Never in its fifteen-hundred year history had the Roman Catholic Church been so shaken as when, in the sixteenth century, a mere handful of men advanced the Scriptural doctrines that were to result in the rise of Protestantism. The sole authority of the Bible, the priesthood of all believers, and righteousness by faith alone rapidly took hold in a large part of Europe, especially in Germany, Switzerland, the Lowlands, and England, where the Lutherans, Calvinists, Anabaptists, and Puritans came to the fore.
Because life in the sixteenth century was so closely tied up with the church, such a revolution was bound to have ramifications outside the purely ecclesiastical realm. It was the purpose of this thesis to reveal the effects of the Reformation doctrines on the prevailing view of the nature and role of woman in home, church, and society, and to outline the view of woman held by Luther, Calvin, the Anabaptists, and the English Puritans. Extensive use has been made of the American Edition of Luther's Works, Calvin's Commentaries, treatises and Christian life manuals by Puritan authors, and available sources on Anabaptism in English have been consulted.
The Christian fascination with asceticism, evolving since the third century, had presented Catholicism with a dichotomy: on the one hand, marriage was considered a sacrament of the church; yet, on the other hand, virginity was portrayed as the epitome of virtue. The result was the division of Christian society into two estates--the secular and the clergy, one celibate and somehow "elevated," the other married and "inferior." Those who desired to travel the "high road of salvation'' were required to disregard the sexual aspects of their nature and in essence become asexual. Women denied their capacity for motherhood, men gave up association and intimacy with women.
Against this stratification of society the Protestants, beginning with Luther, rebelled. Holding that all men--and women--are equal in their standing before God and have like access to Him, Protestantism denied any merit accompanying a celibate life. One's real goal in life, they declared, was not to earn salvation but to accept it from God and become bearers of God's gifts to others through the various vocations of life. Motherhood, they asserted, was just as important a calling as priesthood. Protestantism erased any stigma of inferiority attached to a woman's calling, be it milkmaid, servant, wife, mother, or any other vocation.
Among the Protestants the marriage relationship took on added significance. Not only was marriage instituted for the rearing of children and as a cure for lust, but for companionship. Partners in marriage were to find in each other happiness, comfort, and contentment. Women, while subordinate to men, were not to be considered as mere chattel, but were to be considered as "sisters in Christ." Protestant husbands were reminded of their duty to love their wives "as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for it." Not only did Protestantism discourage irresponsible conduct toward women, but the newly-formed pastors' homes provided a model for domestic life.
Despite their emphasis on marriage and its potential, Protestants came to grips with the problem of divorce, and their decisions offered women more protection and equity in dissolution of marriage than had the Catholic system. Either party--man or woman--could begin divorce proceedings in cases of desertion, abandonment, or adultery. The innocent party of either sex was usually granted the privilege of remarriage.
In their advocacy of the education of women the reformers further enhanced the status of women. This knowledge, it was felt, might enable women to learn about God, administer the household more effectively, and train Christian children.
Finally, by their conduct in daily life the reformers gave an example of Christian respect and esteem in dealing with women. Women were not denigrated as seductresses, as moral or spiritual inferiors, but were viewed as fellow Christians and "joint heirs of grace." Toward their wives they showed tenderness and love; to their female contemporaries they gave respect and compassion. The reformers were truly not just theological innovators, but were architects of a revolutionary view of woman.
Paul J. Landa
Frederick G. Hoyt
Walter C. Mackett
Master of Arts (MA)
Year Degree Awarded
Date (Title Page)
Library of Congress/MESH Subject Headings
Women and religion; Women in Christianity
Loma Linda University Libraries
This title appears here courtesy of the author, who has granted Loma Linda University a limited, non-exclusive right to make this publication available to the public. The author retains all other copyrights.
Thomsen, Marilyn Fagal, "Four Views of the Nature and Role of Women in Sixteenth Century Protestantism, Lutheranism, Calvinism, Anabaptism, and English Puritanism" (1976). Loma Linda University Electronic Theses, Dissertations & Projects. 745.
Loma Linda University Electronic Theses and Dissertations
Loma Linda University. Del E. Webb Memorial Library. University Archives