Luther 2017

500 years since the Reformation

The people at Luther's side: his wife, thinkers and other reformers, and a prince elector

Martin Luther's main supporters were his wife, Katharina von Bora, and Philipp Melanchthon, the great intellectual from Bretten, known as the 'praeceptor Germaniae' (teacher of Germany).

Of course, the Reformation is inextricably linked with the name Martin Luther, but it would have been impossible for one individual to reform a religion. Luther had the support of a host of people: important, brave men and one woman – Katharina von Bora. She was born on 29 January 1499, the daughter of an impoverished nobleman who was forced to spend her childhood in a convent. She fled in 1523 and found refuge in the home of Lucas Cranach the Elder, a close friend of Luther. Katharina von Bora and Martin Luther married in 1525 and moved to the old Augustinian monastery in Wittenberg. Katharina managed the household, taking care of the money, running a farm and a brewery and even taking a lease on a fish farm. Martin Luther called her "my lord Katie" – an indication that she was in charge at home. She died in Torgau on 29 December 1552. At that time, Philipp Melanchthon was the leading figure in the Reformation who, even when Luther was still alive, was its theorist and a great networker with close connections to the Elector and to European scholars. The university had to appoint three new teachers to carry on his work after he died in Wittenberg on 19 April 1560, two years and one day after Johannes Bugenhagen, Luther's spiritual adviser and friend, who he met in 1521. In 1523, Luther arranged for Bugenhagen to be elected as the new priest of the town church, making him the first Protestant priest of Wittenberg. The fact that Luther was able to live there unhindered was due to his benefactor, Frederick the Wise, who had refused to surrender him to Rome in 1519. Then, in 1521, he petitioned the Emperor to allow Luther safe passage to the Diet of Worms, and continued to ensure his safety thereafter. Although the Elector protected Luther throughout his lifetime and thereby allowed the Reformation to take hold, he only professed to the new doctrines shortly before his death. Johannes Calvin was an important contemporary of Luther, although not an associate. He instigated a reign of terror in Geneva in 1539. Ulrich Zwingli, who Luther met in 1529, was also active in Switzerland, this time in Zurich.

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