The Bride of the Reformation: Wibrandis Rosenblatt (1504–1564)

The Bride of the Reformation

In 1504, Wibrandis Rosenblatt was born in Säckingen, Germany. Over the next sixty years, she would marry and be widowed four times, inspiring one writer to describe her as the Reformationfrau — “the Bride of the Reformation.”

Ludwig Keller

Her 1524 marriage to Ludwig Keller was short lived. In July 1526, Wibrandis, 22, was a widow with a daughter, also named Wibrandis.

The Bride of the Reformation cy3x76bh

Among the Reformation leaders, clerical marriage was becoming “a new way of serving the community of Jesus Christ.” Johannes Oecolampadius had argued publicly for the freedom of pastors to marry, though he himself was still single (Frau Wibrandis, 15). Oecolampadius’s friend Wolfgang Capito wrote to him, “If a suitable person is pointed out to you, I think you should not decline. To have a mate of like zeal will be a glory to the Lord.”

Johannes Oecolampadius

Someone must have pointed out Wibrandis. On March 15, 1528, she and Oecolampadius were married, raising some eyebrows at their age difference — 45 and 24 — but causing most friends to rejoice. He wrote in a letter, “The Lord has given me a sister and wife . . .  a widow with several years experience in bearing the cross. I wish she were older, but I see in her no signs of youthful petulance. Pray the Lord to give us a long and happy marriage” (Women of the Reformation, 82).

At this point, pastors had not been marrying for several hundred years. Wibrandis and other wives of sixteenth-century Reformers became friends through letters, determining and shaping their new role as they lived it.

Soon, three children were added to their family — Eusebius, Aletheia, and Irene — before the death of Oecolampadius in November 1531 due to blood poisoning from an abscess. That same month, Capito’s wife Agnes also died.

Wolfgang Capito

Martin Bucer’s matchmaking propensities sprang into action. “My choice for Capito is the widow of Oecolampadius. . . . He writes me that he has been very touched by the sight of the widow Wibrandis and the orphaned children” (Women of the Reformation, 85). Wibrandis and Capito were married on August 11, 1532.

Capito was pastor of New St. Peter’s Church in Strasbourg. Their household included Wibrandis’s mother and the four children of her previous marriages. Five more were born — Agnes, Dorothea, Irene (after the death of Irene Oecolampadius), John Simon, and Wolfgang.

“Since she did curb his foibles, balance his budget, and keep his household sweet, her achievement belongs to the annals of unrecorded heroisms” (Women of the Reformation, 87). But plague in 1540 took the children Eusebius, Dorothea, Wolfgang, and also Capito himself.

Martin Bucer

News of Capito’s death reached the Bucers when Elisabeth Bucer was close to death. Elisabeth pled with her husband and Wibrandis that they marry after she died, and they did in April 1542.

Bucer wrote, “There is nothing that I could desire in my new wife save that she is too attentive and solicitous. She is not as free in criticism as was my first wife. . . . I only hope I can be as kind to my new wife as she is to me. But oh, the pang for the one I have lost” (Women of the Reformation, 87–88).

One can imagine Wibrandis’s similar grief for three husbands. For the fourth time, she adapted to a new husband, learning how they would love and support each other according to their particular needs, ministries, and preferences.

By 1548, new laws required Protestant churches to fulfill conditions that Bucer could not endorse. He fled into exile in England, and taught at Cambridge, while assisting in biblical translation and developing liturgy. After only a year, suffering a cold, damp winter and a long list of physical ailments, he urged Wibrandis to come. She came and eventually brought the family.

During Bucer’s last months, Wibrandis nursed him almost constantly, doing also whatever was required for caring for the rest of her family, consisting of the children and her mother. After her husband’s death in February 1551, Wibrandis wrote numerous articulate letters to sort out their finances and move the family back to Strasbourg. Some were in German, some in Latin, revealing her facility with language and languages.

Wibrandis the Woman

Lest we are tempted to see a passive woman swept up by circumstances and the decisions of imposing men, here is Wibrandis’s forceful voice to her son Simon John Capito, away at university:

I haven’t heard from you for some time, but I well know that if I had, the news would not have been comforting. . . . If only I might live to the day when I have good news from you. Then would I die of joy. . . . If you would follow in the footsteps of your father, then Grandma, the sisters, and the in-laws would lay down their very lives for you. . . . If you will behave yourself properly, come home. If you won’t, then do as you will. I wish you a good year. Your faithful mother. (Women of the Reformation, 93–94)

In 1564, Basel lost 7,000 to plague, including Wibrandis Rosenblatt. She was buried beside Oecolampadius.

