Candles in the Night—No. 3

The sixteenth-century Reformation became one of the greatest crises of the Christian church. Decisive issues were at stake, and some of the noblest examples of living the "newly re­vealed" doctrine of righteousness by faith were women associated with the leaders of the move­ment. Woman's candle shone the brighter in the gloom of those Reformation times!

THE sixteenth-century Reformation became one of the greatest crises of the Christian church. Decisive issues were at stake, and some of the noblest examples of living the "newly re­vealed" doctrine of righteousness by faith were women associated with the leaders of the move­ment. Woman's candle shone the brighter in the gloom of those Reformation times!

A Reformation Partnership

One of Martin Luther's jovial appellations for his wife was the title "Master Kate." Katharina von Bora, formerly a nun, had accepted this former monk as her life partner. Adventist women are generally acquainted with this in­teresting romance that was a small part in the lives of two strong characters destined to change the history of the medieval church.

Master Kate was a woman of leadership in the domestic realm, with grace and wit to oil at times the jarring machinery of external op­position. Her noble "lord and master," as she fondly referred to Luther, who, under the con­tinuous strain of controversy, tended to moods of discouragement, needed her household tran­quillity. Besides a growing family, the Luther home harbored relatives and student boarders; and the professor of theology, now the de­fender of the Protestant faith and penman of its controversial issues, needed a solid domestic pillar and an intelligent counselor. Here Kate ably led out in a masterful fashion.

Kate Luther had the ability to make a drab, deserted cloister a homey dwelling for her fam­ily. By hard toil she raised a garden and planted a fruitful orchard. Often she improvised a refuge for migrants who had to flee because of these new Reformation teachings. At times her home would become a veritable hospital. When the black plague was at its worst, she skillfully applied medications and poultices. She was equally efficient at measuring out motherly discipline to the obstreperous. There were also trying hours, such as when death en­tered her domain and snatched away her child. Then it was that stricken Kate slipped away to her prayer closet, for the cloister dwelling never crowded out her communion with Christ, her true Lord and Master.

The biographies of Luther and Katharina are many, and their praises are well sung. The latter even has gone on record as a staunch Reformation witness. At the death of Luther, Kate's grief almost felled her spirits. Immedi­ately she had to flee from the approaching sol­diers who burned the sheds and destroyed her garden and orchard. Later, when the war ended, she and her family returned to the old cloister, but it was to face a different life. Back taxes al­most engulfed her, but kind friends, many of them having lost almost everything themselves, came to her aid and supplied her immediate needs. Later Kate boarded the university stu­dents. In service for these young people she re­gained her tranquillity of mind and lost her anguish and grief. Her "Luther Bible" was her constant stay. In a much larger sense Kate car­ried the role of "mother" for the church. Un-stintingly she spent herself for her people until earth's pilgrimage was passed. Her deathbed prayer breathes the essence of a fully sur­rendered life. Having committed her children to the merciful care of her heavenly Father, Mas­ter Kate asked for the same favor upon His church. She thanked God for the trials through which she had been led, and heroically wit­nessed that He had never forsaken or forgotten her. Most touching is her request that the doc­trine God had sent through her husband "be handed down unadulterated to posterity." *

*Edith Deen, Great Women of the Christian Faith, p. 98, Harper and Brothers, New York, 1959.

Reformation Hardships

In 1519, and while still a priest, Huldreich Zwingli, typical of his time, began preaching against clerical celibacy, monasticism, and many other Romish practices. Three years later he publicly celebrated his marriage to Anna Reinhard, a Christian widow with three chil­dren. This family had lived in a little court not far from the church where Zwingli was preach­ing the Reformation doctrines. They became attentive listeners. Anna lovingly supplied the needs of those who had to flee for their faith. The Zwingli marriage was a very happy one until the tragedy of Zwingli's death. With his Bible under his arm he rode into the war as chaplain, but was slain in an early battle. To add to Anna's great sorrow, in the same battle perished her son-in-law, her brother, and her brother-in-law. This multiple tragedy left her without means of support, but in the provi­dence of the One in whom she trusted, this noble toiler found lodging in the home of Heinrich and Anna Bullinger, now Zwingli's successor. The Bullinger's adopted son later married Anna's daughter.

