Reformation Women (part 2: writers): #Refo500atDET

Welcome back for the second of my post discussing the contributions of women to the Protestant Reformation (#Refo500atDET introduction and schedule here). I focused in part 1 on some of the women who provided important material support for the Reformation by marrying key reformers. Today, however, we're talking about some women who contributed to the Reformation movement through teaching and writing.

Argula von Grumbach

Von Grumbach was the Reformation’s first female writer. She became active in the 1520s, publishing poetry and defenses of figures like Luther and Melanchthon. Von Grumbach also corresponded with Luther and met him in person in 1530. She attracted the most attention, however, when she wrote in protest to the University of Ingolstadt in Bavaria. This is an interesting story. Protestant preaching was forbidden in Bavaria, and the University arrested a student – Arsacius Seehofer – for breaking this ordinance. They forced him to recant and then exiled him. This sort of thing happened with some regularity at the time, as you can imagine, but this particular incident caught von Grumbach’s attention and she – to use today’s parlance – created a hashtag for it and the whole thing went viral. Her 1523 public letter to the University, in which she excoriated them on the basis of scripture and with absolutely cutting logic, went through 14 editions in two months! Von Grumbach was married twice, for anyone who might wonder, but neither of her husbands was nearly as historically interesting or important as her.

Portrait of the Italian poet and humanist scholar,
Olympia Fulvia Morata (1526-1555). {{PD-US}}
Olimpia Fulvia Morata

Morata was from a family deeply steeped in Renaissance humanist learning, and was herself an accomplished classicist. She was selected as tutor for a young noblewoman associated with the court in her hometown of Ferrara. This should ring bells for those who know Calvin’s biography. King Louis 12th had a daughter, Renée of France. Louis 12th was succeeded by Francis 1st, who married Renée off to the Duke of Ferrara. Renée set up her court as a haven for French evangelical sympathizers. Calvin visited her, and they corresponded over the course of years. So Morata’s location and education primed her quite nicely for reformational engagement. (And now I’m realizing that I should have included Renée in this series, along with Margaret of Valois… Oh well.)

I’ve seen some suggestions that Morata lectured (in relative private, I believe) on Calvin and Cicero while still quite young. She married a physician who was attached to military campaigns, and some rather quick movements seem to have led to the loss of some or many of her writings. She died in Heidelberg in 1555, and a collection of her letters and other writings were published posthumously.

Katharina Schütz

Katharina Schütz married Matthew Zell, one of the leading early preachers of the Reformation in Strasburg, in 1523. Bucer performed the ceremony. As the wife of an important Reformation minister, Katharina provided the sort of material support that one finds from von Bora, Reinhardt, de Bure, or Rosenblat. However, she did more than that: she published. Quite a bit, actually. And copies of some of it found their way to Luther, whom she seems to have met in person at some point.

Schütz’s most important contribution through writing, at least to my mind, was on the subject of clerical marriage. She and Matthew were one of the first Reformation pastor couples, getting married before von Bora and Luther and before the marriage between Reinhart and Zwingli was made public. As you can imagine, such innovation attracted negative attention. Many different rumors swirled about the couple. So, she published an apology against these rumors in September of 1524. The authorities at Strasburg were mortified, immediately confiscating all the copies they could find and forbidding her from having more printed.

It’s a good read, though, and I recommend it to you. We hear about some of the rumors, for instance. Some of them are what you would expect: that she seduced Matthew somehow, whether with sexuality or riches or beauty, and—related to that—the rumor that Matthew was filled with lust that needed sating. But there are rumors that perhaps we wouldn’t expect at first: like the one about Matthew cheating on her, or the one about Matthew beating her so much that she ran away from him, or the one about Matthew hanging himself for shame at having married her. She refutes all these, of course, and asserts that the only reason they married was out of a sense of calling to pave the way for the truth of the gospel to be demonstrated through clerical marriage. My favorite part in this text, however, is when she’s writing against a Roman theologian and explaining to him why he’s wrong. Then she comes to one of his treatises in Latin, and she doesn’t know Latin. So she says (and I’m paraphrasing): if you translate your treatise into German so I can read it, I’ll be happy to work through it and use Scripture to show you where and how you’re wrong!



As I said in the first post, I wish I knew more about these women. And I plan to learn more. Schütz is already a part of the Reformation class that I teach, and I'm going to find a way to include Morata and von Grumbach as well the next time around. And as I also said in the first post, there are a number of other important women who contributed to the Reformation and whom I know at least a little about but haven't been able to discus here. And, of course, there are still more that I don't know anything about. Roland Bainton wrote a set of books (in English) back in the 1970s on Women of the Reformation in different countries. I'm hoping to dive into that, and I hope you will to. But more importantly, track down von Grumbach, Morata, and Schütz's writings and read those.

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