Katharina von Bora

Biographical Sketch of Katharina:

The Woman who Clung to Christ like a Burr on a Dress

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by Lauren Bufano, Biola University

Summary of life:

  • January 29, 1499: Born in Hirshfeld Saxony to Hans von Bora and Anna von Haugwitz. Katharina born into nobility who also struggled financially. She grew up on a farm
    • Siblings: three brothers (Hans, Klement, and unknown name)  
  • 1505: Her mother dies, father remarries, and Katharina is sent to the Benedictine school at Brehna
    • School known for quality curriculum and for “grooming the daughters of nobility”
  • 1509: Entered nunnery Marienthron at Nimbschen
  • 1515: Consecrated as nun
  • Early 1520’s: Luther’s writings made way into the Marienthron convent
  • Easter Eve April 7, 1523: Fled from Marienthron to Wittenberg with 11 other nuns lead by Koppe (indirectly helped by Luther)
  • 1523-1526: Jerome, the man whom she loved and was suppose to marry, leaves town, never replies to Katharina’s letters, and marries another woman instead in 1526
  • 1523-1525: lived at the Cranach home
  • 1524-1525: The peasants war
  • June 13, 1525: betrothed to Martin Luther
    • “ If I can arrange it, I will mary Kate in defiance of the devil and all his adversaries
    • Luther claimed to have chosen Kate because he felt sorry for her– a poor, honest, but forsaken woman. To Luther it seemed that it was God’s will to have pity on her
  • June 27, 1525: Kate and Martin officially marry at the Black Cloister
  • June 7, 1526: Birth of the Luther’s first son Johannes (Hans)
  • December 10 1527: Birth of Elizabeth
  • August 3 1528: Death of Elizabeth
  • May 4 1529: Birth of Magdalene
  • November 9, 1531: Birth of Martin Jr.
  • February 4, 1532: The Black Cloister is donated to the Luther’s
  • January 29, 1533: Birth of Paul
  • December 17, 1534: Birth of Margarete
  • 1536: Death of Kate’s Aunt Magdalene
  • 1540: Suffered from the effects of a miscarriage; close to death
    • She would pray Psalm 31:1 and Luther fervently prayed for her restoration
  • 1542: Death of Margarete
    • This death troubled the life of Martin Luther as his daughter died in His arm. Kate was extremely distressed.
  • February 18, 1546: Death of her beloved husband Martin Luther
  • June 18, 1546: flees with children to Magdeburg
  • Fall 1552: the plague spread to Kate’s home. She leaves Wittenberg
  • December 20, 1552: Dies three months after a serious horse accident
  • December 2,1 1552: funeral and burial at St. Mary’s Church in Torgau

Influence and Recognition:

  • Influenced by:
    • Luther
      • Luther’s work “Spiritual and Monastery Vows” and “The Freedom of a Christian” circulated the convent and impacted the nuns there
      • “Luther was Kate’s teacher, especially when it came to Scripture and theology”
      • Luther promised her 50 gulden if she would read through the Bible in a year
      • Luther exhorted her to hear and read God’s Word and encouraged Kate daily
  • Influenced
    • Luther:
      • Luther asserts that he would not have been able to challenge the celibate clerical domination of medieval Christianity it were not for his wife.
      • Luther: “The letter to the Galatians is my beloved epistle; I trust it. It is my Kate von Bora”. This shows not only Luther’s love for his wife but how valuable she was to him.
      • Luther had many (almost fatal) complications to his health. Kate would care for Luther not only physically but also mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
        • “ …my wife [Kate] conforted me with God’s Word so I was at peace…”
    • The world around her
      • She was both a submissive wife and an a “go-getter”. One cannot help but to think of the Proverbs 31 women when reading the life of Katharina von Bora. She was an example of a godly wife for both women and men. The hospitality that she displayed radiated Christ to the world as her home was a ministry alongside her husband.
        • She “broke the traditional medieval concept of Christian ministry as the work of men only”
  • Known for:
    • Her conduct and hospitality
      • “A woman of refined gracefulness and bearing. Although not a beauty, she was a decisive person with a kind face, a frank expression, and she was not flirtatious. She was a no-nonsense woman who could be trusted”
      • Kate was a gardener, fisher, brewer, fruit grower, cattle and horse breeder, cook, beekeeper, and nurse
      • The Luther residence acted as a hotel for: displaced scholars, students, refugees, escaped nuns and monks, and family members
    • Economics
      • She knew that land brings security, and therefore sought to acquire much land for her family
      • Luther credits his wife for their economic expansion
      • Luther trusted his wife more than his friends concerning economics
      • Incredibly intelligent as she brought the Luthers out of looming debt
  • Key theological ideas:
    • Luther often mentions how she comforted him with the Word of God
      • Katharina must uphold the notion of sola scriptura
    • Strong faith in the providence of God
      • While Luther was ill, she states that she would rather have him be with the Lord and that she would not worry about finances because she knew God would care for her
    • Theological differences with Luther
      • Polygamy, God’s test of Abraham’s faith on Mt. Moriah, and David’s claim to his own righteousness
    • Doxology was the utmost importance. Instead of writing systematic theology or theological treatises, Kate sought to practice what she believed for her everyday life.
      • “Through her trust in God’s Word, she was a theologian”
    • She was a critical thinker and unafraid of engaging with theology
      • How could God ask Abraham to sacrifice his own son?
      • How could Solomon have had so many wives?
      • How can I be both a saint and a sinner?

