Monthly Archives: November 2011

God’s Champions: Katharine Luther, Wife of the Reformation

An excellent wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.

Katharine von Bora Luther, wife of the famous theologian and reformer Martin Luther, did not die for her faith. That was not her legacy. Her legacy, at least for me, was that of her marriage, her motherhood, her industriousness, her integrity, her undivided heart.

If you want to find a good description of the kind of woman she appears to have been, check out Proverbs 31:10-31. It has amazed me, in my reading, to see Katy reflected in so much of the famed passage.

The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.

She does him good, and not harm,
all the days of her life.

While Katy and Martin’s marriage was not troubled, it also certainly was not idyllic. Martin was a horrifically busy man. He was pressed on all sides with issues of theology and, inevitably, politics. He mentored hundreds of students and spent hours in daily prayer and study. On more than one occasion, the couple exchanged flippant, snappish remarks at the table in front of guests.

And yet, he wrote to a friend, “My Katie is in all things so obliging and pleasing to me that I would not exchange my poverty for the riches of Croesus.”

She seeks wool and flax
and works with willing hands.

And, oh, the work she did at the Luther household. She kept house, brewed beer, gardened, cooked, cared for the ill, and bore six children (two of whom died).

Martin called her the “Boss of Zulsdorf” (since she oversaw the operation of the family farm which was named so) and “The Morning Star of Wittenberg” (for her habit of rising at 4 a.m. to prepare the household for the day).

She opens her hands to the poor
and reaches out her hands to the needy.

Martin and Katy lived in the Black Cloister, a wedding gift from the Elector John Frederick of Saxony. Martin and Katy were next to destitute, but the Cloister was spacious, and they took in many; friends, family, needy, ill, displaced.

She looks well to the ways of her household
and does not eat the bread of idleness.

I’m a wife and mother now, too. I may not have a household that often reaches twenty-five (!) to care for, but I understand at least what kind of work Katy faced, and I know that I often buckle under the pressure. When I’m having a day like that (“Another dirty diaper? The kitchen is dirty again?”) I can easily feel belittled and downtrodden, but it strengthens me to know that Katy Luther (and so many women like her) walked this road with her head high and her  heart pure. I thank God she walked before me, so I could look to her.

Her children rise up and call her blessed;
her husband also, and he praises her:

“Many women have done excellently,
but you surpass them all.”

Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

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Job Chapter 38: the Visual Edition

Creation sings the glory of God, and that in itself is a glorious thing.

Just imagine – God is so magnificent, so utterly incomprehensibly wonderful,

that He, who can not be arrogant (it’s not in His nature),

was right and just in creating an entire universe to sing His own praise.

Just think about that for a moment!

It gets better.

That alone wasn’t enough for our God. Our God is bigger than that.

 Why? Because creation can’t not sing the glory of God; it’s simply made to.

We, on the other hand, can glorify God in a much greater way:

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God’s Champions: Katharine von Bora, Runaway Nun

Katharine von Bora

Just a few short years after Katharine von Bora’s birth in 1499, her mother died. Her father Hans remarried almost immediately and for reasons we can’t fully know, she was sent away to convent school at the age of five. Paying the entry price was a stretch for the family; it was a hard, final decision to send Katy away. She seems to have been a typical student, getting in a little, but not notable, trouble, before saying her vows and becoming a Cistercian nun at the convent of Nimbschen in 1515. Her life was simple and dedicated.

Outside the nunnery, though, Germany and all Europe were in turmoil. In 1517, Martin Luther posted his famous Ninety-Five Theses on the door of a church in Wittenberg. Many people don’t know that the main thrust of this document was to dispute the Church’s use of indulgences. Put simply, an indulgence was partial forgiveness granted in exchange for monetary payment. Indulgences were an elaborate system with many qualifications and myriad possible scenarios for a transaction. Luther disputed their rightness at the very core.

This restlessness and chaos stretched far beyond Germany’s borders and into all Europe. It entangled not just Luther but many, many more contemporary reformers, like Huldrich Zwingli, John Calvin, William Tyndale, Desiderius Erasmus, and more – not to mention reformers who had stretched far into these men’s pasts, like Jan Hus and John Wycliffe.

Zwingli, Calvin, Tyndale, Erasmus, Hus, Wycliffe

Something of this unrest reached the nuns at Nimbschen. On Easter morning, 1523, Katy and eleven other nuns were smuggled out of the convent by a fish merchant named Leonard Koppe. The legend is that they were smuggled out in fish barrels, which is a colorful, if disputable, version of the story. At any rate, the nuns risked their lives in escaping, and only three of them could return to their families. Most girls were disowned when they left, including Katy. These young women were serious about their decision.

Did Katy have a strong, informed theological opinion? Had she read Reformation writings covertly? Or did she simply know that she was in the wrong place? Again, we can’t know for sure.

