October 31, 2017 brings forth the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s public proclamation of his 95 Theses. This event has become synonymous with the start of The Reformation that brought forth the revelation that a common person could study the Bible for himself or herself. The grand impact of those events have not ceded in their existence, but instead continue to exert a strong influence over our study of Scriptures today. With such profound influence, we can expect that the market to be flooded with new books commemorating the subject (whether as a genuine interest or simply trying to cash in on the event). Already several have been released this month, but of those one stands out as being unique: Katharina & Martin Luther by Michelle DeRusha.
While much has been written on Martin Luther and even more on the Reformation in general, less pages have been devoted to Luther’s wife, Katharine Von Bora. However, as DeRusha points out, she was an important figure in the Reformation as well. However, this isn’t merely a biography about her. Informally the book is laid out to give a biography of Katharina and Martin Luther individually and then launches into a unique look into a marriage . . . a marriage that defied authorities of the day.
Admittedly, painting a biography of both Katherine Von Bora and Martin Luther is difficult as there are few biographical details to aid in the process. This is especially true of their time before marriage and Luther’s 95 Theses. While understanding this, at times the author engages in more conjecture than I am comfortable with, particularly about their times as nun and monk. With that said, there is an important distinction to note here. Her conjecture about emotions and motivations are easy to find fault with as they are based more on romanticizing those earlier years. However, there are parts in the book in which she speculates about Luther’s reasoning and relationships that she clearly indicates at conjecture, yet provides both sufficient rationalizing and support for them, causing readers to consider perspectives not previously looked upon.
Related to the author’s conjecture is speculation on Luther’s formative years in which she brings in secular rationale. While some have tried, a true biography of the Luther family can never be undertaken without appropriate consideration to their life as Christians. In other words, to understand anything about them, you must be a Christian using a biblical worldview. I know nothing of the author’s religious view. She has previously written a biography book of Christian women and writes a monthly spirituality column for the Lincoln Journal Star. However, from that I am unable to determine whether she is a believer or not. This is important to note because the author uses secular psychology (notably that of Freud and Erikson (pg. 62) to analyze Luther’s upbringing and response to it. While not disagreeing with Luther’s own words on his upbringing, bringing forth secular psychology that lacks biblical discernment is troubling.
In spite of these two concerns, I found the book enjoyable. DeRusha creates a unique picture and glimpse into the lives of these two reformers that most of us overlook. Far too often the marriage is not even noted in discussions about Martin Luther, which means that her role in the Reformation is also disregarded. Therefore, the book brings forth insights that are beneficial in understanding just how important their marriage was. Furthermore, the author has done much research and included some valuable photos offering us a view of past influential lives.
While I enjoyed reading much about husband and wife, Katharine and Martin, the book offered something else that I personally found pleasurable. DeRusha looks closely at historical and cultural circumstances. While she brings them forward in order to show how they impacted their lives, these aspects gave a deeper understanding of the life and times of people in general during this era. Not only do they help us to understand the lives of Martin Luther and Katharine Von Bora, they help us to understand how cultural norms dictated the circumstances of the people. For example, the author speculates that Katharine Von Bora may have been placed into a convent because the price was cheaper than paying a dowry (pg. 40). While we cannot know this for certain, to think about this as a possibility helps us to appreciate the seriousness of certain cultural practices and their influence on the decisions made.
While not everyone has a high regard for the Luthers, and certainly they were flawed like all of us, the influence that both of them had in shaping the generations to follow is well-documented. Therefore, they warrant our attention. There are many books on Martin Luther; there are fewer books on Katharine Von Bora but supply is still ample; I would never recommend just one biographical book on them because many offer different aspects that need to be considered. However, I would say that it would be beneficial for a person studying the Reformation to include this book amongst their reading. It’s an easy and calm read that will excite your ability to think by causing you to ponder aspects of the Reformation that you had not previously considered. All in all, it is simply a fun read that you are sure to benefit from.
To purchase a copy of the book, please click here.
Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher at no cost for the purposes of review. However, that did not impact the review that I have given, which is based upon my own response to the reading of the book.