Against all odds, the unlikely union worked, over time blossoming into the most tender of love stories. This unique biography tells the riveting story of two extraordinary people and their extraordinary relationship, offering refreshing insights into Christian history and illuminating the Luthers' profound impact on the institution of marriage, the effects of which still reverberate today. By the time they turn the last page, readers will have a deeper understanding of Luther as a husband and father and will come to love and admire Katharina, a woman who, in spite of her pivotal role, has been largely forgotten by history.
Together, this legendary couple experienced joy and grief, triumph and travail. This book brings their private lives and their love story into the spotlight and offers powerful insights into our own twenty-first-century understanding of marriage.
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About the Author
Michelle DeRusha is the author of 50 Women Every Christian Should Know, Spiritual Misfit, and Katharina and Martin Luther, which is a finalist in the Memoir/Biography category for the 2018 Christian Book Awards. She publishes a monthly column on religion and spirituality for the Lincoln Journal Star and writes about faith in the everyday on her blog, www.michellederusha.com. She lives with her husband and their two boys in Lincoln, Nebraska.
Read an Excerpt
Katharina and Martin Luther
The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk
By Michelle DeRusha
Baker Publishing GroupCopyright © 2017 Michelle DeRusha
All rights reserved.
To the Cloister School
The young girl gazed at the countryside as the wagon jolted over the rough roads. Since she was more than one hundred miles from the home where she was born and raised, nothing in the unfurling landscape looked familiar to her — not the fields and farms she passed, not the bustling town marketplaces, not the faces she saw along the way. Neither the girl nor her father who sat beside her said much during the two-day journey. Each was distracted by a swirl of thoughts — a mix of fear, trepidation, and doubt. Each dreaded the moment the wagon would arrive at its destination, knowing that when they parted ways, they might not ever see each other again.
Most historians concur that Katharina von Bora was born on January 29, 1499. According to one of Katharina's earliest biographers, she wore a commemorative medal around her neck — a gift from Luther — inscribed in Latin: "Dr. Martin Luther gave this symbol to his Katharina who was born on the 29th of January in the year 1499" One side of the medal pictured the bronze serpent Moses carried on a pole in the wilderness, along with the Latin inscription "The lifted-up serpent is a type of crucified Christ" The reverse side depicted Christ on the cross, along with the words "Christ died for our sins." If we accept this account as reliable (the medal has since been lost), which most scholars do, then we can be fairly confident that January 29, 1499, is indeed the date of Katharina's birth.
From here, though, details get sketchy. The truth is, despite the fact that she married one of the most famous men in history, we know very little about Katharina von Bora's early years, and we hear even less about her life in her own words. While volumes of Luther's correspondence, particularly his letters to politicians, theologians, and friends, have been preserved, a scant eight letters written by Katharina are extant today, most of them dealing with legal and economic issues after Luther's death. Any diary or journals she may have kept, as well as her letters — and we know she wrote many to Luther, because we have his replies to her — were lost or destroyed, including some of the family papers, which were destroyed in 1945 at the end of World War II.
This is not surprising. Women who lived during the Middle Ages and early Renaissance (also known as the early modern period) were considered second-class citizens. In fact, most unmarried women during that time were not granted citizen status at all. German cities required that individuals fulfill three criteria in order to be granted citizenship: military obligation and an oath of allegiance formalizing it; an honorable means of support; and property ownership — or as historian Merry Wiesner puts it, "war, work, and wealth." As one might imagine, for a single, working woman to meet even one ofthese requirements would have been challenging; to meet all three was nearly impossible. There was, however, a loophole: for women, marriage was the only surefire way around the citizenship requirements. "Though women were never categorically excluded from citizenship in German towns and villages," Wiesner notes, "notions of women's proper place within the family and community increasingly made the only type of female citizenship that was acceptable a derivative one." In other words, the fact that she had a husband made a woman eligible for citizenship.
In addition, most women did not have the opportunity to attend school and were thus illiterate. The few, like Katharina, who were educated in convents and could read and write were not valued in the same way men were valued in society. Most women (with rare exceptions, as we will see in a subsequent chapter) simply did not have a voice during this time. Their thoughts and opinions were not considered. Aside from their responsibilities as wives and mothers, their role in society was regarded as unimportant. Thus, while it's disappointing that no one deemed Katharina's correspondence worth preserving, it's not unusual for the time.
That said, primary sources like city ledgers and government and historical documents have allowed scholars to piece together what they believe are the basic facts of Katharina's early years, although even the most rudimentary details, like her birthplace and her mother's name, are still debated. Most scholars agree that Katharina descended from Saxon nobility, although her exact ancestry remains controversial, due largely to the fact that Bora (the "von" signifies nobility) was a popular name during the time. Research is further complicated by a coincidence: two noblemen by the name of Hans von Bora — Katharina's father's name — lived in close proximity in Saxony (a small area located about halfway between what are now Berlin and Prague) around the same time. Historians question which Hans von Bora was Katharina's father.
