Katharina von Bora was born January 29, 1499. Much about her life must remain a mystery to us, but some sources give us glimpses and insights.
Prayer and faith. As a young girl, Katharina von Bora was sent to a convent for education. Though it was an isolated life of prayer, schooling, and work, she had two aunts who were also nuns at the convent. When some of the nuns embraced Martin Luther’s teaching of the Gospel, Luther himself arranged to help them escape. Katie’s religious life continued outside the convent as she eagerly read the Bible. Martin said: “My Katie now understands the Psalms better than all the papists put together.”
Hostess and diplomat. When Katie arrived in Wittenberg, she had to learn how to interact with men, women, children, families, peasants, merchants, nobility, and even royalty. In the Reichenbach and Cranach households, she learned how to host prominent visitors, a skill useful later with the many people who came to meet her husband and other Reformers.
Pastor’s wife. Many of the nuns who escaped returned to their families, and most of them married quite soon. Katie had a suitor early on, but it became impossible for them to marry because of his socio-political status and family situation. Eventually God brought Katie together with Martin Luther. Both had strong wills and personalities, but they respected and supported each other. Katie encouraged Luther in his theological work. Luther helped Katie in running the boarding house and in purchasing her precious farm at Zuhlsdorf. In his will, he designated her as sole heiress and guardian for the children, even though the laws of the time would not allow that.
Supporting the Gospel. Katie did not blindly follow her husband. Supporting him meant supporting the Gospel. She urged him to answer his critics for the sake of the Gospel. One result was the famous Bondage of the Will in response to Erasmus’ Freedom of the Will. Katie did not change Luther, but added to who he was.
Mother and caretaker. Martin and Katie were loving parents, raising not only their own cherished children, but also several nieces and nephews as well as many boarding students. Much of this responsibility fell to Katie, but Martin was active with the children and even played games with them, such as bowling. Martin and Katie grieved the loss of two children, but were comforted by the hope of the resurrection in Jesus Christ.
Household management. Katie Luther was an industrious businesswoman, managing the household while her husband preached and taught and wrote and traveled. She ran a boarding house for university students, tending them when they were ill. She provided for the family, managing the budget, farms, servants, and household staff. She had horses, cattle, pigs, sheep, goats, chickens, and geese.
Persistence in poverty. Katie is an example of persistence, bearing a cross that would crush most people, enduring unimaginable ridicule from friends and foes. After Luther’s death, she eventually lived in poverty when only the King of Denmark–Norway gave reliable support. More than once she had to flee Wittenberg because of war and plague, the final time leading to her death. Katie jumped from the wagon, fell into cold water, and caught a chill. After lingering for three months, she died on December 20, 1552, in Torgau.
God blessed the Reformation through Katie Luther’s support of Martin’s preaching and teaching the Gospel, and her setting a model for the Christian family, her household, and Christian businesswomen.
Recent interest has resulted in Katie Luther: The Opera, which debuted in 2013. A play will debut in 2014. Learn more about Katie from these sources:
- The Mother of the Reformation: The Amazing Life and Story of Katharine Luther by Ernst Kroker.
- Katharina von Bora: A Reformation Life by Rudolf K. Markwald and Marilynn Morris Markwald.
Professor Mark DeGarmeaux
Bethany Lutheran College