by Christina Langella
"The sun never shone on a nobler band of women than those who labored in the Reformation. There is little need of literary embellishment, their sublime faith and heroic deeds throw a halo of glory around them, and they stand with the Master on the mount of transfiguration. The simple story of their unselfish lives comes to us across the centuries with power and pathos to stir the dullest heart to sentiments of gratitude and veneration. Remarkable alike for their great personal charms, extraordinary leadership, masterly mental powers, sublime heroism, and entire consecration to God and humanity, the women of the sixteenth century have never been equaled. – Mrs. Annie Wittenmeyer (1)
October 31, 2011
Welcome! We are so delighted that you have joined us today at the start of our new series, “Women of the Reformation.”
Most of us are familiar with the great figures of the Reformation such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli to name just a few. But what about the women? Far from being passive spectators, the women of the Reformation were more than observers; they were active participants. Just as the men threw all that they were into Reformation work, so did the women live to see the Reformation triumph. Yet their story, as evidenced by the dearth of information available, remains largely untold. Simply put, when we neglect the women of the Reformation we fail to render honor to whom honor is due.
In the upcoming days, you will be introduced to several prominent women of the Protestant Reformation by twelve Reformed women passionate about, what Martin Luther called, “the church’s true treasure” – that is, the gospel. While the authors of this series hail from various backgrounds and geographical locations, our differences are overshadowed by a shared love for Jesus and a deep yearning to see a new reformation in our own day.
Our aim in this presentation is twofold. Firstly, we desire to learn more about our Reformation heritage. It has been said that those who forget the past are destined to repeat it. The great lesson of the Reformation is that nothing in the church should obscure the gospel of grace. Christ crucified must be plainly preached, or not at all. This is the only kind of preaching that will be attended with eternal success. In 1 Samuel Chapter 7 the Philistines had come to wage war against Israel. When the Israelites saw this, they pleaded with the prophet Samuel to pray. As the prophet interceded the Lord answered and brought about a great victory. In that place, it is said that Samuel erected a monument and called it Ebenezer, which means “stone of help.” He did this so that Israel would always remember how the Lord helped them. When we study Reformation history, we raise our Ebenezer’s and remember the sovereign hand of God at work at a critical and decisive time in church history.
Secondly, we are compelled by the biblical principle that calls for the older to teach the younger. The women of the Reformation have left the body of Christ a beautiful legacy of courage and faith. When we fail to uphold it we rob the body, especially the women, of a rich heritage that belongs to the household of faith.
In the annals of the Reformation, there are generally two categories of women who left an impression. First there are the Reformers’ wives, many of whom were ex-nuns, such as Katharina Von Bora. Some in this rank were widows, while others were just ordinary women who had been transformed by Luther’s proclamation of the gospel of grace. These were the women who pioneered the wilderness of the role of “pastors wife.” In the next class of women we find royalty and nobility. These were women of impressive public stature such as lady Jane Grey, and Jeanne de’Albert. Many of these women were highly educated for their day. They took great risk to employ their rank to advance the cause of Reformation and in doing so, lost all their wealth and earthly honor. Some were forced into exile. The bodies of others were tortured in unspeakable ways and in many instances they died for their faith. No matter which division the women fell into however, they all shared a deep yearning to see the gospel prevail and the Reformation overcome all opposition.
Like all true Reformers, the women of the Reformation were passionate about the Word of God. They understood the doctrinal issues of their day and could hold their own — and then some, in sophisticated theological discussions. They read theological books, wrote letters, published tracts, and spoke in public. Having been changed themselves by the great doctrines of the faith, the women of the Reformation were able and passionate communicators. When describing their commitment to the Word of God, one author explains, “They were steeped in Scripture and even the comparatively uneducated, who appear in the martyrologies and the heresy trials, gave their judges a terrific run at any point involving the Word of God.”
You will also see that the women of the Reformation had hearts that were overflowing with the mercy of God. Many opened their homes and out of their own sustenance provided for those fleeing religious persecution. Moved with compassion they turned their homes into safe houses and acted as ministers of comfort to the persecuted. Whether they penned their consolation or delivered their comfort by way of personal visitations, the women of the Reformation excelled in charity and good works. There can be no doubt that their active service refreshed many a weary soul in their day.
We recognize our little series to be a tiny scratch on the surface when it comes to acknowledging the whole of the contributions that these women have made. However, it is our sincerest prayer that these brief sketches and reflections will strengthen your heart in the faith, and that your zeal for the gospel is increased. Moreover, we desire that you be inspired to be about the same business that our Reformation sisters were — the building up of our homes and our churches.
We thank you for joining us and invite you to enter into Reformation history to meet the women of old who have left the church a legacy of undivided devotion to Christ. May we follow them as they have so faithfully followed Him.
They did not seek a cause; they were overtaken by it. There is much in common with the statement of Martin Luther, “Here I stand I can do no other.” These are not women trying to write their names into the history books. They are simply witnessing to what they believed to be true: the scales had fallen, the light had shone, and they would die rather than deny it. – Mary Zahl
We will start tomorrow with none other than the lovely Katharina Von Bora, wife of Martin Luther, affectionately referred by Luther as, “Katie, my rib.”
Christina Langella is a regular contributor at Theology for Girls who lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband, Steven, and their 3-legged Pit-Bull, Jake. She formerly blogged at Heavenly Springs where this series was originally hosted.