Thursday, March 1, 2012

March 01, 2012

First Ladies of the Reformation

You’ve probably heard the quote “behind every great man, there’s an even greater woman.” With that in mind, we should strive to remember that Martin Luther and John Calvin, those great reformers, most likely shared their opinions, views, and ideas with their wives more than with any other person, and if not, their wives were certainly instrumental in critiquing and spreading these new ideas. So who were these “first ladies of the Reformation,” the prototypes of the Protestant wife and mother?

Katharina von Bora Luther was a woman of many talents. Born into nobility that had fallen from grace, she was sent to a nunnery as a child. She later embraced the teachings of an upstart teacher named Martin Luther, and she and many of her fellow nuns escaped the convent by hiding in barrels. Already well into her twenties, Katharina was considered an “old maid” by 16th century standards, and she resigned herself to bachelorette status . . . until a slow but beautiful love story unfolded. She and Martin Luther married in 1525.

We know that Luther thought highly of her. He referred to her as “my lord Katie” and gratefully acknowledged how well she managed the household and also managed to acquire whatever she set her eyes upon. Both spirited and demure depending on the circumstances, Katharina von Bora Luther was one of the strongest women of her time. She bore six children of her own and took in others, including relatives, who were in need. Katharina died in 1552 just six years after her husband.

And what of Idelette Calvin? She was born in the Netherlands as Idelette de Bure and first took John Storder as a husband. Interestingly enough, it seems that during this time Idelette and John were Anabaptists, a Christian branch that would later be persecuted by both Protestants and Catholics. They listened to the preaching of a young man named John Calvin and were transformed by his ideas. They decided to become followers of this new belief system. Then John Storder died, and Idelette, who had little children to support, found herself struggling.

John Calvin found himself interested in the prospect of marriage, though to whom, he had no idea. Around the age of thirty he took advantage of the 16th century version of a dating site and employed his wide circle of friends to help him find his “perfect match.” He wished his future wife to be “chaste, obliging, not fastidious, economical, patient, and careful for my health.” One of his companions knew just the woman, a woman who had been “right under his nose.” In 1540 John Calvin and Idelette de Bure Storder were married.

Idelette and John had three children but lost them all at a very young age. Idelette continued to be a bastion of constancy and care. Like Katharina von Bora, she helped those in need and opened her household as a stopping point for whoever might have need of a safe haven. Idelette passed away in 1549. Her last words were quoted as being “O God of Abraham, and of all our fathers, in thee have the faithful trusted during so many past ages, and none of them have trusted in vain. I also will hope.”

Thus, Martin Luther, who was witty and somewhat irreverent in speech, was quite happy with his wife who was both industrious and independent, while John Calvin, straightforward, beleaguered, and often hard-pressed, needed a wife who would provide calmness and a safe haven. Both Reformers received the wives God knew would be perfect for their particular needs. Two matches made in heaven.

Were there any similarities between Katharina and Idelette besides being patient helpmeets and opening their households to those in need? I would say a great similarity would have to be their steadfast faith and trust in God. The 16th century was a time of religious bloodshed beyond our imagining. Life was uncertain, and Reformers propagating their newfound doctrines and spreading the faith never knew how they would be received or if they would even live to see the next day.

Idelette and Katharina both showed amazing sturdiness in such a world. Like their husbands, they nurtured converts and held their heads high, trusting God completely even when danger lurked around every corner and resigning themselves to whatever might be their fate in a godly manner. In the face of death and persecution they were unafraid. Every Christian woman should strive to emulate these “first ladies of the Reformation,” and every Protestant woman should look proudly upon such a heritage.

(c) 2012 Joyously Saved

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