Martin Luther

Along with the eight other nuns that hadn’t returned to their families, Katy traveled to Wittenberg. She lived temporarily with the Reichenbach family, but soon moved in with the famous painter Lucas Cranach and his wife, Barbara. She worked in their household for a few years while she awaited a husband. Matches were being made for the nuns by Luther and his friends, specifically Niklaus von Amsdorf and Philip Melancthon.

By all accounts, Katy was a refined, no-nonsense, trustworthy woman. She was not attractive, though, and was regarded as very strong-willed. Luther cared for her and worked at length to find her a husband, but she proved difficult to match. She did have a serious suitor named Jerome Baumgartner. But when he returned to his family, supposedly to make arrangements for a wedding, he never returned or answered any of Katy’s letters. Katy held out hope for many months before finally getting word that he had married another.

Martin and Katy, as far as we can tell, were very fond of each other, but Martin insisted that he’d never marry, for fear that he’d be martyred and leave a widow. It became more and more obvious, though, that Katy would become his wife. Katy had no other options, and needed cared for. And Martin began to realize that, publicly, by remaining single and celibate, he was reinforcing a mandate of the Church, and of a vow which he’d shed years earlier. Out of good wishes for his wife-to-be, and with the political motive of condoning marriage – even in those formerly cloistered – Martin proposed through a friend, and the two were married in June 1525.

The Luther Wedding

What was it like, being married to the “Father of the Reformation?” Stay tuned.

Credit where credit is due:
A Reformation Life
by Rufus and Marilyn Markwald
Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland Bainton

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“My” Jesus

I saw something interesting on Facebook the other day.

A friend of mine is about to lose another friend to cancer, and this person (who I don’t know) isn’t saved. So my friend posted a prayer request, for wisdom and peace and, above all, his salvation. A handful of loving responses came in, which said things like, “Praying!” and “I’m so sorry for your loss.” One of the responses – which was no less loving – caught my attention.

“The Jesus I believe in will love him and accept him regardless.”

“The Jesus I believe in.” As if there were a selection of Jesuses to pick from. Here’s my Jesus; what does yours look like?

C.S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, said:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.

We’re talking all or nothing here. If he’s divine, worship him. If he’s a liar or madman, put him out of your mind right now.

Another thing: if he’s divine, learn and obey his teaching. That’s part of worship.

Jesus said that it was almost impossible for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God (Mt 19:23). He said that sons of the kingdom – Hebrews – would be thrown into outer darkness, where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth (Mt 8:12). He said that it would be better for some men to have a millstone hung around their necks and be drowned (Lk 17:2). There’s no getting around any of that. He said it. If you believe in Jesus, you believe in these sayings.

I'm makin' me a Jesus Cake.

My point being this – you can’t make yourself a Jesus. You don’t go into the pantry and grab some morality, some good teaching, some pacifism, and skip over divinity or righteous anger or the atonement.

If you believe that Jesus was insane or a liar, so be it. But if you believe he is the Son of God, then you’ve gotta take the whole package.

In the end, there is only one Jesus. And there’s only one place to find him: God’s Word.

***

The Real Jesus by Downhere (a fantastic song):

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Judah: an excerpt from ‘The Sons of Israel’

My name is Praise.

My mother thought my birth would kill her. Maybe a part of her even hoped that it would. What had she to resent? Nothing at all. The victorious of two warring sisters, blessing followed her in everything. She had a strong husband who came consistently to her tent and three vibrant, healthy sons to show for it.

But my mother was tired. She had earned everything she had by right and by might; she was the sister to whom honor was due, but, dwarfed by Rachel’s meaningless beauty, she was forced to surpass the younger in every other way. The two were even. Israel ignored Leah’s dullness but praised her hardworking spirit and fertile womb. He adored Rachel’s sweet femininity but ignored her sloth, selfishness and barrenness.

There was a way that the race was uneven, though; it had tried my mother to exhaustion while Rachel lounged. Now, in childbed for a fourth time, she recognized futility. She’s told me the story time and again:

“I thought that my womb had closed with you inside. I convulsed with each pain. I had never, with three sons, felt such agony. Each of your older brothers took less than a day to come into the light. With you, I decided to die at a day and a half.

“I decided I’d never see Israel again, and I didn’t care. I would never see my sons again, and I accepted that. My only regret, Praise, was that I wouldn’t see you a single time. Not once. But with that pain under my heart, I lay back on the childbed and closed my eyes.

“My pain was cut in half. Something in my body stopped working, and for hours I lay there unable to move or speak. At first my midwife thought I had died. She stopped working, but then she saw my breath. She continued to help my womb do its work while I lay there half-dead. I don’t remember anything for days after that, but when I awoke, I had a healthy son – the biggest one I’d borne yet – and a flush in my cheeks again. El took half of my life, long enough to give me you, and then breathed it back into me so I could know you, love you, and tell you the miracle of your birth. I named you that day, saying, ‘This time, I will Praise the Lord.’”

My mother thought my birth would kill her, and even though no one has said it, today everyone thinks this birth will kill Rachel. Tomorrow, though, whether both Rachel and her son are breathing, or just one of them, or neither – I will praise the Lord.

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