Wednesday, February 3, 2010


Sometimes known as "The Bride of the Reformation" or, in German, Reformationfrau, Wibrandis Rosenblatt (1504-1564) was the wife of three notable Reformers, and a godly woman in her own right, as each of her husbands testified.

Born in Bad Säckingen, Germany, she first married Ludwig Keller (Cellarius), a craftsman from Basel, in 1524, with whom she had one daughter, before he died in 1526. Two years later, she married the Basel Reformer Johannes Oecolampadius (1482-1531), who, skilled in languages, served as an assistant both to Desiderius Erasmus and Ulrich Zwingli. Together, they had three children named Eusebius (godly), Irene (peace) and Aletheia (truth). While running the household and caring for children and other relations, she had occasion to offer hospitality to the poor, the sick, and travelers.

Oecolampadius was probably weakened in health by the news of Zwingli’s death. He gathered his children on the evening of November 21, 1531, and spoke to each of them. His voice was weak. At one point, someone asked him whether the light was too bright for him. He struck his breast and murmured with a smile (perhaps referring to his name as well as to the gospel), “Here's light enough within.” He died on November 23, 1531, in the presence of his wife and children. (John Dyck, "Johannes Oecolampadius: Lighthouse of the Reformation," WRS Journal 3:2 (August 1996) 22, 25-29)

After the death of Oecolampadius, and through the mediation of Martin Bucer (1491-1551), Wibrandis married the Strasbourg Reformer, Wolfgang Capito (1478-1541) in 1532. It was her third marriage and his second; his wife had died of the plague the previous year. When they married, her mother moved in with Wibrandis and Wolfgang, and Wibrandis' four children. As Frau Capito, Wibrandis bore five more children. Capito was present at the conference of Marburg and collaborated with Martin Bucer in the writing of the Confessio Tetrapolitana. Capito and the wife of Martin Bucer, Elizabeth (who, it is said, bore him 13 children), were both among the casualties when the plague struck Strasbourg in November 1541, as were at least three of Wibrandis' children. From her deathbed, Elizabeth encouraged Martin Bucer to marry Wibrandis after she was gone.

Wibrandis married Martin Bucer in April 1542. He had commended her to his good friend Wolfgang ten years before and spoke highly of her to his friend Ambrose Blaurer, while alluding to opposition to his second marriage from Catholic clergy on the grounds of "digamy" (elsewhere writing to Philip of Hesse that some objected "that I used to be a monk and took a nun to be my wife and now have a wife who was a widow" of two former priests):

Although I am past the age suited to marriage, I have nevertheless, in view of my circumstances and office, decided to follow the advice of my brothers and to marry the widow of Capito. As my response to the illegitimate canon laws about a second marriage (digamy), I would point to the law from Ezekiel 44 which does permit a priest to wed the widow of a priest. She still has four children: a girl from Oecolampadius, and a boy and two small girls from Capito. The latter, as you know, did not leave her very much on account of the tough luck he had with his money loans but thanks to the aid of Wendelin Rihel there is a little money with which to support her. As long as God gives me life and my income, we will keep that money -- however small the amount may be -- for the orphans and we will treat them as my own children. My motives for taking this step are (1) loneliness and (2) the danger which exists if a person starts a household with someone he does not know. Further, there is the virtuous character of this widow and the love I owe to the orphaned children of the man who made himself so useful to me. Pray the Lord for us so that our plans may be approved by Christ and be of the benefit to his church! (T. Schiess, Briefweschsel der Bruder Ambrosius and Thomas Blaurer, 1509-1548 1:105, quoted by H.J. Selderhuis, Marriage and Divorce in the Thought of Martin Bucer, p. 124)

He added that he chose her to be his wife "for in past years she has really proven that she is not only pure, honorable, faithful, and godly, but also a diligent helper, who fruitfully made herself useful to the church and has a gift for ministry as for many years she demonstrated in her marriage to those two precious men of God, Oecolampadius and Capito." Bucer missed his first wife, Elizabeth, but had a happy marriage to Wibrandis for nine years, and together they produced a daughter, also named Elizabeth. Bucer was away from him often, but when he moved to England in 1549, Wibrandis soon followed. It is evident how much he had missed his wife from a remark he made in a letter to a friend after her arrival: "My wife arrived just in time: I had become completely cold but she warmed me up again." In 1550, she returned to Strasbourg to make arrangements for the rest of the family to join them, before coming back to Cambridge. Bucer was himself ill in England, and took the opportunity to update his will, noting that Wibrandis would do fine on her own if he was not around, but expressing his desire that she should remarry in such a case. In fact, he died the next year, in 1551, and she never married again. King Edward VI gave her an award of 100 marks for services rendered to the Church of England by her husband. After a brief stay in Strasbourg, she settled in Basel again for the remainder of her life with her children and her elderly mother. Eventually, the plague reached her too, and she died of illness on November 1, 1564. She was interred in the grave of her second husband, Johannes Oecolampadius.

As Reformationfrau, three times a pastor's wife, Wibrandis, bore at least nine children and, like Ruth to Naomi, went to live where her husbands lived, and gave herself to the service of her family and the cause of Christ wherever he called her to serve. She is worthy of remembrance as a "mother in Israel" (Judges 5.7).

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