Dr. Sarah Hinlicky Wilson gave the convocation on Wednesday, March 29, 2017. Her topic was “Martin Luther and Women: Breaking the Law and Proclaiming the Gospel.” Dr. Wilson began by describing some of the ways Luther explained women in his various writings. In some of his writing, he called women equal to men and even said they might preach. He regarded women as honored and beloved. In other writings, however, he said women were inferior to men, often when comparing biological differences. Overall though, Luther was very forward thinking toward women and women’s rights for his time. He advocated for women’s education, starting some schools for girls. He also left all his property and money to his beloved wife Katarina, though this was breaking Saxon law. After explaining Luther’s views on women, Dr. Wilson spoke about some women who were influential in the Reformation. One of the most well-known women of the Reformation was Luther’s wife, Katarina. Before she married Luther, Katarina lived in a convent for nearly twenty years, learning to read, write, sing, and manage a household. Luther helped Katarina and other nuns sneak out of the convent, and on June 13, 1525, Katarina and Luther and were married. Katarina managed the Luther household, handled financial affairs, and raised their four surviving children as well as other foster children the Luthers cared for. The other male leaders of the Reformation and the students Luther taught were uncomfortable with Katarina sitting on in Luther’s table talk conversations and being so involved in his work. It is hard to tell how much of an influence Katarina was on Luther, but he often wrote to her of theological matters. Two other lesser-known but still influential women were Elisabeth Cruciger and Argula von Grumbach. Elisabeth, like Katarina, was formerly a nun abbess and fled from her convent in 1522. She married another leader in the Reformation, but is best known for her hymns, especially “Lord Christ, the Only Son of God.” Argula von Grumbach is infamous for her letter to the University of Ingolstadt, written in defense of a Lutheran student. Seeing that no men would defend the student, Argula felt convicted to defend him. This is the first of her theological letters, many of which were published as pamphlets and became top sellers. Even though she mostly focused on these three women, Dr. Wilson also shared the names of other women that defended and expanded the Lutheran church. The convocation ended with a short time for questions.
This semester in Honors, we are focusing on hearing the voices of the marginalized. Even though our topic is focused more on mass incarceration and racism, throughout history, and even today, women have been part of the marginalized. As I said earlier, Luther was breaking the law when he left his possessions and money to Katarina, because according to Saxon law women were not allowed to inherit. Women were not seen as equal to men. Luther was very forward thinking in his opinions about women, which made some other men uncomfortable. Argula von Grumbach, especially, overcame many criticisms and rude name calling from the church after her letters were published. These women persevered and showed that even though they were underprivileged and ignored, all went on to have great influence in the church for many years after their deaths.
Just like Dr. Wilson’s presentation for the Reformation Lecture, I thought her insights on Martin Luther and women were very informative. Dr. Wilson shared much interesting information about women during the Reformation and interspersed humor throughout her presentation. I, personally, always enjoy learning about women in history, as they are often dismissed or skimmed over in history books. Especially relating to the Reformation, such an integral part of my faith, it is empowering to hear how women during that time overcame obstacles and stereotypes to follow their callings and serve God and the church.