Biographer Ernst Kroker, author of The Mother of the Reformation: The Amazing Life and Story of Katharine Luther, cites Hans and Katharine (maiden name unknown) von Bora of Lippendorf as Katharina's parents, basing his theory on a claim that a Hans von Bora assigned his wife a manor at Saale, in Lippendorf, as her retirement property (this typically happened on the day a couple married, which was the husband's way of ensuring his wife's livelihood after his death). Katharina von Bora biographers Rudolf Markwald and Marilynn Morris Markwald, on the other hand, claim Katharina's parents as Hans von Bora and Anna von Haugwitz of Hirschfeld, citing a 1998 official statement by the Saxon State Archive at Leipzig, German Central Office for Genealogy. However, they also concede that after the village of Lippendorf was bombed in a World War II air raid, a plaque inscribed "Katharina von Bora was born here on January 29, 1499" was discovered in the rubble.
We could dedicate a significant number of pages to the disparate theories about Katharina's lineage, but this fact would still remain: Although her marriage to Martin Luther and her role in helping to define clerical marriage and Protestant family life makes Katharina an important contributor to the Reformation, scholars can't be absolutely sure of even the most basic facts about her early life. Everything that transpired between her birth and her arrival at the convent school in Brehna is unknown. The best we can do is to paint her early years in broad brushstrokes, employing educated guesswork and our imaginations.
To a Distant Land
While confusion about Katharina's ancestry persists, scholars agree that her mother died in 1505, and that her father remarried a woman by the name of Margarete, a widow, within the year. We also know that Katharina's father, Hans, was in debt. Although the von Boras were members of the landed gentry, meaning they owned land and were considered nobility, they were what we might call "house poor" today. Hans was a "gentleman farmer" — a knight, indicated by the title "von" — but his relatively small parcel of land, combined with an agricultural crisis in the early 1500s, did not produce enough to pay the bills. In addition to Katharina, Hans had three sons and perhaps another daughter with his first wife, and his second wife brought several children of her own, and no dowry, to the marriage in 1505. Katharina's father simply couldn't support his expanded family on his income. Something had to give, and that something was Katharina.
Shortly after her mother died in 1505, Katharina von Bora's father packed up his six-year-old daughter and her paltry belongings and traveled from their rural home in Saxon Germany to a Benedictine convent in Brehna. There she bid goodbye to her father and the only life she had ever known. When she entered the cloister school, Katharina was still reeling from her mother's death. She would remain behind convent walls for the next eighteen years of her life.
It's tempting to criticize Hans von Bora for a decision that seems heartless and more than a little selfish. But there are additional factors to consider: it was not unusual for families in the Middle Ages and early modern period, especially the nobility, to send their young daughters off to cloister schools and even to the convent for life. For example, twelfth-century German mystic Hildegard of Bingen, the tenth-born child in her family, was sent by her parents to the convent at age eight as a tithe (as the tenth child, she represented 10 percent of their assets) to the church and to God. In many cases convent schools were the only opportunity for girls to receive any education at all. Most medieval villages had only one school, which typically enrolled only boys, so many parents did what they had to do to ensure their daughters' education. Furthermore, schools connected with Benedictine cloisters were noted for their stellar academic reputation. As Kroker notes, "Katie certainly received a better education with the Benedictine nuns in Brehna than she could have received otherwise as a young girl of the nobility anywhere else in the country at that time."
Hans von Bora may not have initially intended his daughter for the religious life when he enrolled her in the cloister school in Brehna; the decision may have been a temporary measure, the best solution to a difficult situation. Enrolling Katharina in a convent school at the age of six resulted in one less mouth to feed for Hans von Bora, along with the assurance that his daughter would be well cared for.
Regardless of Hans von Bora's intentions, the decision undoubtedly had a tremendous impact on young Katharina. Imagine, for a moment, that long, uncomfortable, one-hundred-mile journey via horse-drawn wagon from her rural childhood home to the cloister school. The trip would have taken the better part of two days, and just a few miles into it, the familiar, comforting surroundings would have given way to new and unfamiliar terrain. We can't know for sure the thoughts that tumbled through her young mind, but we can try to put ourselves in Katharina's shoes, imagining what it must have been like to bounce along those rough roads. The route took them across fertile fields and meadows and into the bustling city of Leipzig, where Katharina would have experienced an overwhelming array of new sounds, sights, and smells. Perhaps these experiences distracted her from the hard truth of what she was leaving behind and the fear of all that lay ahead. Or perhaps young Katharina was simply too terrified and grief-stricken to notice much at all. Perhaps her father tried to soothe her fears; or maybe he sat silently at her side, wrestling with remorse and regret. There's a chance Katharina was excited about the new experiences that awaited her, but it's far more likely the six-year-old girl, still grieving the sudden death of her mother and now leaving behind everyone and everything she'd ever known, sat small and quiet on the wagon seat, trembling with dread, sorrow, and fear.
Known for its high-caliber curriculum, the Benedictine cloister school in Brehna primarily attracted the daughters of nobility who were there to be groomed as nobles' wives. The remainder of the Brehna students were orphans. Such was the case of Klara Preusser, daughter of the Leipzig magistrate Dr. Johann Preusser. Klara entered the Benedictine cloister school when her parents died, around the same time Katharina arrived, and perhaps because of their shared history, the two became friends. Many years later, when Katharina was married to Luther and Klara was living in Halle as the wife of Magdeburg chancellor Lorenz Zoch, Klara wrote to Katharina, reminiscing about their years together in the cloister school. She promised to visit Wittenberg so the two could renew their friendship. Unfortunately, this letter is the only factual information we have about Katharina's four years at the cloister school, and we don't know whether the two friends ever reunited in Wittenberg.
