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Daughter of the Reformation A von Bora expert highlights Katharina’s bold example By Cara Strickland


Mary Helene Rasmussen Jackson


Mary Helene Rasmussen Jackson has been researching and writing about Katharina von Bora’s life for more than 30 years. A four-part monologue about von Bora that Jackson continuously developed and took on the road provided the foundation for her book Daughter of the Reformation: A Historical Perspective of the Life and Times


of the Wife of Martin Luther (Huff, 2015). As we commemorate the Reformation’s 500th


anniversary, Living Lutheran spoke with Jackson about life in the early 16th century, and the way von Bora’s bold example continues to inspire believers today.


Living Lutheran: It’s easy to forget how different life was during the Reformation. Could you paint a quick picture of early modern Europe in 1517? Jackson: It was very different from what people


see when they [visit today] on these wonderful tours, where the streets are clean and there are geraniums in the windows. It was a very dark time, and the streets weren’t clean. They were full of trash and sometimes dead bodies. But it wasn’t just that—it was the fact that


[people’s] minds were also entrenched for generations in ignorance and in darkness. They had a great fear of the devil and were convinced that the devil lived in all sorts of forms right there in their own forests, their own towns, up in the clouds. Also, the wrath of God was so paramount at that


time. It wasn’t a loving God that they were taught about. [God’s wrath] was what they were taught by their mothers and their grandfathers and certainly by the church, which was overriding. It was a frightening time to be living because the


common man really had no voice and was under the thumb of the few noble landowners, and then, of course, of the church—and [there] was an eternal fear of what would happen to them when they died.


30 OCTOBER 2017


It’s clear that Katharina was no ordinary woman for any time, but especially for her own. Would you talk a bit about that? I feel she was extraordinary for a lot of reasons.


For one, she was a very independent person because she dared to leave the convent—that was no small thing in those days. For example, if anyone helped her do it and was caught, they could be beheaded. Nuns who were caught leaving were often put into solitary confinement for some time thereafter. So she dared to do that for her own personal reasons, and then she also dared to challenge Martin Luther because he thought he would set her up with [one of] two or three [potential] husbands, and she wanted none of it.


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