Baker Books, 2017. 320pp.
Christian Living, Biography
While Martin Luther is widely known as the initiator of the Protestant Reformation, few realize this former monk was married. In her latest biography, author Michelle DeRusha introduces us to his wife Katharina, and tells the incredible story of how Martin Luther came to marry this runaway nun.
The book opens with details of Katharina von Bora and Luther’s backgrounds, as well as how each came to enter monastic life. DeRusha points out that Katharina certainly never expected to leave the convent, but when the writings of Luther became available, this brave nun and 11 others made a daring escape after reaching out to the well-known reformer himself.
Readers quickly discover the strength and resilience of Katharina. After leaving the convent, she knew marriage was necessary for survival, but she refused to settle for just any husband. Luther, however, met her approval. DeRusha provides several reasons for his acquiescence to marriage, but most revealing are his own words. “I didn’t love my Kathe at the time, for I regarded her with mistrust as someone proud and arrogant. But it pleased God, who wanted me to take pity on her” (p. 152).
Throughout the book, DeRusha educates readers with fascinating details of medieval culture. The ill-treatment of women, particularly those who were single or widowed, was shocking to read. Former nuns were thought to be especially dangerous. Katharina was viewed as a “sex-crazed seductress” who snagged “not just any man, but a monk, and a famous one at that” (p. 168).
DeRusha calls attention to the lasting redemptive effect of the Luther’s marriage, despite the chaotic nature of marriage at the time. Through his writings and example, the effects of Luther’s reforms on marriage are still seen today.
Benefit for Pastoral Ministry
With October 31, 2017 being the 500th anniversary of Luther nailing his Ninety-five Theses, pastors may be tempted to remember Luther in terms of his theological works only. Michelle DeRusha’s book, however, provides a more holistic view of Luther the man, not solely the reformer. Here pastors will find well-researched material showing not only his important work with the Reformation, but through his own letters, they’ll be able to see his love and respect for his wife and his tender heart for his children.
Pastors will be encouraged to see that Luther’s writings and high standards of marriage did not always align with the reality of his own. This man whom God used so greatly still needed grace. Be encouraged, pastors, you have a Father who gladly gives it.
Luther’s obedience to God in marrying Katharina was greatly rewarded. This prize of a wife was exactly what he needed. DeRusha highlights her savviness with money, her companionship with Luther and her excellent skills as a brewer. Pastors will be reminded of how God honors obedience.
Michelle DeRusha also provides pastors with a new resource, particularly for the women in their churches. They will now be able to offer women a new heroine to learn from and admire. Pastors will want to expose the ladies in their congregation to Katharina’s determination in the midst of hard times, her industriousness in the home and her theological astuteness. And thanks to the easy readability and novel-like quality of the book, busy moms won’t mind diving in.
After reading of how women were so wrongly viewed and treated in the 1500’s, pastors will be spurred on to value women rightly. Gender issues were a problem then and still are today. Pastors will be eager to champion women and truthfully speak of their God-given dignity and worth.
Essential — Recommended — Helpful — Pass It By
This LifeWay Pastors review is by Courtney L. Moore.