and then to a private school one hundred miles from home, wasn’t around much to watch how his parent’s marriage functioned. When Luther was home, he faced severe physical punishments from both his parents that went over and above what would be considered normal even in his time. Although he makes no comments on his parent’s marriage, their harshness towards Martin leads us to believe that their marriage could hardly have been one filled with love for each other.
Tying the Knot
When Katharina married Luther, they barely knew each other. There is nothing in his writings to indicate he was attracted to Katharina or even that he liked her.
Katharina basically had run out of options. One potential spouse had rejected her, and she rejected another man. She had worn out her welcome with the friends she was staying with and her family never showed any interest in her after her escape. Marriage was her only choice and Martin was her only option.
Yet, their marriage goes on to become loving, trusting, fruitful, and even fun. How did they know how to function in a marriage?
- They already knew how to live selfless lives because of their years of life in a convent. Convent life is about community. You know how to work hard and how to do your job without complaining. Marriage is its own type of community. Add to the marriage six kids and a constant group of guests that wanted to learn from Luther (upwards to fifty houseguests at a time) and there was constant community. But Katharina and Luther were already well versed in how to do community life.
- Neither one went into marriage expecting to have attention and love poured out onto them. Theirs was a marriage of convenience. I imagine their delighted surprise when either one gave attention and kindness to the other. How unexpected that must have been after living a life of relational loneliness to experience repeated personal attention from the same person day in and day out. What a joy that must have been!
- As Martin and Katharina studied scripture, they studied the ultimate example of loving marriage: Christ and the Church. Their understanding of Christ’s sacrifice for the Church must have informed their expectation that a godly marriage is built on the foundation of sacrifice.
The same is true today. A personal relationship with Christ and lifelong dedication to serving the Church is consistent with a service-oriented marriage. Selflessly serve your spouse instead of waiting to be served. Accept the service you receive with a grateful heart and you will find your marriage flourish in love.
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