Women and the Reformation

Kirsi Stjerna. Blackwell, 2009

Reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

        Stjerna’s primary goal is to present stories of several women (eight have a chapter to themselves) in varied visible leadership roles in different Reformation contexts (politics, religious matters, households, writing, teaching, hosting, partnering). (One chapter treats Katharine von Bora, Martin Luther’s wife.)

        Second, the women’s lives are interpreted in light of the reformers’ teachings about women’s place in the church and in society.  Stjerna examines whether the Reformation had a distinctive appeal to women, what Protestant women did to bring about religious change, what impact the Reformation had on their lives (and vice versa).  Stjerna sketches the concept of reformation, the different reforming movements and actions (church, theology, religious practises, resulting in the formation of distinct denominational traditions).

        In each of these reformational areas, there was the importance of education, literature and understanding of vocational models (eg the 1530 Augsburg Confession).  The reformation shaped lives in different ways for men from women.  ‘The strongest female protest against the reformation in Germany was from the convents where women were used to expressing themselves on religious matters.  This although the Protestant reformers did champion a woman’s role as wife and mother by closing the convents and they cut off women’s opportunities for expressing their spirituality in an all-female context’ (p 26).

        Gender determined a woman’s ability to respond to the reformers.  The acceptable responses were domestic, personal and familial:  prayer, meditation, teaching the catechism to children, singing or writing hymns.  ‘Gender equality and women’s status was not the ultimate concern of the reformers.  We need to name ‘the ills of sexism and the distortion of power’ (p 222).

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.