WOMEN IN THE REFORMATION ERA

The reformation era occurred in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but the roots were found much earlier. While the definitive date historians assign was October 31, 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the Wittenburg Church door to initiate a debate on indulgences, in the decades before and after the universal or Catholic church was attacked and torn asunder. Christendom in the West was severed in two. Today we have Protestants and Catholics, but prior to 1517 for 1500 years there was basically only one church. Why this happened has been the subject of much research and debate. Initially religious reasons were espoused for the breakup. Next the social, economic and political historians did their research. Now scholars are exploring what roles women played in this momentous religious transformation. Throughout the Middle Ages the church was always subject to criticism. Any institutions that directly impact people's lives are vetted for their indiscretions and problems. Famous literary works like the Decameron, Divine Comedy and the Canterbury Tales delved into the foibles and frustrations of living up to the religious tenets of Christianity. With the inception of the printing press and the increased literacy of the Renaissance period, more people became aware of the ills of the church. Through the centuries the laity and clergy had worked actively for reform. People like Marsilius of Padua, who were the first to outline the separation of church and state in his Defense of the Peace, the Bohemian John Hus, the Englishman John Wycliffe, and the Dutch Desiderius Erasmus all, criticized the church, but offered suggestions and solutions to rectify what they saw as Christendom adrift. These people and other critics of the church by the early sixteenth century concentrated their attacks on four major problems: clerical immorality, clerical ignorance, clerical pluralism, and clerical wealth. Celibacy was institutionalized legally in the twelfth century although for the preceding eight hundred years it was required of priests, monks and nuns to be celibate. This legalization of celibacy for the clergy had tremendous repercussions on women because marriage was not looked at favorably as the number one choice for men. Additionally, many priests maintained concubines and "housekeepers". In Holland it is estimated that about one-fourth of the clergy lived with a common

. Monasteries and nunneries were numerous." The Holy Roman Emperor. the Pope.one thousands years versus one monk. who were not entering convents to become nuns." and "the priesthood of all believers" where there was no distinction between clergy and laity. and other printed material. When he was asked to recant he replied: "Unless I am convinced by the testimony of scripture or plain reasons. Financially it was favorable for the princes to separate themselves from Rome. replied: "I am descended from a long line of rulers who were all faithful to Rome. Women were prominent in these movements because most of them advocated more equality for women than the Catholic Church did. His local German Lord. like female merchants in Bristol. and then Luther was excommunicated.. While many nuns were examples of spiritual dedication. By now.. Charles V. He then wrote and published widely three pamphlets where he formulated his theological and social ideas of: "justification by faith alone.. Most were involved in the daily religious rituals that had been operating for centuries.to set the example for moral behavior. Gambling and drunkenness were also sins of the priesthood as well as the rest of society. England. Frederic the Wise of Saxony. Luther challenged the infallibility of the Pope and Church Councils.and I will proceed against Luther as a heretic .I neither can nor will revoke anything. however." Now Luther was legally an outlaw. fanned the flames of scandal. and local princes then decided whether to support Luther or the Catholic Church in Rome. but the famous literature mentioned earlier..God help me. who was his overlord. As the church probably owned about one-third of the real estate in . A series of events transpired after Luther's debate on indulgences that meant there was no turning back to a universal church. others were not..2 law wife or concubine. Germany at the time was politically fragmented. sequestered him away.. By the sixteenth century many convents had often become convenient repositories for superfluous daughters of the aristocracy and wealthy urban classes. Such movements also appealed strongly to middle class women.. and increased local non-hierarchical personal control.here I stand. When Luther was called before the Papal Legate to answer questions about his actions. Both the church and Luther's supporters unleashed attacks against each other. people expected their clergy to maintain a more pristine morality . Illegitimacy had even extended to the highest ranking clergyman." "primacy of scriptures. allowing priests to marry. Reform movements such as the Lollards and Waldensians were being accused of heretical ideas such as: printing the Bible in the vernacular language so more could read it.