Katharina was likely schooled in reading, writing (in Latin and German), and arithmetic, as well as in morals, manners, and religion, It's not known how often she saw her family or if she was allowed to visit home during her four years at the cloister school, Given the distance between her father's estate and the school and the arduous travel required by horse-drawn wagon, it's unlikely Katharina saw her father or siblings very often, if at all, We do know her uncle, Baron von Rachwitz, lived near the cloister school — Katharina and her father stopped at the baron's estate on their initial trip to Brehna — so she may have found some comfort in the proximity of extended family, But it's also very possible that the day Katharina kissed her father goodbye at the entrance of the cloister school was the last time she ever saw him.
A Sudden Change
Four years later, on a summer morning in 1509, an emissary stepped down from a horse-drawn carriage, knocked on the door of the cloister school, and presented a letter to the prioress. Unbeknownst to her, Katharina's father had made arrangements with the abbess of a Cistercian convent in Nimbschen, forty-two miles south of Brehna, for his ten-year-old daughter to become a nun. Hans von Bora had put aside a small amount of money to support Katharina's enclosure in the convent for the rest of her life. The letter delivered by the emissary was an announcement of this plan, as well as details and instructions for Katharina's transfer from the cloister school to the Cistercian convent Gottes undMarienthron (Throne of God and St. Mary) in Nimbschen, effective immediately.
As far as we know, Katharina was not consulted about this decision. Not only had she no say in determining the course of her life, she hadn't even been privy to the particulars — for example, which convent and which order she would enter as a novitiate. That said, the news of her transfer to Marienthron may not have come as a huge surprise. After all, it was common for families to place their young daughters in the convent — at least temporarily — as the nunnery was one of only two viable options (the other being marriage) for noblewomen like Katharina.
"The nunneries of the early Middle Ages not only offered women the chance to pursue the ascetical life; they performed an important social role in providing a haven for the daughters and widows of the aristocracy for whom no suitable marriage [could] be found," explains medieval historian C. H. Lawrence. "The women who entered them, and the families that placed them there, expected them to enjoy the society of their own kind. They were thus aristocratic and socially exclusive communities." Katharina's contemporary, the Spanish Carmelite nun Teresa of Avila, for example, was first placed in the convent by her father in order to protect her virginity and prepare her to lead a devout domestic life. But for Teresa of Avila, the convent life was hardly the stringent, austere existence one might assume. For the first twenty-six years of her life as a nun, Teresa lived in a two-floor suite in the convent, complete with fine furniture and its own kitchen. She spent much of her time entertaining friends and relatives, was encouraged to leave the convent when she needed to, and was even referred to as "Dona Teresa," a nod to her social standing, In other words, life in a sixteenth-century convent didn't necessarily entail dire poverty and hardship but was often more of an exclusive, women-only aristocratic society in and of itself.
For all we know, Katharina may have desired to become a nun on her own accord (although the fact that she would later escape from the cloister suggests otherwise), On the other hand, she may have assumed that once she reached the proper marrying age — which, in the early modern period, was anywhere from the late teens to the early twenties for women — she would be matched with a suitable husband, Given the fact that she was only ten years old when the decision was made, it's likely Katharina hadn't given the matter much thought at all.
While we can't know Katharina's thoughts and expectations regarding this life-altering decision, consider this question: If Hans had enrolled his daughter at the cloister school in Brehna so that she would receive a proper education and grooming for marriage, as was posited earlier, why this sudden, dramatic change in course? Why transfer Katharina to a convent for life?
According to most scholars, there is one probable answer to this question: money, While some young women did feel an authentic religious conviction and a call toward the contemplative life, many had their future determined for them by their parents or guardians simply because it was cheaper for a daughter to become a nun than to be betrothed to a man in a particular social stratum, The fact was, the entrance fee to a convent was markedly lower than the dowry needed to attract a husband of Katharina's social order, Katharina would have been expected to marry a nobleman, and thus come to marriage with a substantial dowry, Hans von Bora, whose financial troubles had only worsened in the four years Katharina was enrolled in the Brehna cloister school, may not have had any choice but to send his daughter to the convent.
