Recommending Renegades and Runaways
Being a Reformed Presbyterian, I thought I knew my Luther history decently. After all, my children, in their growing up years, went to a Reformation Party at our church on Oct. 31st, not a Halloween Party. A distinguished gentleman dressed up as Luther and reenacted the nailing of the theses to the door. The children played “Pin the 95 Theses” instead of Pin the Tail on the Donkey. We celebrate Reformation Sunday with processionals, banners, and bagpipes. I called myself ‘reformed’ - yet I didn’t even know Luther was married! And to a former nun!
“Two Pigtails on the Pillow” - If that chapter title from a book about the great Reformer, Martin Luther, doesn’t intrigue you, what would? Actually, the book is about much more than Martin Luther; it’s about the woman behind the man: Katharina Luther, the runaway nun he married.
My friend, Michelle DeRusha, has a new book, Katharina and Martin: The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk, which is a fascinating look at life and marriage in the 1500’s, yet deeply pertinent to us today because of the influence of Luther on Protestantism and its doctrines concerning marriage. DeRusha highlights their relationship and the effects marriage had on him as a person and his work as a Reformer. Luther, a former monk and already leading in the Reformation when he got married, ultimately affected, perhaps even defined, the Protestant view of marriage we hold today.
Like most of us, what Luther said and wrote about marriage and the inner dynamics of his actual marriage, were sometimes at odds. I found that comforting. If Luther was sometimes not practicing what he preached about marriage, well…that means on-the-job-training is probably to be expected for the rest of us.
As a runaway nun, Katharina was in a desperate situation. Marriage was an absolute must for a woman of this time as she had no legal status or means of supporting herself. Luther had no intentions of marriage but tried to help Katharina and the other runaway nuns find suitable mates. At one point, he encourages her to marry another man whom she finds unappealing and she flatly refuses; but suggests she would marry Luther! That kind of spirit and strength was exactly the kind of woman a man like Martin Luther would need to run his home, rear his children, and entertain and host his countless houseguests - up to fifty at a time!
DeRusha has delved deeply into the scholarly works written by and about Luther, but in her book, she writes for all of us. It reads like a work of fiction, plot and character driven, compelling the reader to keep turning the pages. It’s a story, first and foremost. I found myself having to remind myself that this was a work of non-fiction. Katharina and Martin are alive to the reader. Through their letters, we see them working through frustrations with people in their community, their worries for each other, their grief after the death of their daughter, and even their questioning of their faith in that most difficult time.
Luther wasn’t in love when he married Katharina; and most probably, she wasn’t either, but over time, the relationship grew to be one of endearing care, great mutual respect, and playful banter. In the end, it had all the hallmarks of a happy, love-filled marriage. Luther said, “Marriage does not always run smoothly; it is a chancy thing. One has to commit oneself to it.” He did and she did, and several children and years later, these two changed the institution for all of us
DeRusha’s book is full of surprises, candor and humor. A worthy read and a fun read all at the same time. It releases today: Jan. 31st…Get your copy here.