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The Radical Marriage of a Runaway Nun and a Renegade Monk (Review)

Updated on February 20, 2017
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MsDora is a Certified Christian Counselor. Her views on premarital and marital issues are influenced by her Christian beliefs.

Katharina and Martin Luther is the main title of the book. And yes! Martin Luther, German leader of the Protestant Reformation is the monk referred to in the subtitle as a renegade. One wonders why with so many published resources which cover his theology, his doctrine and his politics, there is so little known about his impactful theological views on marriage and the circumstances of his scandalous marriage to Katharina von Bora, formerly of the Cistercian Order of Nuns. Michelle DeRusha tells the story and fills in the blanks on one of the most exceptional marriages in history.

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Although their story was previously told in Luther and Katharina: A Novel of Love and Rebellion by Jody Hedlund, DeRusha's Katharina and Martin Luther gains significance for its publication date in January 2017, the year which marks the 500th anniversary of Luther's Ninety-Five Theses which initiated the Protestant Reformation.

DeRusha's work, published by Baker Books contains 320 pages, divided into 18 chapters, plus several significant portrait paintings and illustrations of convents, churches, the living quarters of Katherina the nun as well as the home of the married couple and their six children.

The Fascinating Plot

DeRusha introduces the Katharina story with the difficult family situation which landed her at the cloister school in Brehna. She records her transfer to the Cistercian convent in Nimbshcen where she takes her vows of chastity, obedience and poverty at age sixteen. Meanwhile, the author educates the reader concerning the economic, social and moral impact of life in the sixteenth century convent.

Southern part of the ruins of Katharina's convent at Nimbschen

Photo by Jwaller
Photo by Jwaller | Source

Next, DeRusha introduces Martin Luther and the circumstances which caused his shift from the legal profession to his theological pursuit. She follows his career, his passion for righteousness, his placement as professor at the University of Wittenberg, and his treatises attacking the papacy and the Roman Catholic Church for their unlawful sale of indulgences.

She reveals that his views on celibacy and marriage were as central to the reformation as were his views on indulgences; and that his powerful leadership had far-reaching influence, even penetrating the cloistered walls of convents like the one in which Katharina lived. His writings motivated the suspenseful, rebellious escapes of several nuns.

The plot continues with the marriage of Martin and Katharina Luther -two people who previously vowed celibacy- the opposition they faced, the efforts to sabotage their credibility, their unrelenting support for each other, and the demonstration of their undying romance till death separated them.

Throughout the marriage, DeRusha presents Katharina as a strong, capable advisor to her husband in matters of finances, travel, politics and in responses to his enemies. She also proved to be an excellent mother during and after her husband's death.

Marriage Then and Now

DeRusha describes the process of marriage before Luther addressed it. It was disorganized and absurd, resulting in various unbelievable scenarios which will make readers cringe or laugh out loud. Luther added formality and religious perspective, changing the way Christians thought about it, and shaping the marriage ceremony with principles that are still followed today.

Marriage for the satisfaction of sexual and social needs found no place in Luther's concept of marriage. The issues of compatibility and fulfillment which are major goals today were not even a consideration then. His marriage with Katharina was initiated by his obedience to God and his desire to serve her. As evidenced in excerpts from his love letters which will touch readers' hearts, their love grew and developed beyond anything they could have imagined, let alone desired.

Have you done any previous reading on the marriage and family life of Martin Luther?

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Recommendation

Students of church history will love this additional insight on the life and times of Martin Luther.

Women will love the story of Katharina who, despite the view of the women as second-class citizens back then, lived up to her full potential as equal partner in love, in family and business.

Christian preachers and counselors will receive motivation for revisiting and promoting the Biblical foundation for marriage.

Readers who love a good story will find this one entertaining and compelling, as well as informative and inspiring.

Photo by Curt Brinkmann
Photo by Curt Brinkmann | Source

Praise for the Author

Michelle De Rusha wrote two other books: Spiritual Misfit and 50 Women Every Christian Should Know. She lives in Nebraska where she writes a monthly column for the Lincoln Journal Star.

For her third book, she has done an excellent job in reconstructing the marriage of the Luthers and giving it the historical and religious prominence it deserves.

She gathered her information mainly from Luther's Table Talks, his treatises on marriage, and several biographies which reflected his views on women and their roles in society as well as in the home. She found only two biographies of Katherina and eight of her letters, none of which is addressed to her husband. The author's expertise in story-telling shows in the easy-to-follow method by which she compiles the facts, relying on the social, religious and political tenets of the era.

