The Unsung Helpmate of Martin Luther

It was just a few short years ago that my husband and I took our first international trip together to Germany. We were able to meet some of Justin’s family and see the Luther sights we had always wanted to see. Justin read Eric Metaxas’ book on Luther and had wanted to travel there ever since. The entire trip he filled me in on Luther’s life. As we entered the town of Wittenberg we passed underneath the archway at the Black Cloister, later known as Lutherhaus. We had the privilege of walking the old monastery and seeing where Luther, Katharina Von Bora (Kathie for short), and many other children, students, and exiles lived. I was delighted to read about Luther and Kathie’s very interesting marriage and the strength she displayed. There are so many things we can learn and admire about Kathie’s life but two things stood out more than anything: Kathie trusted in Christ and reminded her husband to do so, and she was a woman whose husband trusted in her.

Kathie reminded her husband of the truth of their resurrected Savior to which all their hope was in. She encouraged him with the reality of the risen Christ so that Luther could continue the work of the reformation.

For Kathie to desire to marry Luther was a feat in itself. Luther was known across the land as a revel rouser, he was sought after by the Roman Catholic Church and his life was in constant danger for his desire to preach from the word of God and the true gospel as opposed to teaching the scholastics. She knew before even marrying him that she could lose him at any time. What trust she must have had in her Savior?! Not only that, but their marriage was quite the scandal. Kathie was a fleeing nun and Luther was an ex-monk. Metaxas recalls rumors running through the town that their children would be born with two heads because this kind of thing was so unheard of. Kathie had to deal with the fear of losing her husband, everyone’s grave misconceptions and judgments about her marriage, the devastating loss of two of her own children, Luther’s many ailments and bouts of depression, taking care of all the household duties and finances, and the caring for constant guests in their home. Even with all of this Kathie knew her Savior and she reminded Luther of Him. There is a well-known story of Kathie dressing herself in black and all of the children in black in response to one of Luther’s bouts of depression and hopelessness. Luther of course thought someone had died. Spurgeon recalls the story: Kathie replied, “Why doctor, have you not heard that God is dead? My husband, Martin Luther, would never be in such a state of mind if he has a living God to trust to.” To which Martin apparently burst into laughter and replied, “Kate, thou art a wise woman. I have been acting as if God were dead, and I will do so no more. Go and take off thy black.” Kathie reminded her husband of the truth of their resurrected Savior to which all their hope was in. She encouraged him with the reality of the risen Christ so that Luther could continue the work of the reformation. Kathie did as proverbs 31 says, “Open her mouth with wisdom.”

She did not trust in her own abilities but Christs to make her steadfast.

Not only did Kathie remind her husband of the truth, but she also was a woman whose husband could trust in her. Martin had full confidence in his wife’s steadfastness to Christ and ability to tend to all the household and financial needs. Earlier in the year where his second daughter died, Luther decided to leave everything in his will to Kathie instead of leaving it all to his eldest son. Luther valued and esteemed Kathie so highly he was quoted as saying, “My Kathie is in all things so obliging and pleasing to me that I would not exchange my poverty for the riches of Croesus.” Luther was so confident in her that he could leave to do the work of the reformation knowing that all things would be taken care of. He knew she and the children would be okay because Kathie trust and relied on her savior for strength. She did not trust in her own abilities but Christs to make her steadfast. According to Metaxas her last words were, “I will stick to Christ as a burr sticks to a topcoat.”

Martin and Kathie seemed to fit together like lock and key. Where he was lacking she would fill in and vice versa. Kathie reminded Luther of the truth of the living God and Luther reminded Kathie that God is in control of all things. Luther knew that Kathie worried about him with his many ailments, perilous travels, and the whole church after him. Luther said in a letter to Kathie, “Leave me in peace with your worrying! I have a better Caretaker than you and all the angels. He it is who lies in a manger and nurses at a virgins breast, but at the same time sits at the right hand of God the almighty Father. Therefore be at rest.” He sarcastically addressed her with their common doctoress language calling her a self-tormentor at Wittenberg and gracious lady to which I assume had to illicit a chuckle from Kathie as she read this letter. They had a playful teasing way that they addressed one another but also reminded one another of who their Lord was when they were afraid, depressed and worried. Martin and Kathie’s life and marriage remind us to rely on our savior, remind ourselves and believers of the risen Christ, and encourage one another all the more as we see the day approaching.  

Rachel is a wife and mother of four young children. She has a love for listening to expository preaching, theology, and doctrine. She desires to make Christ known through her marriage, parenting, and in every word and deed.