A Novel of Love and Rebellion
October 2015/400 pages/$14.99
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Q&A WITH JODY HEDLUND
Katharina von Bora is a name that most people would never connect with Martin Luther. Why do you think it’s important that we uncover and shine a light on some of the forgotten female figures who helped shape the Church?
My goal is to give a voice to the forgotten women of the past. Since most of history has been written by men, unfortunately all too often the accounts neglect to include or minimizes the many women who played critically important roles in the shaping of history.
I believe modern women will benefit from hearing their stories, will be incredibly encouraged to see these women who persevered through discrimination and found the strength to use their God-given abilities to make a difference. Not only did they make a difference in their era, but today (decades and even centuries later) we can see the fruits of their bravery and strength. These women of the past have encouraged me to persevere and to use my skills and talents to make a difference in my time. No matter how big or small that difference might be, I want to be faithful to leave an impact, just as those women did.
As you began to read and learn more about Katharina, what particularly captivated you about her?
I was particularly fascinated by the fact that Katharina had once been a nun. And as we know, nuns take a vow of celibacy.
I was curious to know why she'd become a nun in the first place. What led her to that decision? And then what made her later decide to forsake her vows? What was life like for her after escaping her convent knowing that if she was caught and recaptured, she could face persecution and even death for running away? What were her hopes and dreams for her life after she'd denied herself for so long? What was it like for her to interact with men when she'd never before had the opportunity?
All of those questions and more reverberated through my mind. And what I really wanted to know was how she'd ended up with Martin Luther. What brought this couple together? It was a forbidden love during a time of incredible turmoil. It was a love that was never-meant-to-happen. So how did it come about?
What was the biggest surprise in researching this story?
As I dug into the research, the thing that surprised me most was that Luther and Katharina didn't experience "love at first sight." In fact, they had no thought of marrying each other. Katharina was a woman of noble birth and Luther a man of peasant beginnings. They were in two different social classes, which doesn't sound like a big deal to us today. But at that time, social class was extremely important.
After leaving the convent, Katharina expected to marry a nobleman. And even though Luther preached the goodness of marriage and encouraged other monks and nuns to leave their convents and get married, he had no intention of getting married himself. So, the question begs answering, how did these two opposite people with opposing personalities and aspirations, end up together? You'll have to read the book to discover the answer!
Tell us a little about the cloistered life that Katharina von Bora would have grown up in. What was it like to be a nun?
During the middle ages, many men and women entered cloistered life. Everywhere throughout Europe, abbeys and monasteries were built and the church at the time encouraged cloistered life. For men, becoming a monk was a way to gain a good education, to learn to read and write when there weren't many options to do so. Monastic life provided protection from the many dangers of the middle ages. And it also was a way to become more spiritual during a time when salvation was thought to be something one could earn or buy.
Women usually didn't enter cloistered life voluntarily, at least during the time of Martin Luther during the late 1400's and early 1500's. Instead, noblemen often looked at a convent as a place to put their unwanted daughters. Many noblemen, particularly land-rich but monetarily poor knights, couldn't afford a large dowry for their daughters which was required to make a favorable and advantageous match within the nobility. Of course, it was out of the question for those noble daughters to "marry down" in class, to laborers or tradesmen who wouldn't require so hefty a dowry. So rather than try to come up with the appropriate funds to make a noble match, many noblemen decided to put their daughters into convents.
Similar to men who entered monasteries, cloistered life for women was seen as advantageous. So fathers didn't feel too guilty about putting their unwanted younger daughters into a sheltered life of service to God because the convent was a place where they would be safe, fed, clothed, housed, and usually taught to write and read. Although a severe lifestyle, it was relatively easy and comfortable and suited to a woman of noble birth.
At the time of the story, how were Luther’s teachings and writings already inspiring change and revolution?
At the start of the book in 1523, Martin Luther had already been declared a heretic by the pope and the church. He'd already nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Wittenburg church (which detailed his concerns about the corruption within the church). He'd already faced an inquisition by important people sent by the pope in the city of Worms. He'd faced the Emperor himself and had refused to recant his teachings and writings. He'd been excommunicated and declared a heretic. And since that time he'd essentially been hunted down so that he could be burned at the stake for his beliefs.
Luther went into hiding for a time, but continued to write and preach. During that time, his band of followers began to grow exponentially. As Luther's popularity grew, his teachings spread and made their way secretly into the convent where Katharina lived. When Katharina and some of the other nuns heard Luther's views on the unnaturalness of cloistered life and the goodness of marriage, something about his message resonated deeply within them. And their lives (and many others like them) would never be the same again.
It's also thought by some that Luther's teachings incited the peasants in Germany to revolt against authority. Although Luther was of peasant origin and was tempted to side with the peasants, he maintained his relationship with the Elector and a number of other princes.They finally gave the Reformation and the gospel their allegiance in a move that likely wouldn’t have happened had Luther sided with the peasants during the Peasant Revolt. He had alienated himself from the peasant class, but in doing so had preserved the success of the Reformation.
Beyond the entertainment factor, what do you hope your books bring to your audience? What do you want a reader to walk away with after having read Luther and Katharina?
First, I hope that after witnessing the great commitment of faith of believers in past ages, readers will come away with a greater commitment to their own personal faith especially in light of the difficulties and trials that may come our way. If a man like Martin Luther was willing to go to the stake for what he believed, that should give us courage. And if a woman like Katharina von Bora risked her life, comfort, and future for her growing faith, that too should inspire us to do the same.
Second, I hope that readers will have a greater appreciation and understanding of the dangers and difficulties that many went through in their efforts to preserve the gospel of Jesus and to correct corruption. Again, I ask readers to consider what they're willing to face in order to stand against corruption and to speak the truth in today's culture that is once again shifting away from Scripture.
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