The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk (Review)
Katharina and Martin Luther is the main title of the book. And yes! Martin Luther, German leader of the Protestant Reformation is the monk referred to in the subtitle as a renegade. One wonders why with so many published resources which cover his theology, his doctrine and his politics, there is so little known about his impactful theological views on marriage and the circumstances of his scandalous marriage to Katharina von Bora, formerly of the Cistercian Order of Nuns. Michelle DeRusha tells the story and fills in the blanks on one of the most exceptional marriages in history.
Although their story was previously told in Luther and Katharina: A Novel of Love and Rebellion by Jody Hedlund, DeRusha's Katharina and Martin Luther gains significance for its publication date in January 2017, the year which marks the 500th anniversary of Luther's Ninety-Five Theses which initiated the Protestant Reformation.
DeRusha's work, published by Baker Books contains 320 pages, divided into 18 chapters, plus several significant portrait paintings and illustrations of convents, churches, the living quarters of Katherina the nun as well as the home of the married couple and their six children.
The Fascinating Plot
DeRusha introduces the Katharina story with the difficult family situation which landed her at the cloister school in Brehna. She records her transfer to the Cistercian convent in Nimbshcen where she takes her vows of chastity, obedience and poverty at age sixteen. Meanwhile, the author educates the reader concerning the economic, social and moral impact of life in the sixteenth century convent.
Ruins of Katharina's Convent at Nimbschen
Next, DeRusha introduces Martin Luther and the circumstances which caused his shift from the legal profession to his theological pursuit. She follows his career, his passion for righteousness, his placement as professor at the University of Wittenberg, and his treatises attacking the papacy and the Roman Catholic Church for their unlawful sale of indulgences.
She reveals that his views on celibacy and marriage were as central to the reformation as were his views on indulgences; and that his powerful leadership had far-reaching influence, even penetrating the cloistered walls of convents like the one in which Katharina lived. His writings motivated the suspenseful, rebellious escapes of several nuns.
The plot continues with the marriage of Martin and Katharina Luther -two people who previously vowed celibacy- the opposition they faced, the efforts to sabotage their credibility, their unrelenting support for each other, and the demonstration of their undying romance till death separated them.
Throughout the marriage, DeRusha presents Katharina as a strong, capable advisor to her husband in matters of finances, travel, politics and in responses to his enemies. She also proved to be an excellent mother during and after her husband's death.
Marriage Then and Now
DeRusha describes the process of marriage before Luther addressed it. It was disorganized and absurd, resulting in various unbelievable scenarios which will make readers cringe or laugh out loud. Luther added formality and religious perspective, changing the way Christians thought about it, and shaping the marriage ceremony with principles that are still followed today.
Marriage for the satisfaction of sexual and social needs found no place in Luther's concept of marriage. The issues of compatibility and fulfillment which are major goals today were not even a consideration then. His marriage with Katharina was initiated by his obedience to God and his desire to serve her. As evidenced in excerpts from his love letters which will touch readers' hearts, their love grew and developed beyond anything they could have imagined, let alone desired.
Have you done any previous reading on the marriage and family life of Martin Luther?
Students of church history will love this additional insight on the life and times of Martin Luther.
Women will love the story of Katharina who, despite the view of the women as second-class citizens back then, lived up to her full potential as equal partner in love, in family and business.
Christian preachers and counselors will receive motivation for revisiting and promoting the Biblical foundation for marriage.
Readers who love a good story will find this one entertaining and compelling, as well as informative and inspiring.
Praise for the Author
Michelle De Rusha wrote two other books: Spiritual Misfit and 50 Women Every Christian Should Know. She lives in Nebraska where she writes a monthly column for the Lincoln Journal Star.
For her third book, she has done an excellent job in reconstructing the marriage of the Luthers and giving it the historical and religious prominence it deserves.
She gathered her information mainly from Luther's Table Talks, his treatises on marriage, and several biographies which reflected his views on women and their roles in society as well as in the home. She found only two biographies of Katherina and eight of her letters, none of which is addressed to her husband. The author's expertise in story-telling shows in the easy-to-follow method by which she compiles the facts, relying on the social, religious and political tenets of the era.
I received this book free from the publisher through NetGalley. The opinions I have expressed are mine.
© 2017 Dora Weithers