Excerpted from Katharina and Martin Luther by Michelle DeRusha. Copyright © 2017 Michelle DeRusha. Excerpted by permission of Baker Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations 9
Map: The Luthers' Locations 22
Introduction: The Story of an Unlikely Life 25
1 To the Cloister School 31
2 A Nun without a Choice 46
3 A Family Rift 56
4 The Good Monk 68
5 The Road to Damascus and a Nail in the Door 83
6 Hear This, O Pope! 96
7 The Risks of Freedom 106
8 Escape 124
9 Marriage Makeover 136
10 Tying the Knot 149
11 Backlash 162
12 Hausfrau Extraordinaire 175
13 Two Pigtails on the Pillow 192
14 A Family Affair 213
15 The Noblest, Most Precious Work 224
16 In the Valley of the Shadow of Death 235
17 'Til Death Did Them Part 246
18 A Chancy Thing 269
Selected Bibliography 311
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
For Martin Luther’s fifty-seventh birthday, his wife designed, commissioned, and then presented to him a carved doorway for their home. It’s elegance incorporated numerous features that demonstrated Katharina’s knowledge of and devotion to her husband; however, there is no way that she could have realized how completely appropriate her gift would be. Michelle DeRusha’s biography demonstrates that the radical marriage of Katharina and Martin Luther was itself a threshold into a new way of understanding marriage, and it opened the way toward a more biblical expression of the life of two-shall-become-one. By the time Martin and Katharina began their unlikely life together, Martin’s theological shot heard ’round the world had already set off the Reformation in Western Europe, and both the bride and the groom had already logged decades of life in cloistered communities. For Martin, this had been by choice and against the wishes of his family, while Katharina had been placed in a convent by her father at the age of six. Leaving the monastery was controversial for Martin, but there was no question that his gifts and background would pave his way into a well-defined role within his new freedom. Things were not so simple for a 16th-century woman. In addition to the fact that single women were not even recognized as citizens in Germany, Katharina was, by birth, a member of the landed-gentry and, therefore, ineligible to pursue employment of any kind. Her only option for survival was marriage — at the ripe old age of twenty six. Desperate times may call for desperate measures, but Katie von Bora showed no signs of of caving to desperation, and she made it abundantly clear that she had no intention of marrying just anyone. At one point she even boldly suggested that she would consider marrying Luther . . . if she were asked. Why she considered a forty-two year old man (who, at any moment, could be found guilty of heresy and burned at the stake) to be a good catch is anyone’s guess. From the groom’s perspective, Luther’s decision to tie the knot with Katharina was as reasoned and deeply theological as his basis for untying the knot with the Catholic church. While he cited pleasing his father and antagonizing the pope as desirable outcomes of marriage, it seems that, primarily, he chose marriage out of love for Christ and a desire to model “the redeemed Christian’s relationship to God.” With such an unusual beginning, it is not surprising that the Luther’s marriage paved new ground. From Martin’s Perspective Marriage ousted Martin from his ivory tower. Michelle DeRusha records many of the idealistic or cavalier statements from his single days, and they were clearly made by a curmudgeonly man with no idea how to manage life on this planet. He waxed eloquent (and inaccurate) on topics ranging from the role of women in the home to something he called “bridal love,” but when married life began in earnest, there was no sign at all that he could actually live by his own tenets. From the outset, Katharina dealt with all things practical including the management of and the procurement of supplies for the abandoned monastery the Luthers called home and which functioned more like a bed and breakfast than a family dwelling. Martin trusted Katharina with the delivery of his manuscripts to the printer, and he left most of the business side of his work in her capable hands. Marriage tested and clarified ... continue reading at Living Our Days
I have studied the Reformation a fair amount through the years from my seminary days until now. There are lots of books about the various reformers and how the reformation played out in various parts of Europe. None of the other books that I have read did as delightful a job of combining the historical, cultural, and sociological contexts as Michelle has done. Woven through the "tale" are stories from the monasteries, convents, cities, and towns in the era of Martin and Katharina Luther. Michelle admits that the "source documents" surrounding Katharina herself are sparse, but she has done a masterful job of weaving the larger history of the convents and monasteries into the story of Martin and Katharina. At the end of the book, I felt like I had been a part of a very intimate and informative discussion around the coffee table (or perhaps around the table with a stein of Katharina's homebrewed beer which her husband favored!) with the characters. Michelle has done a great job of blending storytelling with historical research. The end result is an informative and engaging look into the lives of Martin and Katharina. Bravo, Michelle! A must read for anyone who wants to learn more about the "human side" of the Reformation!
I received an advanced copy for my honest review but I bought the book because I want to pass it along to others for their reading pleasure, it's that good. Katharina & Martin Luther is a book that combines my love of history with the writing of one of my most favorite authors. The way Michelle DeRusha tells this story makes it feel like you're reading a novel. Intrigue, mystery, scandal, all long before our time where events like this would not be such news worthy. And the history and facts that Michelle shares with her readers are so intriguing that I didn't want to put it down. But this book differs from the others about Luther. Michelle tells the story of marriage, eventual love and how that bond, between Katharina and Martin, kept the flames going of the reformation of the Church as they knew it. No matter what your views are on the Church and Faith, this is a must read book. You will not be disappointed.
