Luther on Women: A Sourcebook

Luther on Women: A Sourcebook

Luther on Women: A Sourcebook

Luther on Women: A Sourcebook

Synopsis

This collection brings together selections from Martin Luther's extensive writings on women, the vast majority of which are translated here into English for the first time. It includes chapters on Eve and the nature of women, the Virgin Mary, Biblical women, marriage, sexuality, childbirth, Luther's relations with his wife and other contemporary women, and witchcraft. Merry Wiesner-Hanks and Susan Karant-Nunn provide a general introduction to each chapter, and Luther's actual texts add fuel to the debate concerned with whether the Protestant Reformation was beneficial or detrimental to women.

Excerpt

In his formal treatises, Luther revealed the very significant extent to which he retained and transmitted the traditional view that women by their nature were inferior to men. In particular, Luther' several commentaries on the first three chapters of Genesis demonstrate not only the Reformer' opinion that through their participation in the Fall women became subordinate to their husbands; Luther was convinced that from the moment of Creation, Eve was a lesser being than Adam. This was why, he explained, the devil first approached Eve; she was vulnerable to temptation. Compared to Adam, Eve had always been less rational and more emotional. Nevertheless, she was devoted to God and assisted Adam in carrying out the divine command that the pair and their progeny should subdue the earth and govern all other creatures. Before her seduction by Satan, she had had more leeway in her daily activities—could even be absent from Adam for a period in pursuit of her tasks. She was an excellent if a lesser being, like the moon in relation to Adam the sun; the moon, too, Luther said, was a most excellent body. This analogy, like that of woman as a house or a snail with her shell, is an ancient one and not original to either Luther or the Reformation.

Having succumbed to Satan, Eve' relation to her husband changed as part of the penalty imposed by God. Now she had to stay close to him and obey him in all things. Now they conceived their offspring in “evil lust”and became prey to the besetting ills of the flesh. Eve and all her female descendants, her “daughters, ”had to live with the consciousness, imprinted upon them by successive generations of preachers, of being primarily responsible for every affliction introduced into life upon the expulsion from Eden, including war, plague, and famine, and not just feminine subordination and bearing children in pain. However, Adam' responsibility was not far behind. As the more rational being, the one created fully in the divine image, and the one to whom God had personally forbidden the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he should never have consented to his wife' wayward act. When he did so, he knew what he was doing. Despite . . .

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