Today in Bad Säckingen, her birthplace, is Wibrandis-Rosenblatt-Weg, a short street leading to the bank of the Rhine. Beside the street towers the steeple of the Evangelische Kirchengemeinde, a Protestant church.

The Bride of the Reformation: Wibrandis Rosenblatt (1504–1564)

The Bride of the Reformation

In 1504, Wibrandis Rosenblatt was born in Säckingen, Germany. Over the next sixty years, she would marry and be widowed four times, inspiring one writer to describe her as the Reformationfrau — “the Bride of the Reformation.”

Ludwig Keller

Her 1524 marriage to Ludwig Keller was short lived. In July 1526, Wibrandis, 22, was a widow with a daughter, also named Wibrandis.

The Bride of the Reformation cy3x76bh

Among the Reformation leaders, clerical marriage was becoming “a new way of serving the community of Jesus Christ.” Johannes Oecolampadius had argued publicly for the freedom of pastors to marry, though he himself was still single (Frau Wibrandis, 15). Oecolampadius’s friend Wolfgang Capito wrote to him, “If a suitable person is pointed out to you, I think you should not decline. To have a mate of like zeal will be a glory to the Lord.”

Johannes Oecolampadius

Someone must have pointed out Wibrandis. On March 15, 1528, she and Oecolampadius were married, raising some eyebrows at their age difference — 45 and 24 — but causing most friends to rejoice. He wrote in a letter, “The Lord has given me a sister and wife . . .  a widow with several years experience in bearing the cross. I wish she were older, but I see in her no signs of youthful petulance. Pray the Lord to give us a long and happy marriage” (Women of the Reformation, 82).

At this point, pastors had not been marrying for several hundred years. Wibrandis and other wives of sixteenth-century Reformers became friends through letters, determining and shaping their new role as they lived it.

Soon, three children were added to their family — Eusebius, Aletheia, and Irene — before the death of Oecolampadius in November 1531 due to blood poisoning from an abscess. That same month, Capito’s wife Agnes also died.

Wolfgang Capito

Martin Bucer’s matchmaking propensities sprang into action. “My choice for Capito is the widow of Oecolampadius. . . . He writes me that he has been very touched by the sight of the widow Wibrandis and the orphaned children” (Women of the Reformation, 85). Wibrandis and Capito were married on August 11, 1532.

Capito was pastor of New St. Peter’s Church in Strasbourg. Their household included Wibrandis’s mother and the four children of her previous marriages. Five more were born — Agnes, Dorothea, Irene (after the death of Irene Oecolampadius), John Simon, and Wolfgang.

“Since she did curb his foibles, balance his budget, and keep his household sweet, her achievement belongs to the annals of unrecorded heroisms” (Women of the Reformation, 87). But plague in 1540 took the children Eusebius, Dorothea, Wolfgang, and also Capito himself.

Martin Bucer

News of Capito’s death reached the Bucers when Elisabeth Bucer was close to death. Elisabeth pled with her husband and Wibrandis that they marry after she died, and they did in April 1542.

Bucer wrote, “There is nothing that I could desire in my new wife save that she is too attentive and solicitous. She is not as free in criticism as was my first wife. . . . I only hope I can be as kind to my new wife as she is to me. But oh, the pang for the one I have lost” (Women of the Reformation, 87–88).

One can imagine Wibrandis’s similar grief for three husbands. For the fourth time, she adapted to a new husband, learning how they would love and support each other according to their particular needs, ministries, and preferences.

By 1548, new laws required Protestant churches to fulfill conditions that Bucer could not endorse. He fled into exile in England, and taught at Cambridge, while assisting in biblical translation and developing liturgy. After only a year, suffering a cold, damp winter and a long list of physical ailments, he urged Wibrandis to come. She came and eventually brought the family.

During Bucer’s last months, Wibrandis nursed him almost constantly, doing also whatever was required for caring for the rest of her family, consisting of the children and her mother. After her husband’s death in February 1551, Wibrandis wrote numerous articulate letters to sort out their finances and move the family back to Strasbourg. Some were in German, some in Latin, revealing her facility with language and languages.