A Shelter in the Storm

Anna Bullinger at the age of eight years lost her father in battle. Simultaneously with con­flicts within the church, the state was in an up­heaval. Her sick mother placed her in a convent at that time and remained there herself. It was Heinrich Bullinger's sermons that caused a great stir behind the convent walls as some wel­comed the new Reformation freedom; others, however, became greatly embittered. Bullinger there met Anna and later proposed marriage. But they waited for this until her mother's death. As Bullinger's wife, Anna had to take her part in his new responsibility and she shared many Reformation hardships. Toiling and economizing to the limit, she cheerfully made a home for refugees, among whom were Anna Zwingli and her children.

Heinrich Bullinger was stricken with bubonic plague. Anna nursed him back to health and then succumbed to the epidemic herself.

Reformation Ideals

Idelette de Bures was left a widow with three children during Europe's ravaging plague. Cal­vin had won Idelette's family to Reformation teachings and later she became his wife.

Because of the importance of his position, the wedding was a public occasion. Calvin had al­ready published his commentary on the book of Romans and other Bible literature. Immedi­ately after their marriage he was called to the Protestant city of Geneva. There they made their home by the beautiful lake, with the in­spiring Alps as a background. Despite the times, Idelette's new home environment portended peace.

Launching the Protestant cause was an ar­duous undertaking. Martin Luther had writ­ten pamphlets and books in defense of the new movement's position against Rome, and it be­came the work of Calvin to systematize these teachings in his Institutes. Calvin had studied law, and his logical thinking was a great con­tribution to the Protestants who were much misunderstood in their protest against the me­dieval church.

Rebellious elements frequently raged in the streets against Idelette's husband. She was often forced to her knees, beseeching God's protec­tion. She certainly had a part in praying through the issues of that crisis hour.

Calvin was not a robust man, and Idelette's anxiety on his behalf was not an imaginary threat. During the short years of their marriage four children came to bless this home, but all died in infancy. Besides providing a shelter for the many fleeing refugees, Idelette's self-sacri­ficing life had an influence on these homeless ones, and they helped to scatter the newly re­vealed Bible truths in Holland, France, and Scotland. Her memory is dear to all Calvinists.

Exemplary Womanhood

Protestant women of the sixteenth century were hardly mystics; they characterized a more practical type of Christianity. Some had fled cloistered walls, returning to their loved ones, there to lead out as heads of Christian homes. The foregoing women of this strenuous period of church history became stalwarts of the faith and educators of their sons and daughters. Obe­dience to God was the first principle of the home; obviously, obedience to parents came next. These mothers left some valuable les­sons for our shepherdesses to emulate. History has a way of repeating itself!

May we not believe that the Reformation shepherdesses often "entertained angels un­awares"? Classic hospitality, would you say? These ministerial wives heroically faced separa­tions from their husbands and often threats of starvation. Their "investment" gardens were a necessity for the survival of God's children, not just an inspiring mission project for the Sab­bath school. We have searched for traces of vanity in dress and for other domestic extrava­gances; it would seem that they simply did not exist. Those of the fair sex had larger thoughts to engross their attention. These Reformation women were like priestesses in their homes. Some originated catechisms, children's prayer books, and hymnals. Music and song was the Christian's joy; prayer was the everlasting ref­uge; the doctrines of the Bible settled all con­flict and pointed the way back to God. Their missionary zeal held at bay any Laodicean apathy in the church. Ministerial women were God's pattern! Will your candle, dear shepherd­ess, continue to burn as brightly as did theirs?


Annie Wittenmeyer, The Women of the Reformation, Phillips and Hunt, New York 1885.

Ruth Short, Meet Martin Luther, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, Mich., 1959.


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October 1961

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