Works:

  • Types:                 
    • Most of her letters have been destroyed
    • The few letters that have been discovered (18):
      • Lamenting the death of her husband
      • Concerning estate
      • Letters of thanks/gratitude
      • A positive response to Christina von Bora’s request for financial aid on behalf of her son
  • Major Works:                     
    • She is most well known through Luther’s descriptions of her
    • Played a key role in table talks, was encouraged by Luther to engage in the theological conversations taking place (even those in Latin)
    • Letters sent after her husband passes to keep her property

Secondary Works

  • Markwald, Rudolf K., and Marilynn Morris Markwald. Katharina von Bora : a reformation life. n.p.: St. Louis, Mo. : Concordia Pub. House, c2002., 2002. Biola Library Catalog, EBSCOhost (accessed April 9, 2017).
  • Treu, Martin. “Katharina von Bora, the Woman at Luther’s Side.” Lutheran Quarterly 13, no. 2 (1999 1999): 156-178. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 10, 2017).
  • Smith, Jeanette C. “Katharina von Bora through five centuries: a historiography.” The Sixteenth Century Journal no. 3 (1999): 745. Academic OneFile, EBSCOhost (accessed April 12, 2017).
  • Stein, Armin, and Emma A. Endlich. Katharine von Bora, Dr. Martin Luther’s wife : a picture from life. n.p.: Philadelphia : United Lutheran Publication House, 1890., 1890. Biola Library Catalog, EBSCOhost (accessed April 9, 2017).
  • Stevenson, David R. Bora, Katharina von (1499–1550). n.p.: Gale, 2000. Gale Virtual Reference Library, EBSCOhost (accessed April 12, 2017).

Bibliography

  • Markwald, Rudolf K., and Marilynn Morris Markwald. Katharina von Bora : a reformation life. n.p.: St. Louis, Mo. : Concordia Pub. House, c2002., 2002. Biola Library Catalog, EBSCOhost (accessed April 9, 2017).
  • Smith, Jeanette C. “Katharina von Bora through five centuries: a historiography.” The Sixteenth Century Journal no. 3 (1999): 745. Academic OneFile, EBSCOhost (accessed April 12, 2017).
  • Stein, Armin, and Emma A. Endlich. Katharine von Bora, Dr. Martin Luther’s wife : a picture from life. n.p.: Philadelphia : United Lutheran Publication House, 1890., 1890. Biola Library Catalog, EBSCOhost (accessed April 13, 2017).
  • Stevenson, David R. Bora, Katharina von (1499–1550). n.p.: Gale, 2000. Gale Virtual Reference Library, EBSCOhost (accessed April 12, 2017).
  • Treu, Martin. “Katharina von Bora, the Woman at Luther’s Side.” Lutheran Quarterly 13, no. 2 (1999 1999): 156-178. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed April 10, 2017).
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