Wibrandis the Woman

Lest we are tempted to see a passive woman swept up by circumstances and the decisions of imposing men, here is Wibrandis’s forceful voice to her son Simon John Capito, away at university:

I haven’t heard from you for some time, but I well know that if I had, the news would not have been comforting. . . . If only I might live to the day when I have good news from you. Then would I die of joy. . . . If you would follow in the footsteps of your father, then Grandma, the sisters, and the in-laws would lay down their very lives for you. . . . If you will behave yourself properly, come home. If you won’t, then do as you will. I wish you a good year. Your faithful mother. (Women of the Reformation, 93–94)

In 1564, Basel lost 7,000 to plague, including Wibrandis Rosenblatt. She was buried beside Oecolampadius.

Today in Bad Säckingen, her birthplace, is Wibrandis-Rosenblatt-Weg, a short street leading to the bank of the Rhine. Beside the street towers the steeple of the Evangelische Kirchengemeinde, a Protestant church.

Will You Cleave and Leave Your Man?

Will You Cleave and Leave Your Man?

Dear Wife,

Cleave is a strange word. It’s a contranym — a word that can have opposite meanings.

In an upper story of a concrete apartment block in a small Chinese city, I watched Rene wield her cleaver like a top chef, preparing vegetables for her family’s dinner. I was impressed how she positioned her fingers so they didn’t get chopped with the carrots. “Wow! I want some of those knives to take home as gifts,” I said. Rene pointed out the window toward a shop across the busy street. “You should be able to find them there.”

The name of one brand was Family Cleaver. It was easy to see how the difficulty of grasping a double meaning in English must have tripped up a Chinese translator. I was glad to discover a different brand with a happier name (that wouldn’t have implications of splitting a family apart).

On the opposite side of the word, there’s the other meaning of cleave, as it’s used in a time-honored wedding text: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24 KJV). Or as the ESV translates the same word, the husband shall “hold fast” to his wife.

Johnny Picked Me

At a small country church in middle Georgia, on a mild Saturday afternoon in December almost 49 years ago, we were married. We had waited two and a half years for this day. I still could hardly believe that Johnny Piper had chosen me, and that he wanted to spend his life with me just as much as I wanted to be with him.

Will You Cleave and Leave Your Man? gcvgay8r

I understood — as well as a person can at the beginning of the rest of her life — the happy, solemn weight of promising to be faithful to him until death parted us, no matter what challenges God might bring into our lives. It didn’t seem possible I would ever want anything else.

“Noël, do you take John to be your wedded husband to live together in holy matrimony? Do you promise to love him . . . and forsaking all others, be faithful only to him so long as you both shall live?” There was not a doubt in my mind or heart when I declared, “I do!”

How could I have known that the worse of “better or worse” would lead to a season of sleepless nights when I wondered how I could keep on? I felt desperate for something different. That’s the time in our marriage when I would have been most likely to turn to someone else. But thank God, it didn’t happen. He held us together. There were a few habits that helped.

Faithfulness to Johnny, through the years, from boyfriend to husband, meant:

  • Not flirting with other men.
  • Avoiding men who seemed too interested.
  • Not meeting alone with any other man.
  • Having regular devotions together with Johnny.

Faithfulness required more than four habits, but these four have been central and essential.

Hardest Habit

The last is the hardest, but most important. My appreciation for it began, as with many things, with my parents. It is amazing my parents stayed together. About twenty years into their marriage, their rampaging differences seemed about to rip them apart.

Through even the most difficult months — years, really — Daddy and Mother took us all to church every Sunday. And every evening of the week, one of us kids was sent to the front porch to holler down toward the pasture and out toward the woods, “Sto-o-ory and pra-a-yers ti-i-ime!”

After all nine of us kids (later we were ten) had tumbled into the living room from the barn and creek and kitchen, Daddy read the next passage in our years-long path through the whole Bible. Then we kneeled at our chairs and took turns praying.

I realize now how difficult that must have been for my parents. Often they must have felt like hypocrites, going through motions when they didn’t feel like worshiping or praying together.

Of course, it would have been ideal if they had come before God with whole and happy hearts. But it was better to come somehow than not at all. And God held them together until he brought their marriage through the tempest into peace, using his glue of faithfulness — his faithfulness to them, and their faithfulness to each other and to those family devotional traditions.

What Kind of Cleaver?

What did it boil down to during my darkest nights? I was saved from wandering by some form of this question: What kind of a cleaver am I? Am I the deadly implement who will split my family — with a husband and five children — into shreds? Because, with or without divorce, that is what unfaithfulness will do to us.

Or will I cleave to the husband God has given me? Will I cling to my marriage and pray desperately for something different? I chose to cling, and God is still proving his faithfulness. He will do the same for you.