Disclosure

I received this book free from the publisher through NetGalley. The opinions I have expressed are mine.

© 2017 Dora Isaac Weithers

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    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 2 months ago from Olympia, WA

      The author has an incredibly friendly and kind face...just a side note.

      Thank you for the review. I have never heard of this book, so this was helpful.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 2 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Wonderful. This is fascinating. I never looked into this area before. I look forward to learning more. Thank you. Nice timing also with his birthday this Saturday.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 2 months ago from The Caribbean

      Bill, glad to write something helpful. Thanks for your feedback. I'm sure the author would be pleased too.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 2 months ago from The Caribbean

      Eric, you would enjoy the book, preacher and church historian that you are. I just read the book and did not even the memorize the birth date. Look at you!

    • Kaili Bisson profile image

      Kaili Bisson 2 months ago from Canada

      I had never heard this story before, so thank you for bringing this side of the man to my attention. Fascinating!

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 2 months ago from The Caribbean

      Kaili, this aspect of Martin Luther's life is new to me also, and I guess it will be to most people. Happy to share, and pleased that it fascinates you. Thanks for your visit.

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 2 months ago from The Beautiful South

      Wow Dora, I think I would really love to read this book. I am sure you were probably brought up as I was (kind of like a nun? haha) so it would be great to read a love story based on clean and honorable values for a change.

      This sort of reminds me of Anna Katherina of the Moravian Church. She is just part of another story but a very large part and her record keeping gave us some true history we would not otherwise had known in southeast America. I can't wait to see if this story adds interest of this sort too.

      Thank you so much for bringing this to my attention!

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 2 months ago from The Caribbean

      Jackie, you made me smile with your reference to being brought up like nuns. True, this story is nothing like any you ever heard. Imagine being criticized by the church itself. It's a good story set in rich history--of the church and of the times.

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      Mary Wickison 2 months ago from Brazil

      What a fantastic title! I am not surprised by Katharina's influence as normally behind all successful men there is a strong female. I often wonder how different history would be if not for these women.

      This book sounds like it has a bit of everything in it, religion, love, and humor.

      Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 2 months ago from The Caribbean

      Mary, you strike an important note about those strong women. Of course, back then women didn't deserve mention or we would have heard of many more female exploits. We almost missed hearing about Katharina and she made a big difference in her husband's life. Thanks for your input.

    • Laura335 profile image

      Laura Smith 2 months ago from Pittsburgh, PA

      Sounds interesting. My mom was just talking about marriage the other day and wondering why we have these traditions and rules about pairing up, and I think that this book could bring to light some of the traditions that still exist to this day.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 2 months ago from The Caribbean

      Laura, thanks for visiting and commenting. The book does mention the disorganized process that comprised marriage, and how Luther built some structure around it.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 2 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is another interesting book review, Dora. Until now, I only knew very basic information about Martin Luther. I'd like to learn about his marriage by reading this book. I'll look out for it.

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 2 months ago from New Delhi, India

      Very nice review and very well written!

      I hadn't heard of this book but now would be interesting to read it.

      Thanks for sharing!

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      Robert E Smith 2 months ago from Rochester, New York

      Hi MsDora, I am always interested in History, Biblical History or looking into the events in the lives that affect the Bible that we read today. This book sounds like an interesting commentary on the personal lives of Martin Luther. (Right now I am double checking the spelling of Luther to make sure I was not spelling the last name after Superman's nemesis). You did a good job of making me wish to give the book a read. Bob.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 2 months ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks, Alicia. Seems like many of us are hearing about Luther's marriage and family life for the first time, and believe me, it's interesting.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 2 months ago from The Caribbean

      Chitrangada, the book was just published less than three weeks ago. You would enjoy it. Thanks for your kind comment.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 2 months ago from The Caribbean

      Bob, I pray that you read this book, given your very positive attitude toward holy matrimony. Thanks for stopping by.

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      Robert E Smith 2 months ago from Rochester, New York

      I think it would be a good read. And also thank you for the encouraging comment about my attitude about marriage. It was a blessing to me.

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      Dora Isaac Weithers 2 months ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks, Bob. You encourage me too both by your comment and your article.

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      William Kovacic 2 months ago from Pleasant Gap, PA

      I have to admit, I never thought about Luther's wife, but of course, behind every good man, there is a good woman so it only makes sense. Thanks for the review, Dora.

