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MARTIN LUTHER disagreed with the Roman Catholic Church’s sale of indulgences, its “Get Out of Purgatory Early” scam. October 31, 2017, was the 500th anniversary of Luther’s Ninety-five Theses, also known as Disputation on the Power of Indulgences, his protest that fostered the Protestant Reformation.
Some things about Martin Luther are general lore: posting his iconoclastic views on the door of Wittenberg’s All Saints’ Church in 1517; his excommunication by Pope Leo X in 1521; his teachings leading to establishment of Lutheranism, one of the largest Protestant faiths; and his leading the way for other Protestant denominations.
Less recognized, perhaps, is Luther’s wife, Katharina von Bora, or as Martin was known to call her affectionately, Katy and “the boss of Zulsdorf.” Katharina has been described variously as of impoverished noble birth, a runaway nun escaping in a herring barrel, a reluctant bride until Luther proposed, an important spokesperson for the Reformation, a capable administrator of the Luther household and estate, and a brewer of beer.
Amazingly, to the extent possible in authenticating events happening 500 years ago, each of these descriptions is true. Indeed, the tale of Katharina von Bora Luther calls for Part 1 today and Part 2 tomorrow.
Born, likely in 1499, to a family of Saxon landed gentry, the “von” of von Bora is not inappropriate. Records show that in 1504 five-year-old Katharina was sent off to a Benedictine convent school some 70 miles from home. Five years later, she entered the Marienthron cloister in Nimbschen, only a bit closer to home, where her aunt was abbess. Nuns of the Cistercian order lived sparse lives there, filled with manual labor.
In 1515, Katharina took her vows as a novice. But she and others at Marienthron also became acquainted with the theological writings of Martin Luther. In particular, it’s noted, his belief that “grace came from faith alone, not through prayer or works” had an effect on these young women living sparse lives filled with manual labor.
Katharina and her pals wrote to Luther for help. In the spring of 1523, so a story suggests, Luther arranged with a friend delivering supplies to Mareinthron to bring back “empty” herring barrels containing a dozen runaway nuns, including Katharina. Or maybe they simply escaped hidden in the herring wagon, not in the barrels per se. In either event, their escape occurred on Easter Eve, 1523.
This was no whimsical escapade. A person caught abandoning vows of Holy Mother the Church could be tortured and given life imprisonment. What with canon law—and the indulgence scam—Holy Mother the Church could be a cruel mother.
Tomorrow in Part 2 we’ll see how Martin Luther finessed this matter and Katharina von Bora played an active role. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2017