DeRusha has taken limited original documents—only a few letters from Luther's wife, Katharina, remain—and combined them with the historical background of the 1500s, along with the more numerous extant letters of Martin Luther himself, to create a complete picture of their life and work together. Why would Katie flee the convent? Why did she ask Luther to marry her? What... didn't know about that? If the great Reformer interests you, then you'll love #KatharinaandLuther. The best part is learning how she, and their life together, influenced Luther's theology and enhanced his ministry. Engaging and very readable, this book will teach and inform while you enjoy their personal stories
I was dually drawn to this book being interested in both religious and music history. I could not have predicted what a “can’t-put-it-down” read awaited me. Before you think, ‘oh yeah, another book on Luther!’ let me assure you this is not the case. Michelle’s exhaustive research and masterful story-telling give us an up close and personal look at the separate and combined lives of this couple as no other document has done. I would be remiss if I did not mention the excellent forward to the book. It really sets the stage well for what follows and is extremely well-written. Katharina’s biographical material is fascinating. When combined with the brilliant informed speculations and poignant writing of Michelle, this book invites you into the lives and places that shaped Katharina before and during her marriage to Martin. If you want to learn how a Reformation feminist was formed – this read is essential. The story that unfolds shatters every stereotype one might have about Katharina based on the status of women in those days. This lady was strong-willed, determined, and a force to be reckoned with. Being invited into her life is a treat, and like a treat, the reader always wants more. Michelle has taken what could be dry biographical data and breathed life into it. You will experience Katharina’s home life, the decision of sending her to a monastery (made without her knowledge or consent), her daring and risky escape from that monastery, and her meeting of and eventual marriage to Martin. It is probably not possible to talk about their marriage to the exclusion of Martin’s revolutionary and reforming ideas, but to have those presented with the backdrop of wife and family was enlightening. Martin’s “women’s role” bark was apparently worse than his bite, as the Luther abode was really quite progressive for its time. It was fascinating to follow them through their journey of falling in love, because that it not how the marriage began. Possibly the most amazing part of Katharina’s life, and the one that showed her most legitimate strength and gumption, was her life after Martin’s death. Michelle draws us deep into the emotions Katharina no doubt felt trying to hold her family together and provide for them in a time where a woman was defined only through her relationship to a man. I am reticent to give too much away, but I can promise you an engaging, intelligent, informative, and inspiring journey through the pages chronicling this window into the Luther’s lives and relationship. I recommend Michelle’s book without reservation, and want to thank her for sharing her acquired knowledge, heart, and linguistic acumen with us. Not just everyone can take a string of factoids and weave them together in a way that tells a captivating story. Michelle does exactly that. Treat yourself and read it. Clark Roush, Ph.D.
I so enjoyed this book and learning about this couple. Martin Luther is obviously very well known, but the story of his lesser known wife and marriage was riveting and actually very relevant to marriages today. It kept me up late into the night wanting to learn more, both about this couple and what marriage looked like in the 1500's. Fascinating! I love reading stories of these unknown women in history who have stood by their very famous husbands. I would highly recommend this book!
When I heard Michelle DeRusha had a new book coming out I knew I had to read it! Her informative and fascinating story gives us a detailed look at the life and marriage of Katharina and Martin Luther. It's readable, extremely well written and researched. I had a hard time putting it down! It was one of those stories that keeps you reading because "what happens next?" If you aren't a fan of history, never fear! It reads like a novel and Michelle has made this unlikely love story come alive! There were so many moments when I exclaimed to whomever was closest... "did you know?" Michelle has taken a little known story and given us not only information, but a beautiful, enlightening account of monastery escapes,marriage, raising children and homemade beer! When you get to the last page, you feel like you know them,like you've spent time with the Luthers! Michelle immerses us in a history that few of us know and all of us need to. This is a must read!
Excellent book! “Katharina and Martin Luther: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk” gave a vivid picture of 2 individuals whose path led to each other and to changing the course of history. It shares personal details of their lives, childhoods separated from family and risking capture, the escape to new lives. They married as virtual strangers but over time they grew to love and admire each other. The book was extremely well written and researched. When reading you get a glimpse of what life was like at the time, and how Katharina and Martin called on their faith and each other to share their progressive thoughts. This is a very intimate view of someone who hundreds of years later is a household name. It presents Martin Luther as very human, with doubts and fears, but with courage and the support of a loving relationship, gave Christians another way to live in faith.
Meet the Luthers ... a husband and wife team who changed history ... together! While most folks, even the non-religious types, know at least a bit about Martin Luther, very few know that he married, much less that he married a runaway nun! The unlikely pair revolutionized the institution of marriage, even while Martin shifted the course of the church. While the subject of the Reformation is typically treated in stale, academic fashion, Ms. DeRusha manages to present her research in an engaging way that allows her book to read more like a novel than a typical dry history book. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in history, biography or religion!
I have always been a history buff but never really put much thought into Church history until I came across this book. I knew the basics and I also knew the details of the reformation but very little about the personal story behind the people involved. Katharina and Martin Luther: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk brings to life the unlikely relationship between one of the most radical theologians in history and an ex-nun who knew her mind. Michelle Derusha did an excellent job joining research and storytelling to bring to life this unlikely couple. Martin Luther, who almost single-handedly took on the Holy Catholic Church, found a wife when he wasn't looking for one, found a life long companion, and an abiding love in the process. Not a typical 'love story', whatever the century, a convergence of events brings Martin and Katherina together and unfolds into a lifelong union and relationship. Derusha is able to make the characters come to life as she takes the reader through the background, their atypical engagement, the awkward wedding night and the unfolding of their lives together. As history, this reads accurately and well researched, and as story it flows through the telling in a way that brings you into Martin and Katharina's life together that is both engaging and entertaining. I love a good read and this one qualifies on every level!