John Calvin used the idea of predestination to instill in his followers that God arbitrarily chooses to save some. Katherine Zell. and Latin in the church services. pilgrimages. but for unfathomable reasons of his own. few of the highly educated did. He formalized them in his Institutes of the Christian Religion and his Geneva Catechism. Then the independent towns with their local councils decided whether to become Protestant or stay Catholic. Switzerland to set up the religious rules. not because of their own merits. the Puritans in England. Matthias Zell. the Pilgrims in America. no fashionable clothing. a French lawyer who suddenly converted to Protestantism. the wife of Strasbourg Protestant preacher. "the Elect". the Dutch Reformed Church in Holland. In the early years of Protestantism women were welcomed. and the Huguenots in France. For Calvin. many . this land reverted to the state. the reformation spread. Calvin was invited to Geneva. Calvinism became the foundation for the Presbyterians in Scotland. and could be sold to generate funds while the cessation of tithing to Rome added also to the coffers of the local lords. They usually joined only in company with their male kinfolk. card playing or heavy drinking were allowed. but excluded as the movement triumphed and became institutionalized. so that meant daily sermons and thrice that number on Sundays. Only baptism and the Eucharist remained for Protestants out of the seven sacraments. Luther and his followers discarded such formalized practices as fasts. whatever was not commanded in the Bible was not acceptable. a Protestant instructional manual to guide children and adults. Both Martin Luther and John Calvin together with their momentous changes within Christianity greatly impacted women's lives. Since women still could not receive formal theological training. whereas for Luther what was not forbidden in the Bible was acceptable. Austere living. but most Protestant areas were alarmed at this change. Natalie Davis has noted that while a large number of widows and self-employed women converted to Calvinism. Calvin presumed "the Elect" were to be found among those who lived righteous lives. Women preached from the pulpit. Monasticism was abolished and clerical celibacy was no longer mandatory. Calvinist women belonged neither to the bottom nor the top of society. A generation later than Martin Luther. veneration of saints and relics. dancing.3 Germany. Individual women rarely converted to Protestantism during the sixteenth century. Like the men. was one of these preachers. Other women claimed direct illumination from God when city councilmen admonished them for their preaching. Together with political fragmentation was now religious fracturing. under John Calvin.

Education was now open to middle class women in Protestant areas. the fifth century writer of the Vulgate Bible had translated mysterion as a sacrament not as a mystery.. it was permissible for the clergy to marry because the reformers stated that celibacy was not supported by the scriptures. and so did their dilemmas. Research shows that the overall literacy rate of Protestant women was higher than of Catholic women aside from their nunneries. As Calvin observed: "It was hardly consistent for Catholic theologians to maintain that marriage was a sacrament and then to vilify marital sex as unclean pollution and carnal filth. The home.4 educated women wrote polemical as well as devotional works like hymns and poems. economic life. Now that marriage." When the Protestants removed marriage as a sacrament.during her life she was the faithful helper of my ministry. and Protestants encouraged education for young girls too. Even if it were possible for men to beget and bear children. Under these circumstances it is not strange that illegal prostitution increased. This was absurd. not the celibate life. cities." Calvin's remarks on the death of his wife reinforced Luther's: “I have been bereaved of the best companion of my life. Reformers said that St. Men cannot do without women. While changing women's role in society was not the original intent of the Protestant Reformers like Luther and Calvin. it would be sufficient to stamp him as the anti-Christ. He wrote: "imagine what it would be like without women." The Protestant reformers viewed marriage as a cooperative relationship of mutual responsibility. Luther stated: "Celibacy is the foil of Satan. If the Pope had brought about no other calamity than this prohibition of marriage. since not all had the opportunity to marry. and fathered six children. With the closing of convents the number of marriage-age women increased. Jerome. the changes they advocated and made had great significance for women. since public brothels were also closed by the Protestants." Thus almost all Protestant reformers married. and like Luther. Luther said "there was truth to the proverb that it takes a brave man to wed a wife." Adding a caveat though. became the ideal pattern. had to resort to domestic servitude or even day laboring. Martin Luther married the former nun. divorce was now possible. indeed it verged on the grotesque. many married former nuns. they still could not do without women. Many former nuns. and government would virtually disappear.. Katherine Bora. but sermons on the subject told husbands how to keep wives in their place. statistics show nearly 30% of nuns married and 25% of monks did. Women were actively praised now especially . In England. especially the older women.

