Sunday, January 29, 2012

Katherine von Bora

“I will stick to Christ as a burr to cloth.” 
- Katherine von Bora

Today is Katherine von Bora's 513th birthday. Most people do not know who she is, but she was someone who inspired and helped one of the leading characters in the Reformation (Martin Luther). Someone who put him through, as Luther said, “The school for character.” With a life devoted to God, Katherine von Bora was a remarkable woman; showing her strength, wit and faith throughout her life.

On January, 29, 1499 Katherine von Bora was born, in Lippendorf, Germany. At the age of five her mother passed away, and her father sent her to a boarding school. When Katherine was nine she was taken to the Cistern convent at Nimbschen in Saxony. Although she had never sought the secluded life of the convent on October 8, 1515, at the age of sixteen, Katherine von Bora made her vows to become a nun (or as some say, she “married Christ”).  Two years following her vows, Martin Luther nailed his ninety-five theses on a church in Witterburg. 

Word of Luther began to travel throughout Germany, and it reached the ears of the convent at Nimbschen. In the early 1520’s, nine nuns from the Convent wrote to their parents stating that, “the salvation of our souls, does not allow us to continue any longer to live in a cloister…” This made their parents begin to fear the penalties that would follow should their daughters try to leave the convent. They warned them not to, for many had tried and failed before them – And were severely punished! But not heeding to what their parents said, they wrote to Martin Luther, who agreed to help. He acquired the assistance of two respectable men (Leonard Koppe and Wolff Tonitzch). On the Eve of Easter, April 7th 1523, they helped Katherine von Bora and eleven other nuns sneak out of the convent. The nuns got into empty barrels that were on the back of the men’s wagon, and when asked what was in the barrels Koppe replied, “Herring.” They were then taken to an old Augustine convent where Luther resided. Though many doubted the nuns would ever escape, Katherine showed strength until the end, and rejoiced when she had made it safely out of the cloister and into Luther’s life.

Three of the nuns returned to their families. The others, with the help of Luther, found husbands or a respectable position. Soon all of the former nuns were married, except for Katherine. She had acquired a job however, serving a respectable family. Katherine had fallen in love with a young man, but his parents strongly objected to her, and he married another; leaving Katherine heart broken. Luther tried in vain to find other suitable young men, but she turned them all down. Luther began to grow quite agitated. After one attempt to find Katherine a husband, she told Luther, “If you were to ask me to be your wife, I wouldn't say no.” Luther did not take this seriously but smiled, after all there was a sixteen year age gap between them. He was not against marriage at all, but he was certain that it was not right for him. In fact, Luther had stated before, “God can change my heart as he pleases; but now at least, I have no thought of taking a wife; not that I do not feel some inclination for the married state: I am neither wood nor stone; but I am in daily expectation of the death and punishment due to a heretic.” But Luther's objections soon came to an end. Katherine had "grown on him," and he soon found himself writing to a friend, “If I can swing it, I’ll take my Kate to wife ere I die, to spite the devil.”

On June, 13, 1525 Doctor Martin Luther married Katherine von Bora at the converted monastery (also known as the Black Cloister), where Luther lived. He even sent a letter to Koppe (one of the men who helped the nuns escape) saying, “I am going to get married. God likes to work miracles and to make a fool of the world. You must come to the wedding.” The wedding raised many skeptics’ eyes. Some people began to say, “Their first child shall surely be the antichrist, for there is a prophecy that he is to spring from a monk and a nun.” Despite the opinion of others, Luther and Katherine’s marriage was a great success. And a year later Katherine gave birth to their first son, who turned out not to be the antichrist after all. ;)  

Katherine spent a great deal of time making the cloister where they lived homey. Many say that she was the perfect example of the Proverbs 31 woman. Katherine kept cows for butter, milk, and cheese; grew her own garden and planted an orchard; stocked a pond with fish; and kept a piggery, because Luther liked pork. Luther then gave her the nickname “My Lord Kate, Mistress of the Pigsty.” She also ministered to people all over Wittenburg. She would listen to their problems, counsel them in their sorrows, advise them in their business affairs, and give them care and medicine in their sickness. 

Martin Luther often commented on Katherine’s cleverness, helping him to always keep his spirits up. During a very difficult period for Luther, who was usually very happy and smiling, he began to grow depressed. Katherine endured the gloomy Luther for a few days, but then decided to take matters into her own hands. One day Katherine met Luther at the door in a black mourning dress.
“Who died?’ Luther asked.
“God,” She replied.
“You foolish thing!” Luther exclaimed. “Why this foolishness?”
“It is true, God must have died or the great Doctor Luther would not be so sorrowful.”
Her plan worked, and Luther became quite jolly from the jest and was his old self again. Katherine von Bora’s wit was always ready, when the time called for it.

It is said that Katherine von Bora’s faith is what kept her going. Although she was cast out by her father, lost two of her own children and was threatened by the thought of Luther being burnt for a heretic, Katherine continued. Near the end of Martin Luther’s life, Katherine spent a great deal of time tending to him. Luther passed away on February, 18, 1546, at the age of sixty-three. Later on, war broke out in Germany, and Katherine took her family away. They returned to their home after the war to find it desolate. Katherine never finished returning her home back into its previous state for the plague broke out, and once again Katherine and her family had to leave. On the wagon taking them away, Katherine was thrown out into an icy ditch. Her daughter, Margaret, spent several days tending to Katherine. But Katherine von Bora Luther wasn’t to recover. As she lay upon her death bed she said, “I will stick to Christ as a burr to cloth,” showing her strong faith in God, even as she faced death.

“Perseverance must finish its work so that you may mature and complete, not lacking anything.”   
- James 1:4

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