Did you know that Martin Luther was married? And that his wife was a former nun who asked him to marry her? And that this was not a marriage based on passion, though deep, abiding love developed between them? Did you know that she was in danger of being tried as a witch because she was a single woman? Or that she cooked a certain menu to respond to Martin Luther's temperament? Did you know that Martin Luther introduced our modern view of the wedding ceremony? Were you aware that Luther deferred to her judgment in their finances, and that their marriage was remarkably modern? Katharina and Luther is a beautifully written biography that reads quickly. It also draws a fascinating portrait of the sixteenth century, and shows how Luther’s marriage enabled him to reform the Church. It is well researched. A great winter read. I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
“Marriage is a chancy thing!” No, this is not a quote from Dr. Phil, but from Dr. Martin Luther. In Michelle DeRusha’s new book, The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk we learn the inside story of the most unlikely union. I have read lots of books about these two, but this one captures their spirits, weaknesses and love on a very human level. With more details than I had ever known, I found myself even more interested in their lives. Katharina and Martin Luther shaped a new religion’s views on baptism, marriage, education, and family life. Written with a storyteller/researcher’s skill, the reader is transported into the 16th century Germany. The customs, turmoil and hardships of daily life are made personal with humor and awe. Rarely has the wife of Luther, Katharina, been depicted in history books, but here we have a thoroughly strong female heroine, flawed and outspoken. Did she help shape the Reformation? #KatharinaAndLuther is a fascinating read that will enlighten your view of life 500 years ago! Ask for it at Barnes & Noble or on Amazon.com you’ll be surprised at what you learn!
Katharina Luther is one of history's best-kept secrets, and Michelle DeRusha's book is the perfect way to introduce her to the world! This is no ordinary biography, it is a ticket to travel back in time and watch history unfold through the eyes of two ordinary people called to play an extraordinary role in the history of the Christian faith. The author draws you directly into the story as she describes in vivid detail the life and times of Katherina and Luther, and opens a window into the marriage that truly shaped the reformation. There is a surprise in every chapter! The marriage of Katherina and Luther was revolutionary from the start, and there are so many ways that their relationship defied the expectations of the times and re-wrote the script that we'd expect they would follow. As the story unfolds, the reader can't help but fall in love with Katherina's strength of character and dedication to her husband and his cause, and can't help but be impressed by the many ways in which she herself contributed to the reformation. You will wish that you could go back in time and meet the Luther family yourself, spend an evening around their table drinking Katherina's homemade beer and listening to the conversation...and by the time you finish reading the book, you'll feel as though you've done just that! This book is very well researched and full of historical fact, but it reads like a novel and Michelle DeRusha brings the subject to life with a vivid clarity that few biographers are able to achieve. Katherina and Martin Luther is an absolute delight and a must-read for anyone who is interested in church history.
"The morning I began my research for this book, I stood amid the library stacks at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and nearly wept as I gazed at the hundreds of books by and about Martin Luther lining the shelves . . . I couldn't possibly see where there was room on the shelf for yet another book in the extensive Luther repertoire," Michelle DeRusha wrote in her preface to Katharina & Martin. But move over, books. Make room for this one, and it's not a dry, dusty read, either. DeRusha makes history come alive as she focuses on Luther's personal life--and especially on the woman behind the man. Theirs was a marriage of convenience and commitment that morphed into a beautiful love story lined with grief and hardship and humor. There are lessons here for all of us.
Only eight letters remain that were written by Katharina von Bora, the woman who would become Martin Luther’s wife. There wasn’t much information to go on as Michelle DeRusha set out to introduce us to this woman who worked beside her husband—a man who, in many ways, saw her as his equal—during a time of transition and, what some might consider, upheaval, in the church. But Michelle has made the story come alive! Do not be fooled into thinking this is some dry, dull, historical piece that you’ll have to slog through. With rich detail and a truly delightful cadence, Michelle sets the story of this runaway nun and renegade monk into an historical context and presents the players as people you will come to know and appreciate as their story unfolds. This year marks the 500th Anniversary of the day Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the church, ushering the Reformation. It’s easy to look at an act such as that, at a time such as the one we’re in now, and wish we had some of that gumption; some of that pluck. But Martin and Katharina, as you’ll see in the book, were ordinary people, with ordinary concerns and cares, hopes and fears, who simply did they best they could with the time they were given. For those of us who dream of modern-day revolutionaries, this book is the perfect historical examination of the extraordinary results of faithfully living out our ordinary days, with fidelity, a good sense of humor (we can thank Martin for some of the chuckles in these pages), a great deal of resourcefulness, and a sliver of faith.
This has been a page-turner from the beginning! Michelle's ability to weave historical information into a story is delightful. Not being one to gravitate toward history, I was enthralled with the lives of these two figures and very grateful for the impact they both have made in our society today. I cannot encourage you enough to get a copy of this treasure for your personal library. Encourage your young people to read it and get to know this couple who took incredible risks to follow God at His Word. I received a copy of this book by the author for my honest opinion and review.
