Katharina Luther’s 500 Year Old To-Do List

Katharina Von Bora had no clue she would end up as one of the most famous pastor’s wives in history.Katharina-Martin-Luther-by-Michelle-DeRusha-300x461

Michelle DeRusha recently wrote an insightful book called Katharina and Martin Luther: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk. Mrs. DeRusha did a fantastic job piecing together a portrait of Katharina as a person despite there being very little information about her life.

While reading about Katharina’s life it struck me that although her life as a pastor’s wife began in 1525, almost 500 years ago, her life was not much different than pastor’s wives today.

Here’s Katharina Luther’s to-do list. Look familiar?

  • Work hard at home. Martin nicknamed her “the morning star of Wittenburg” since she got up at 4:00 am in order to finish her work by 9:00 pm. Sure, pastor’s wives work hard today, but Katharina had it a lot harder than us. Anyone today have to brew their own beer, raise and slaughter their own meat, grow all their other food, raise six kids, repair their old home constantly, do laundry by hand at the river, all while avoiding sickness like the plague…I mean, like the literal Plague?
  • Feed whoever is in my house at meal time. Her home was actually a former cloister. So there were lots of guest rooms. Martin seemed to have a constant fan club staying at his house–up to fifty people at a time! Some of these bachelor theologians were none too happy when she began to charge them rent for their stay. But it was necessary in order to be able to afford to feed them all!

    the black cloister black and white
    The Black Cloister, Martin and Katharina’s home
  • Build relationships with people. Not only did she feed all in her home, but she joined in the conversation around the dinner table.
  • Be a great mom. Through it all, she raised her six kids. Unfortunately, only 4 lived to adulthood. The deaths of their two children were devastating to both Martin and Katharina.
  • Protect hubby’s study time from interruption. Although one time, Katharina became concerned when Martin had been locked in a study room for several days with only a little food and he would not answer the door. She hurriedly got help to break into the room only to find him alive and well, hunched deep in thought over his Bible. I can imagine the surprised look on his face at the intrusion and the relieved but frustrated look on hers!
  • Frugally care for the family finances. She took care of the family finances since her husband would have given it all away to those whom he felt were in need. Martin also just didn’t have time to take on the responsibility.
  • Do whatever needs to be done at church even if it’s not technically my responsibility. One letter from Martin to Katharina, written while he was away traveling, shows he asked her to be part of a search committee for a new pastor in a neighboring church. What depth of trust this shows Martin had in his wife especially for a woman to take on this role in the 1500s!
  • Listen to criticism about my husband. Katharina heard constant criticism about Martin. She also heard death threats on his life. Letters from Martin to Katharina show that he encouraged her to give her worries to God.

How did Katharina feel about all these responsibilities in her life? Did she complain about them? No one really knows for sure, but Martin Luther’s letters about her are brimming with dedicated love and appreciation for her service to their family and for her as a person. I don’t think Martin Luther would have praised her so highly if she was a bear to live with always whining and complaining.


Katharina had a long list of work for her life. This very same list of work is the very same list of reasons her husband honored her.

This is our chance, ladies, not to list out complaints of how hard our lives are, but to list out the opportunities we have to live in service to God, the church, and our husbands.


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