Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Katie Luther: Agrarian Saint
Today is the 459th anniversary of the death of Katherine von Bora Luther, wife of Martin Luther. I am a very great admirer of the woman whom Luther referred to as "my lord Katie". Readers of Luther will note that the reformer was strong willed and often given to biting satire and hyperbole in making his points. He often met his match in Katie. She was intelligent and seems to have been his intellectual equal. She was also a very capable household manager. Her management began soon after their marriage.
Prior to his marriage, the reformer lived like a bachelor farmer. The bachelor Luther never kept regular meal times unless invited elsewhere. Katie found his quarters strewn with books and papers. Luther never made his bed or changed his sheets. She said he claimed the unmade bed was easier to get into at night. His pet dog used to make a bed in papers on the floor. The dog often shewed papers, shoes, and belts, without much notice by his master.
With Germanic thoroughness, Katie kicked the dog out into the yard, changed the sheets, and started ensuring regular mealtimes. She seemed to lose some fights over the messy papers. Reading some of the Table Talks indicates that the dog made it back in sometimes--- at least to beg at the table.
As the family grew to include not only children but many seminarians and visitors, Katie turned the crusty bachelor pad into a home.She brewed beer so good it made her husband homesick when he traveled and had to drink inferior brews.
While Luther wrote his tomes and worked at reforming the church, she managed gardens, poultry, fields and livestock to ensure the family would eat. Luther tended to be generous to a fault, and it fell upon Katie to prevent want. She did this through shrewd and thrifty domestic economy. As part of Luther's pay came as hay or grain, she fed cattle and pigs. When money was available she bought or leased fields. In one case she bought a property with a stream and dammed it as a fishpond for food.Her gardens and beasts inspired her husband to often meditate upon God's creative work in nature.
After Luther's death, the political instability of events left her impoverished. She had had to leave the family home and returned later to find her gardens laid waste. She had to leave again due to want. She died in a cart accident on the way to a farm field and small house near that Luther had previously bought for her. That field had been one of her favorites as it was more fertile than much of the land around their Wittenburg homes.
The saints who have gone before offer us models of a Christian life. Katie reminds us that a clean bed, good beer, and wholesome food enjoyed at family meals are a part of the sanctity of every day life.
Her final words are reputed to be, "I will stick to Christ as a burr to cloth" which is a fitting analogy for an agrarian saint.