Leslie Johnson

Women and the Reformation

How did women’s place in the church change?

Men have always looked at women as being beautiful and striking but in the

older days women were ignored. When Jesus died, Paul explained how he thought women were

loyal. However before then, women were not allowed active roles in the church and were accepted by men as

being loyal they were viewed as “the weaker vessel” (Tucker 578.) Men were told only

to marry under pressure because Paul claimed that it would be the undoing of men. Women

were dressed moraly and spoke very little or not at all. This is what Paul thought was the best

place for women in the church (Tucker 578).

Widows, deaconesses, and virgins were the type of women sanctioned in the church.

Deaconess and virgins were considered wealthy and carried high positions in the church.

However, the widow was used as an aide. It was understood that the deaconess held no

authority even though she was ordained. Her job was to visit houses and tend to the sick. As

acting as the usher in the church, she anotnied the bodies of women while the bishop anointed

the head. Not being very popular in the Western church, deaconesses were condemned and by

1000 A.D. the abbess took on the role as the deaconess. Rejecting the importance of the

women in the church the Western had no claim for the women as widows, virgins, or

deaconess (Tucker 579).
Medieval Churches
Holding the lowest position, women in St. Francis held a place for women. Showing their

respect for women the Dominicans organized fifty-seven friaries in England. The son of Bernard

of Clairvaux was taught by his mother the worth of religion, he was considered a great religious

force for his age. Women in the medieval churches did not take a hand of molding their

children. She was an exception to the rule. Like in the other early churches, medieval churches

ignored and labeled her as being useless in activities in the church (Tucker 580).
Women in the Church Pre-Reformation
Paul teaches that women in the life of the church have no voice in what decisions are

made and stress that women are not to speak throughout the church. Paul gives three reasons

why and is examined through the history of the church. Women's actions cause sin that change

the human race with Adam and Eve. They are also more emotional than, and not as smart as,

men. He also believes that women carry a weaker sex drive than a man, and men hold a

higher enjoyment for sex. Paul sees that the decision that woman made in the beginning was a

bad use of power toward men. He said “The women taught once, and ruined all” (Dray 22).

However, Paul also says that women can be saved though sex. He believes childbearing is a

consolation if the children are kept with holiness and faith. Women are not to be believed as a

spiritual threat to men and can be very useful around the house to men. They are good for

keeping house, tending to the children, and using their hands to cloth the family. Women are

forbidden to teach by law as well as by nature. It has been concluded that because of greater

judgment women are more likely to produce false teaching. Women are only to act in their

appointed role (Dray 23).
Christine Peters: Patterns of Piety
In early modern England, did women have a reformation? Peters looks at both man and

woman and sees the experiences that they had through images of the church. Her argument is

how the images are a bridge to the reformation in England. Peter speaks of women being a

Godly symbol of faith, piety and devotion. She claims that during this time of the reformation

gender was a major factor. Religious roles for women were available to the community and in

private. Peters examines changes of the women and their relationship with God and Christ.

Changes were also apparent in the churches as she notices images being moved such as fabrics,

altars gilds and chantries. She compares wall paintings to scriptures in the bible and asks whether

people in the church separated by families or by gender. Peters realizes that all people must

stand as individual when we build our relationship with God. We do not stand as before, as a

gender of a symbol by as individuals (Peters 857-859).
The Late Medieval Convent
In the late medieval times, women used convent as a safe place to hide from danger.

Women who were married and trying to escape from their abusive husbands, or women who

were prostituting on the streets needed a place to go for safety. Widows took advantage of the

convent which was also used as a second family and provided a social involvement with other

women and gain religions roles. Convent families were like a family towards one another, they shared

food, wine and like in any other family household duties. They trusted to each other and

built strong relationship and became friend with each other. Convents provided apartment living for

widows and they played roles not of nuns but had rights and responsibilities to the convent.

Widows were in hiding from their husband’s family. The family wanted to keep control over the wife

and her dowry, which by law is hers, however had for her to keep. The church as well as society saw

the widow and what she was subjected to torn from her power. If she was a woman that voiced her rights

as a woman and a widow she was devoted to herself not her family. However, if she were a rich widow she

had power over her finances and society (Baernstein 787-789).

