Jesus’ historical roots are mentioned in the carol “Es ist ein Ros entsprungen”—“There is a flower springing from tender roots it grows.”
Jesus, as the “Son of David,” had His historical roots in Jesse, Judah, Adam, and finally, God. As I look back in time, I can find many women who lived in similar ways and in similar conditions. When I study their lives and look at their difficulties and victories, I can find help for my personal life with God.
I have always enjoyed reading historical novels, biographies, and stories. When preparing this article, I studied the lives of Katharina von Bora (Martin Luther’s wife) and Catherine Booth (the wife of the founder of the Salvation Army). My view of the life of a pastoral spouse has also been influenced by Ellen White and women of the Bible such as Sarah and Priscilla.
Catherine Mumford (1829–1890) experienced her conversion as a 15-year-old girl. Before she agreed to marry William Booth, she insisted on a relationship as equal partners. Until he founded the Salvation Army in 1879, William worked as a successful itinerant evangelist. Catherine was just as devoted as her husband. She influenced and supported him in decisive points. She never let an opportunity slip to preach and to win people to the Gospel. Her efforts for the right of women to preach was a major offenses against the behavior codes for women in Victorian England. At that time, it was considered indecent and unfeminine for women to work in public. In 1890, Catherine wrote in an essay, “We cannot see anything unnatural or indecent in a woman who presents herself suitably dressed in the pulpit. God gave women a beautiful figure, a winning personality, convincing eloquence, and a fine sensibility. All these things seem to be natural qualifications for public work. . . . Thank God that the day is dawning for women. Women are studying things independently. They want to be recognized as responsible persons, responsible to God for the conviction of their duty. Pressed by the Holy Spirit, they are traversing the unbiblical barriers that have been put up by the church. A theologian who still teaches that a woman should be quiet when the Holy Ghost is pressing her to speak will be seen as an astronomer who teaches that the sun is a satellite of the earth.” Catherine Booth suffered from a back injury all her life. During the weeks she was obliged to spend in bed, she gathered an impressive knowledge of theology. She was able to deal with the leading Bible scholars of her time in a superb way.
Katharina von Bora (1499–1552) fled from a convent at the age of 24. As a nun, she had theological training, but that was of no consequence outside the convent. Reformed Christians were beating new paths, and it took a lot of courage for Martin Luther and Katharina von Bora to unite and to create a new kind of family, the pastoral family. When their son, Johannes, was born in 1526, their opponents were expecting him to be the anti-christ, a child with horns or something just as terrible. How could anything else come out of a union of an ex-monk and a fugitive nun?
A letter from Wittenberg in May 1530 allows us to look at their family life. “To my dearest Doctor Martinus Luther, high up in the Castle of Coburg. We received your letter duly. The whole family gathered, including all students, maids, and children, and we read the letter with a loud voice. Particularly little Hans climbed onto my lap and whispered into my ear, ‘When is our dear father going to come back?’ There is a lot of work in the garden now that everything is growing and blossoming. . . . Our company at the table is content, although they sometimes complain that the soup is too thin or the porridge too thick, and they also want to bargain about the price. If only Reichstag would come to be and you could come back to us! There is so much I would like to discuss with you.”
Katharina had given birth to six children in a short time. Times were hard, money and food scarce, and hostility from the exterior great. Her household consisted of many different people: poor relatives, orphans, students, etc. She often complained that although the princes supported Martin Luther ideally, he could not bring himself to ask for money to feed his family. Katharine cultivated several gardens and a farm for which she had to fight after Luther’s death, as it was not considered right for her to inherit it, being a woman. She must have been a very energetic woman, and her husband Martin often called her “Mister Käthe,” but meant this as a form of recognition. In disrespect, others called her a “quarrelsome woman.” During an especially difficult time, Katharina had an accident. During her illness, she said that she wanted to cling to Christ’s robe like a burdock. All her life, she had a strong, living relationship with Christ. Her life serves as a model for mine.
When I think of the historical roots I have as a pastoral wife, I find help for my daily life and I do not feel so alone. This gives me power to fight my fight.