I was given an advanced reading copy of “Katharina and Martin Luther” by Michelle DeRusha for an honest review of the book. As a life-long Lutheran, of course I had heard of Martin Luther and his radical ideas about challenging the Catholic Church. I had heard about him pounding his 95 Theses to the Church door and being sought after for heresy. But honestly that is all I had really heard about. It was not until just a few years ago that I knew about his marriage. To get a glimpse into his life with wife and kids instead of his life as a radical was very interesting. To read about a former monk and a runaway nun build a life together in the tumultuous times of the Reformation – that Luther started – filled in many of the life gaps in Luther’s life that are rarely talked about. Luther’s reforms are highly touted by those in the Protestant religions; his boisterous ways and acerbic demeanor are well known but to see his softer side when dealing with his wife and children was eye opening. Sadly, not as much is known about Katharina. Since she was a woman in the 1500’s, she was considered a second-class citizen. She had very little in the way of rights of her own however, with Luther by her side along with his radical ideas, she thrived. He gave her control of the household finances, the children and the land which she grew and maintained as a financially independent estate. I think it showed that Luther gave her more credit than most women got at that time which gave him the freedom to continue writing and pursing the reformation of the Church. The book is well written and easy to read. Some history books can be dry and difficult to read – especially when delving into small details. Nevertheless, Michelle DeRusha did a great job bringing these two very important people from 500 years ago to life. I highly recommend this book to history buffs, those who like a good romance and anyone wanting to understand Luther and the more intimate part of his Reformation.
Historical reading is not my reading by choice. But when an author I enjoy writes a historical book, it lands on my desk. Katharina & Martin Luther: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk by Michelle DeRusha reads more like a novel than a history book. The author pulls you into the lives of this couple, weaving a compelling image of a couple who blazed their way through marriage and faith. I so appreciated all I learned from Michelle’s extensive research and resources, even more grateful for her writing style which made this book not only easy to read but a delight to read. Whether you agree with Luther’s theology, or not, this is a book that will be enjoyed and should be read. For in reading it, I came to discover they were not much different than any of us today. We still have struggles and commit to things for which we take “chances”. More than a theology book, this is a book that will challenge and motivate us to live with faith, love, and persistence today. * I received a complimentary copy of this book as a member of the launch team in exchange for my honest opinion and thoughts.
Loved this book more than I thought I would. DeRusha's style of writing makes Katharina and Luther's story come to life. Even though it's peppered with footnotes, it reads like fiction. If you're like me and didn't realize (or remember) there was a Mrs. Luther, you'll find her story very interesting. She was a women's libber before there was women's lib. And Martin's views on women (and marriage) were very progressive for his time. Be careful - you won't want to stop reading once you start.
I jumped at chance to review Michelle DeRusha’s, Katharina & Martin Luther, about a ‘radical marriage of a runaway nun and a renegade monk’. This well-crafted book reads more like suspense story than a historical account of two fascinating people in the Middle Ages who changed history. Michelle, a gifted writer, finds an eloquent balance in presenting facts within a well-structured, intriguing storyline that kept me wanting more as I finished each chapter. Sleepy and up way past my bedtime, I found myself reading ‘just one more page‘. I knew some of Martin Luther’s influence on Christianity that launched the Protestant Reformation in the 16th Century, including his radical rejection of the Catholic Church due to its power and corruption in seeking indulgences – getting people to purchase a free ticket from punishment of sin. I knew less about his years as a monk and his harsh asceticism, his spiritual awakening, and being excommunicated by the Pope for his unfolding conflicting theologies. I knew little about his influence on clerical marriage, marriage ceremonies as we know them today, and his high esteem for marriage and sexuality as God-appointed. I knew nothing of Katharina, little about girls women in the Middle Ages, or of this fascinating marriage portrayed in Katharina and Martin Luther — a book that opened wide the door into another world of the Middle Ages and a pivotal point in Christian history. As a filmmaker, I appreciate Michelle’s cinematic writing bringing the reader into the heart of the 16th Century Europe, into the intimacy and immediacy of a scene such as a flickering of candlelight on the wall, a breath, and detailed sense of place and time. Although, little is known about Katharina due to scant correspondence and the fact that women weren’t even considered citizens unless married, historians believe Katharina was born in 1499 into the von Bora family of lower nobility. We soon learn she’s sent to a cloister at five-years-old, alleviating financial burdens of her father, common for many families with daughters, a practice Martin Luther later considered a disgrace. Katharina’s early years in a Benedictine cloister were rich in education and comfort, however at 9-years-old she moved to a more austere, isolated Cistercian cloister, far from the world where she mostly lived a life of industrious silence and obedience with strict daily practices and duties that allowed little sleep. Michelle’s writing drew me into the isolation Katharina must have felt as such a young girl, sparking a quiet outrage that raised questions for me about the cloister’s oppressive spiritual practices imposed by the invisible, yet powerful ghost of the Catholic Church lurking somewhere in the backdrop. I won’t offer too many more details because I don’t want to spoil the fun! Just to say Katharina and Martin Luther is a daring escapade of two ‘rebels with a cause‘ challenging the authority of the Catholic Church, a story of scandal and rebellion and history changing material that delights, educates and entertains. It’s also sexy in an odd, Middle-Ages sort of way, as these two heretics, a former monk and nun, break the chains of the rigid sexual ethics of the Catholic church. Readers even get to glimpse the consummation of their marriage on their wedding night! I won't say more..a great read!
