Martin Luther and Female Education

By Schulte, Andrea | Currents in Theology and Mission, December 2002 | Go to article overview
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Martin Luther and Female Education

Schulte, Andrea, Currents in Theology and Mission

Basic principles of a Christian education

From my perspective as an educator, the subject "Luther and women" invites reflections about the extent and ways the reformer was concerned with creating opportunities for girls and young women in the educational system.

The Reformation period did not lead to very specific concepts of education for girls and women. Nevertheless, Luther stated a number of general principles of Christian education that took the religious education of women into account. According to these, schooling and education are absolutely necessary. Every Christian must be enabled to understand the Word of God and to acquire and cultivate the ability to engage responsibly with Holy Scripture. Thus, for example, lay persons ought to be encouraged through translations of the Bible in vernacular languages to independently deepen their religious understanding. This is central to all efforts at providing education. The study of Holy Scripture was designed to be "the foremost reading for everybody" in all types of schools. Luther draws a comparison with the training for a craft and says, "is it not only right that every Christian man know the entire holy gospel by the age of nine or ten? Does he not derive his name and his life from the gospel? A spinner or a s eamstress teaches her daughter her craft in her early years." (1) The standard of education for a society in which every individual becomes a Christian through the gospel of Christ does not allow for any differentiation based on gender.

The educational impetus extends to the family as much as to the school and the church. The first instruction for a child is instruction at home. Thus a child is first introduced to religious faith within the family. Luther's catechism of 1529 emerges as enormously popular reading. In it he assigns the master of a household the educational task to instruct children in the three most important constituents of Christian faith: the Ten Commandments, the Apostles' Creed, and the Lord's Prayer. "Therefore, it is the duty of every head of a household to examine his children and servants at least once a week and ascertain what they have learned of it, and if they do not know it, to keep them faithfully at it." (2) Building on this, children and all lay persons were required to attend Sunday services in church on a regular basis and especially catechism lessons, which followed the service. Ideally all classes of society ought to be educated as conscious Christian believers.

However, education in the family and in church is not enough. The secular political authority is therefore given a responsibility for the provision of schooling as a further educational means. In his treatise To the Christian Nobility (1520), Luther admonishes the nobility to set up schools so that everyone would be able to read the gospel. The school education of girls is explicitly mentioned: "And would to God that every town had a girls' school as well, where the girls would be taught the gospel for an hour every day either in German or in Latin." (3) Here we find an authentic voice from the Reformation demanding the introduction of schools specifically for girls. Luther did not grow weary of calling for a proper school education for both boys and girls. In 1524 he published his appeal To the Councilmen of All Cities in Germany that They Establish and Maintain Christian Schools. (4) To provide a good education was seen as a divine command. The civic authorities must not neglect it. Luther rounded off his i deas about education when in 1530 he published his A Sermon on Keeping Children in School and called for a general compulsory education. (5)

Luther focuses more on the education of boys and young men who would receive a vocational training for ministry or civic government. The education of girls would be orientated toward life in a household and its immediate neighborhood--toward domestic management and marriage and the raising of children.

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