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      Dora Isaac Weithers 2 months ago from The Caribbean

      Bill, it seems that many people thought of Martin Luther only as a monk or some religious man involved only in the Reformation. Not until this book did I even think of him as a husband and father. You are not alone.

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      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 2 months ago from Philippines

      Dear Ms. Dora,

      What an excellent review:). I never knew that Martin Luther married a nun and that they had a marriage of equal partnership. I badly need to get a kindle. This sounds like a wonderful book.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 2 months ago from The Caribbean

      Mona, Martin Luther's family life seems to have been kept secretive for a long time. You would enjoy the book. Thanks for your visit.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 2 months ago from london

      A well-written and very insightful account on the lives of Martin Luther and Katharina Von Bora, shedding light on their intimacy, support for each other and spiritual values. I take it that this is a review and that you were given the book free. Bill just answered a question on this very subject.

      My wife's sister was a nun and her husband a monk. They got married and nearly forty years later are still together. In fact, all my wife's sisters had successful marriages. But I sometimes tell my X that she is in fact the most fortunate, because the God-Man always looks after the family of his disciples.

      I strayed, to your liking perhaps, (smile). I think that you're clever, in the sense that you are still able to get a message across by using a different slant. My 400th Hub is one of my favourites. There I make it quite clear that Love is in everything, even the base carnal instincts or desires. Nothing is without purpose and nothing outside the Divine. Strange is the mystery of God. Excellent work!!

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 2 months ago from The Caribbean

      Manatita, what a treat to hear from you. I also read Bill's answer on reviews and gave my input as well. This book gives a real surprising take on Martin Luther's love and family life, which I think was ordained by God Himself. "He doeth all things well." I appreciate your input.

    • manatita44 profile image

      manatita44 2 months ago from london

      Gracias a todo. New look? Charming!

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 2 months ago from The Caribbean

      Thanks for your kindness.

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      Eboni 7 weeks ago

      The title almost suggests a comedy. However, when Martin Luther is the topic, it becomes eye-opening and seriously interesting. You did a good job in making want to get the facts.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 7 weeks ago from The Caribbean

      Of course, you will like the facts, Eboni. Some of those facts will make you laugh, but they all have serious impact on theology and direction of the church today.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 7 weeks ago from USA

      I somehow missed this but was glad to read it now. What an interesting book on a topic I know almost nothing about. I'd love to read this book based on your review.

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      Lawrence Hebb 6 weeks ago

      Ms Dora

      I've read a couple of Biographies of Martin Luther and some of his ideas on Marriage, but I don't think any of them even named his wife, that is except to say that she was an 'ex nun' who was just as strong willed as he was!

      This was a great hub, and I'll keep an eye out for the book.

      Blessings

      Lawrence

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 6 weeks ago from The Caribbean

      Flourish, it is really strange that the details of Martin Luther's marriage and family life lay hidden for so long. Perhaps the information will be more meaningful to this generation. You will enjoy the book. Thanks for your comment.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 6 weeks ago from The Caribbean

      Lawrence, thanks for your feedback. You will enjoy the book, not only for the information on Martin's marriage but it also inspires unity in family life.

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      Honey Halley 6 weeks ago from Illinois

      I think I would love Katharina. This sounds so interesting with lots of emotion. It reminded me of my aunt, Sister Mary Amy. She was my mother's sister and a constant figure in our house as the convent she lived in was only a couple blocks away. Once, after returning from my sister's house in Florida, she sat down to dinner at the convent with all the other nuns, and told them that she had met a man in Florida and she was leaving the convent. They were all shocked and saddened. (She was 78 years old at the time.) She, then, took out a picture and passed it around. There she was standing in front of a restaurant next to a life-size ceramic ape. The nuns were rolling.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 6 weeks ago from The Caribbean

      Honey, yes, you would love Katharina, and I would love your aunt, Sister Mary Amy also. That was really a fun prank to watch her colleagues become sad, and then throw them the bomb shell photo that brought them back to laughter. Thanks for reading and for sharing that funny nun story.

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      Shauna L Bowling 6 weeks ago from Central Florida

      Wonderful review, Dora. I'm not familiar with the book nor its subjects, but you did a great job of offering details without giving away too much of the story. I love the way you wrap it up at the end, by outlining various groups of people and why this book appeals to them.

    • MsDora profile image
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      Dora Isaac Weithers 5 weeks ago from The Caribbean

      Thank you, Shauna. Your comment means much to me because I am still trying to excel at the book review.

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