Katharina & Martin Luther: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun & a Renegade Monk
APRIL 1, 2017
By Michelle DeRusha
Long before he was married himself, Luther acknowledged the challenges inherent in matrimony. “Marriage does not always run smoothly, it is a chancy thing,” he admitted. “One has to commit oneself to it.”
The day they crossed the threshold of their home for the first time as husband and wife, neither Martin Luther nor Katharina von Bora could have comprehended the dramatic and lasting impact their commitment would have on the world and on history.
Theirs was an unlikely union, a marriage between a runaway nun and a renegade monk – she, unknown and destitute; he, one of the most famous and powerful men of the time. Their relationship could be written into the pages of a romance novel. But this love story, one of the most scandalous and intriguing in history, is not fiction but fact.
How did this most unlikely, most radical union come to be? How did Martin Luther the monk and Katharina von Bora the nun come to wed in the first place? And even more importantly, how did such a union not only survive but thrive in the face of the most daunting odds?
This monumental moment in the history of marriage was born out of a dramatic set of circumstances. For a variety of reasons, Katharina von Bora and Martin Luther each determined that marriage – the most radical of options—was also the best one. Not only did that choice impact them personally as individuals, it also had a powerful and lasting effect on their own early Renaissance culture and society. Today, five hundred years later, the impact of their choice continues to reverberate in the lives and faith of Christians across the globe.
Martin and Katharina Luther are arguably the most famous couple in Christian history. A close look at their lives reveals a daily existence shockingly different from our own. Yet as remote as their world is from ours, and as different as they are from us, they also offer us a surprisingly accurate picture of ourselves.
In Martin and Katharina we recognize how flawed we are. We see our own stubbornness, pride, self-righteousness, and fears. We recognize our loneliness, isolation, and brokenness; we realize how desperately we need the grace of God. At the same time, we also see in them our own capacity for connection, our triumphs and joys, the depth and breadth of our compassion, the potential within us to love others as well as we love our own selves, and our desire to live wholeheartedly as followers of Christ. In short, the lives of Martin and Katharina Luther point to a common humanity that spans time, distance, and difference.
Behind the historical significance of their marriage is the story of a man and a woman who met, married, and raised a family together. True, Martin and Katharina Luther were radical revolutionaries, but they were also simply two people who shared twenty-one years together, until death did them part.
This is the story of their unlikely life together as husband and wife.
Michelle DeRusha is the author of Katharina and Martin Luther: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk, 50 Women Every Christian Should Know: Learning from Heroines of the Faith, and Spiritual Misfit: A Memoir of Uneasy Faith. She also writes a monthly religion and spirituality column for the Lincoln Journal Star, and speaks around Nebraska and beyond.