Michelle DeRusha is a Christian author who writes with excellence; I first became acquainted with her writing through her blog and her contribution to a Lenten devotional booklet in 2016. She relates a factual account of Katharina and Martin Luther in a way that is so absorbing, it is hard to put down. Rich with historical details, the author unfolds the Luther’s stories both before and after their marriage. The author had a huge task in determining which information to use out of several shelves of books by and about Martin Luther, and to find anything at all about Katharina. Growing up, I remember learning only that Katharina had been a nun, but we learned much more about Martin Luther. One thing I don’t remember learning about are Martin Luther’s writings on Christian marriage, even though he had no plans of marriage himself. What a change Katharina made in the bold monk’s life as each of them lived out the powerful testimony the Lord intended them for! The 1500’s was not an easy time to be a woman, nor was it a time when any specific woman, especially their feelings or thoughts, could be found. The author sketched what Katharina’s life was probably like based on facts of what a girl and woman’s life was like, and includes facts of what she learned about the spunky former nun. Girls had few choices or opportunities; women were not even citizens unless married. Coming from a titled family, certain expectations were on the life of Katharina von Bora, including marriage to a man of similar social standing. You will need to read the book to see why Katharina was sent to a convent school at the tender age of six. Could any of us today imagine being taken there to live at a tender age? Her lessons there would include preparation for marriage to a nobleman. Some of those lessons, plus what she learned about the Lord as a nun, must have helped her as Luther’s bride. After Luther prepared the now-famous 95 theses in 1517 resulting from his in-depth study of scriptures, his life changed completely. His primary premise is that salvation is by grace alone, and he demonstrated this very different tenet of faith from what he learned as a monk. He became a noted heretic, and his life was in danger. Katharina married him in spite of those concerns; after all, she was a runaway, too! Did you know that Martin Luther’s father had prepared him to be an attorney? Another surprising little fact is that Katharina brewed their beer, and Martin Luther sorely missed her home brew when traveling. There is a story behind these little discussed facts and many more. The author penned a very realistic picture of Katharina and Martin Luther, one demonstrating how they were a “Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk” as the subtitle says. It is fascinating, enlightening, and a tremendous blessing to those who have followed in the Protestant faith. There is such a contrast from the lifestyles of 500 years ago to where we are today! This book, including the references and copies of interesting documents, weaves a colorful tapestry of a blessed man and the woman who relieved him of home and financial challenges so his ministry could flourish. It is not to be missed by those who celebrate our rich heritage of faith; I highly recommend it to adults of any age and older teens/ young adults. From a grateful heart: I was given this book by the author and NetGalley and this is my honest review.
Some authors display courage in their choices of topics, others by the frank honesty of their self-disclosure, and others by daring to traverse terrain through which many writers have traveled before them. Michelle DeRusha, through her work on "Katharina & Martin Luther: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk," falls into the third category. If one were to pick the historical figures to whom the most linear feet of library shelves have been devoted, then, in some order near the top of the list, one would name Jesus, Martin Luther, and Abraham Lincoln. This year marks the quincentennial of the Protestant Reformation, sparked by Martin Luther’s decision to propose reforms of various practices of the Roman Catholic Church. In the five hundred years that have elapsed since 1517, the consequences—both intended and unintended—of that watershed event have touched most facets of modern Western civilization. But who was Martin Luther, the man at the center of the debate? This book’s novel and distinctive answer reframes this often-asked question. The author makes a quick and convincing case that one cannot understand the event or the man without grasping the character of his life. And one cannot understand his life without coming to appreciate his marriage. Finally, one cannot understand his marriage without getting to know Katherina von Bora, the former nun with whom Martin, the ex-monk, forged the first marital partnership that one could call a modern, Western marriage. The reader of "Katharina & Martin Luther" will turn its pages eagerly as the portrait of the couple comes to life. Martin’s life and thoughts persist in copious, written records, making the challenge in sketching his contribution one of selection. On the other hand, the author’s work creates a kind of biographical–paleontological portrait of Katharina. It’s as if the author has found a scattering of shards—only eight letters from Katharina’s hand survive—and reconstructs the woman’s life from those shards and from judiciously selected studies of the lives of sixteenth-century women generally and women religious particularly. The delight in reading this book comes in the experience of watching the portrait of the relationship take shape and then comparing the couple’s marriage with contemporary relationships. The experience is like seeing the echoes of the faces of grandparents in the still-changing features of their grandchildren. While "Katharina & Martin Luther" is a biography, amply researched and documented, the author has found a way to vivify her findings and the book’s subjects by telling their shared story and drawing out its implications. This approach makes the book become a page-turner. The celebrations and dissections of the Reformation, arguably one of the most significant historical events of the last millennium, will only increase in number as the year proceeds. If you want to begin your journey to appreciate this event’s influence on modern society and your own daily life from a place grounded in history and blooming with insights, then Michelle DeRusha’s "Katharina & Martin Luther: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk" is an excellent place to start. The author included me in a team of readers who received copies of the book before its release.
KATHARINA & MARTIN LUTHER The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk By Michelle DeRusha Forward by Karen Swallow Prior This book was a very interesting to read not like a normal life love story as we all know and we can not find easily from the regular textbook too. A former nun named Katharina and Martin Luthers’ individual living life story of their unlikely marriage. This will be a most of love story an unique biography of the remarkable people of there legendry couple. The Author, Michelle DeRusha remind us about how the grace of Christ truly affects our life since today. I highly recommend everyone must read this book. “ I received this book free from Baker Books through the Baker Books Bloggers in exchange for this review “