Women who continued to stay married to their dead husband's and not remarried were

honor. Husbands would continue to support their wives on if the dowry was to say family

capital, but it would be her responsibility or a place like the convent if the wife were to take it

away. In some cases what was called widowhood worked to her advantage. She was now head

of the house to her children and if she did not have children she could go into a life of prayer

(Baernstein 789).
Breaking the Silence
Women during the time of the sixteenth century had to break the silence to be active in

the community and academic realms. Women were not allowed to voice their opinion or have

any say so in decision making in the universities, town halls, and the church. In doing this they

were scared they may have to face ridicule, personal and religious punishment. In the early

1520’s a writer; noblewoman named Argula von Grumbach was able to create an opportunity

which made her a famous publisher. Within a two year period almost thirty thousand copies of

her writings were being read and sparked interest with many of readers. When she went public

with her writings, by some they looked at her as less of a woman. During the time of the

reformation in Bavaria, she gain respect from the community on her writings. Her beliefs as a

women opened her up to get a greater understanding of the scriptures in the bible and how

women were treated physically.
In the early 1500, women were treated as less than. Men only wanted them for

childbearing, keeping house, tending to the children, and house work. Men did not see women

having any say so in the church. They did not want them to speak in church or have a vote on

decisions that were being made in the church. Some women went to convent to escape from

their husbands to find not only safety by to fine spiritual peace. Women soon used their voices

as writers and workers in the church to prove to men that we really are gifts from God and they

should hold great respect for us in the church.

The Place of Woman in the Church Author(s): Robert Leonard Tucker Source: The Biblical World, Vol.54, No.6 (Nov., 1920), pp. 578-587 Published by: The University of Chicago

Women, Gender, and Church History Author(s): Merry E Wiesner-Hanks Source: Church History,
Vol. 71 Nov 3 (Sep., 2002), pp. 600-620 Published by: Cambridge University Press on
behalf of the American Society of Church History
In Widow’s Habit: Women between Convent and Family in Sixteenth-Century Author (s): P.
Renee Baernstein Source: The Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. 25, No. 4 (Winter, 1994),
pp. 787-807 Published by: The Sixteenth Century Journal
Breaking the Silence: Women, Censorship, and the Reformation Author(s) Peter Matheson
Source: The Sixteenth Century Journal, Vol. 27 No. 1 (Spring, 1996), pp. 97-109
Published by: The Sixteenth Century Journal

Leslie Johnson
November 22, 2010

Christine Peters. Patterns of Piety: Women, Gender, and Religion in Late Medieval and Reformation England. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003.
Focus: Christine Peters focus on whether the women in early modern England have a reformation. Women’s roles and behaviors are examined as well as how they compare to the men of the church and how they practice religion beliefs. He argues that as a woman her gender did not play a great deal in her role in the community, spiritually and domestically.

Woman’s role
Virgin Mary
Was there a great affect on women at the loss of the Virgin Mary? Did women learn from the Virgin Mary and her role as a woman?
Women of in Early modern England became godly women and devoted their faith and religious beliefs to God.
Pattern of Piety
Religious devotion, spirituality, faith, ritual specialist.
Religious practice. Woman’s devotion as a wife, mother and being a spiritual equal in the church.
Spiritual symbols
Wall paintings, non-traditional text, stained glass rood screens, bench ends and embroidery
These symbols were connected to the reformation and the church it also showed passion for how the women expressed themselves.
Comfortable Place
Hard for women to be a part of holy lives and conversation with the men in the church.
The men of the church were not interested in how the women felt about wanting to belong and be accepted by the men. The only thing they were interested in was building a relationship with God.

Implication: The men wanted the women around for the purpose of being wives, having their children, cooking, cleaning and domestic work. Gender was not a major factor in the times of the reformation. Spiritually the women and the men connected by worshiping God, but they needed them to focus on domestic work in the community.

November 22, 2010

Women in Church History: as Examination of pre-reformation Convictions and Practice by: Stephen Dray
Focus: Women in church History argues how some women had a difficult time with the early church. Men believed that women were a gift from God and one of God’s creations. However it also argues how men thought women were weak in the mind and had not character. Paul teaches the women that they are not to voice their opinion or speak in the church.

Woman’s role
Pre-Reformational views
Women come to God without doubt or wrath and lifting up holy hands
Paul teaches women not to speak at all in church
“Divine law”
Women have not received commission. Female vulnerability, order of creation, and sin came about through the decisions of woman.
Women minds and emotions are soft. Man was what God created first. Woman used a strong power of men that changed the world of how God wanted it to be.
Apostolic Constitutions
Allowing women to pray publicly however they were not to teach. Women being equal to man because she came from his side.
Leadership By Women
Public speaking by the middle of the second century. Council of Chalcedon discussing issues on a positive level.
Women teaching of the Bible. Active ministries witnessed by women.

Implication: It is interesting to me that even though men thought we were gifts from God they only honored us for what we could do domestically. In the church we had no power and were banded from speaking in the church. The women in the reformation made great sacrifices for women today. They started the process for change in the church for women and in the community. Soon men started to see that women were smart enough to hold jobs as well as titles in the church.