Overall. Now. Women were equal to men in the presence of God according to the Bible. though. their dethroning of the Virgin Mary as the mother of God and protector of women in childbirth." Women were to be obedient to their husbands and to keep silent in public. but naturally inferior to men on Earth: "Women remained the weaker sex. had lasting effects that were deeply felt. adornments and immodest behavior. the double standard did prevail for Protestants until recently. Overall the divorce rate remained low. There were no longer relegated to the two extremes that the Catholic Church espoused either a virgin mother or a temptress like Eve. The husband and not the wife could obtain a divorce for adultery in some areas. Protestantism did abolish the traditional festivities where women had played active roles. frail. While they destroyed the worship of both male and female saints. . In some Calvinist areas only the wife was executed for adultery not her husband for his indiscretions. but in reality. There was no double standard legally for fornication and adultery. more prone than men to succumb to sexual temptation. Luther said that he had trouble breaking his wife of saying her Ave Marias or hail Marys. and did not change until the twentieth century." At the same time he chastised women for their vanity in dress. but it was hard for them to completely do away with the idea that intercourse in marriage was sinless. For the Catholics intercourse was for procreation only. He even blamed them for many of the sins of men: "There have been too many examples of how men. the idea of inferiority of women remained and the reformers never ceased to exclaim on this point. Hence women must be guided and controlled by their fathers and husbands lest they stray into foolishness and sin." As the Reformation and then the Counter-Reformation took hold in Europe.5 in their biblical vocation as mothers and housewives. while in other places both spouses could divorce for an adulterous affair. vain and lightheaded. around 2%. Zealous enforcement of laws against witchcraft and infanticide were the most cataclysmic for women. Calvin rejoined: “Let the woman be satisfied with her state of subjection and not take it ill that she is made inferior to the more distinguished sex. Augustine's views no longer counted. otherwise inclined to behave virtuously have been debauched and turned from the right way by women. tragic consequences for women occurred. the use of contraceptions in marriage was acceptable. St. Both Luther and Calvin rejected this teaching.

Found in Deuteronomy GET VERSE NUMBER "When brethren dwell together and one of them dieth without children. Catherine's nephew. Catherine was the daughter of Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon. Many lost their lives when they failed. he has uncovered his brother's nakedness and they shall be childless. A special dispensation had been required from the Pope Julius II for the marriage in the first place and now Henry wanted another dispensation for an annulment. Mary.. Pope Julius was walking a fine line though. for it is your brother's nakedness. and they would sort it out later. the wife of the deceased shall not marry to another.6 The English Reformation The Reformation came to England as a practical policy or "Great Matter" as the English referred to it. When Henry wed Anne in 1533 . but when he died and Henry assumed the throne. Leviticus 18:16. and had suffered many still births when Henry began his divorce proceedings. Catherine of Aragon. The Holy Roman Emperor was Charles V." Henry's lawyers and English humanists resolved the problem by explaining Latin for brother frater had been used to denote both brother and brother-in-law.the man who takes to wife the wife of his brother that is impurity." Catherine and her supporters used another biblical verse to counteract Henry. the Pope urged Henry to go ahead and marry Anne. 20:21: "You must not uncover the nakedness of your brother's wife. wanted a divorce from his wife. Henry VIII. Henry selected numerous royal officials to engineer his divorce. and Henry became the "Defender of the Faith" for the English. Catherine was in her forties. They were married for eighteen years and had one daughter. While Henry was in favor of another dalliance.. and that marriage to the wife of one's brother was prohibited both by canon and biblical law. As the Catholic Church did not allow this. Catherine became Henry's wife. Henry's legal thrust was that his wife Catherine was first married to his brother Arthur. as the ruling sovereign. partners in the ruling of most of Spain. Anne held out for a long time for marriage before a sexual relationship. but his brother shall take her and raise up seed for his brother. when Henry decided time was running out to secure a male heir. When the Pope became a prisoner of Charles after his attack on Rome. and by doing so the Pope's authority was invalidated in England. Henry's infatuation with Anne Boleyn was concurrent with his concern for a legitimate son (he had an illegitimate one already). Catherine was first married to Henry's older brother. but eventually Parliament became Henry's pawn and the divorce was accomplished. Henry went through the various political and religious machinations to achieve one.

. It was widely held at that time that deformed children were the product of illicit sexual acts. giving birth four months later to Elizabeth. four and twenty black birds baked in a pie. Within three years Anne was convicted of witchcraft and adultery. It was always puzzling why Anne had such a sudden downfall. so Anne was charged with incest with her brother." the famous words of the nursery rhyme. it was in tandem with the Renaissance. losing her head on the famous chopping block at the Tower of London. [head].k. when the blackbird (a.a. etc. pocket full of rye. By the time the Reformation came to England. Henry would not allow him to be the father of this evil omen. refer to Anne and her beheading. Retha Warnicke believes it was due to a miscarriage Anne had where the fetus was deformed.7 she was pregnant. the executioner) pecked off her nose.. Henry's additional four wives were as well-educated as his first two. "Sing a song of Sixpence.