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The Holy HouseholdWomen and Morals in Reformation Augsburg$

Lyndal Roper

Print publication date: 1991

Print ISBN-13: 9780198202806

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198202806.001.0001

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(p.1) Introduction
The Holy Household

Lyndal Roper

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This introductory chapter provides a preview of the topics that the book discusses. This book generally describes the Reformation's effect on marriage and family as it was implemented in the town of Augsburg. Augsburg was chosen because it was one of the three premier cities of southern Germany. Its religious history was very interesting because of its early Lutheranism being influenced by theologians such as Zwingli and Bucer. Moreover, evangelical moralism was embodied well in this town due to several developments of different religions. Furthermore, the city has an outstanding collection of criminal records and punishment books, which could help in exploring the impact of evangelical moralism on the men and women who lived through the years of the Reformation.

Keywords:   Reformation, Germany, marriage, family, religion, Augsburg, moralism, Zwingli, Bucer, Lutheranism

THE Reformation burst on the world in chiliastic expectation, alight with the message of salvation by faith alone, with dreams of a world to be set aright by the avenging horsemen of the Apocalypse. How did this revolutionary evangelicalism become transformed into the consoling, socially conservative pieties of Protestant guildsfolk? How was it possible for a gospel which preached the spiritual equality of all Christians, male and female, rich and poor, and even denied the need for a priesthood, to become the bulwark of a secular order based on hierarchy? How could a religion which began by exulting in the prophetic talents poured out on daughters as well as upon sons come to view women almost exclusively as wives, whose sphere it was to be subordinate to their husbands and instructed by their preachers?

My central claim is that the moral ethic of the urban Reformation, both as a religious credo and a social movement, must be understood as a theology of gender. Hitherto, the effects of the Reformation on women have been viewed as largely beneficial: the positive evaluation of marriage and of women as wives, and the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers have been adduced to argue that women's status improved.1 More speculatively, Protestantism has even been identified as the spiritual soil from which progressive feminism later drew its strength.2 Such a genealogy implicitly allies Protestantism with the forces of progressivism, individualism, and modernization. This book argues that such a presentation of the Reformation's legacy is a profound misreading of the Reformation itself.

(p.2) The heritage of Protestantism for women was deeply ambiguous, and could lead either to an affirmation of female piety or to a renewed patriarchalism. In German towns, as the Reformation was institutionalized, the values of evangelical moralism were harnessed to an older conservative tradition which defined women as wives in submission to their husbands. Not even a distinctive feminine mode of religious experience, such as we see in Catholic saints' and Marian cults, or in the extreme hyperpiety of saintly widows, lived on in early mainstream evangelicalism.3 Far from endorsing independent spiritual lives for women, the institutionalized Reformation was most successful when it most insisted on a vision of women's incorporation within the household under the leadership of their husbands.

This conclusion is at first surprising. Puritan prophetesses, French Calvinist noblewomen, women members of the English Civil War sects are familiar to us as activists in their movements, leading and prophesying. And indeed, in the first phase of the Reformation in the heady days of the 1520s, women were to be found writing pamphlets,4 countering critics with the argument: ‘If they say…Paul says women should be silent, I answer, But don't you know that he also says (Galatians 3) that in Christ there is neither man nor woman’;5 even threatening that ‘perhaps a hundred women will write against [the papists]’.6 They cited biblical heroines like Judith and Deborah or historical exemplars from the early Church, creating a lineage which would justify their bold attacks on the most respected church authorities. With its affirmation of Isaiah's prophecy of the spirit flowing to daughters as well as to sons, Protestantism seemed to secure a platform for women outside the papist ecclesiastical structures.

But this moment was brief. Of the women pamphleteers, all but Katharina Schutz, wife of the Strasbourg preacher Mattheus Zell, had laid down their pens by the 1530s. Even her career (p.3) reveals how far urban evangelicalism had moved from its initial enthusiasm for female polemicists of the Reformation. An increasingly marginal figure, she came to be regarded by the city preachers as a nuisance with an evil tongue. Interestingly, she dared to form close friendships and kinships with spiritualists and other religious radicals, associations which further deepened the antagonism between her and the city clergy and authorities, and bear witness to the impossibility of containing her religiosity solely within the intellectual confines of the established evangelical movement.7 Urban Protestantism, once embedded in the certainties of household moralism, could not furnish a mode for women's public action, or even at first a distinctly feminine register of piety. Women could not speak from within the intellectual heritage of urban communalism, nor could they make the language of civic righteousness their own.

Why? In order to understand the conservative shift in the Reformation's message to women we must explore the dynamics of the craft workshops which became the nurturing soil of populist Protestantism. These myriad craft workshops, where work-place and dwelling-place were identical, and where each member knew their sexual and social place, were urban Protestantism's home ground. It is in this wider sense that we can speak of the ‘family’: a grouping which included servants, apprentices, and journeymen. It will be argued that as the Reformation staked out its views on marriage, sexuality, and prostitution—the territory it so effectively made its own—so it mapped out an agenda for reform of relations between the sexes.

Heir to the master craftsmen's own politics, articulated by their guilds, the politics of the Reformation gave voice to the interests and perceptions of the married craftsmen who ruled over their wives and organized the household's subordinate labour force of men and women. In a real sense, therefore, as the Reformation was domesticated—as it closed convents and encouraged nuns to marry, as it lauded the married state exemplified by the craft couple, and as it execrated the prostitute—so it was accomplished through a politics of reinscribing women within the ‘family’.

(p.4) This book sets out to describe the Reformation's effects on marriage and family as it was implemented in a single town, Augsburg. Augsburg has been chosen because, with Strasbourg and Nuremberg, it was one of the three premier cities of southern Germany. Its religious history is an interestingly fractured one, with an early Lutheranism being succeeded by a more morally centred evangelicalism, influenced by theologians like Zwingli and Bucer. There were in addition supporters of several Anabaptist sects in the city, while after 1548 Catholicism was reintroduced and Jesuit influence began to grow. Evangelical moralism and its alternatives were therefore well represented in the town, a clash which allows the contours of the evangelical movement to emerge more clearly. The city also has an outstanding collection of criminal records and punishment books, eloquent testimony to the Council's project of disciplining its citizenry. These afford a rare opportunity to explore not only the priorities of guild and Council, but also the impact of evangelical moralism on the men and women who lived through the years of the Reformation.

But this domestication of the Reformation was a gradual, historical process. It took place through a shifting balance of forces during the sixteenth century. In order to see how it took place, and how its constituency was created, we need first to understand the nature of the city and the chronology of the Reformation. Chapter 1 explores the implementation of the Reformation and the sources of its support in the realities of the household workshop, each headed by a master guildsman. The second chapter will show how this evangelical household moralism was articulated in Augsburg, and how urban politics were transformed as a guild-influenced Reformation gained support in the town. These politics were spelt out above all in the processes of ordinance-making and enforcement of statutes, as evangelicals tried to create the kingdom of God through discipline. Prostitutes in particular came to symbolize the wickedness which the evangelicals wished to eradicate, and the third chapter describes the Council's attempt to abolish prostitution altogether. Marriage was to be the only place for sexual relations, and in the fourth chapter we see how the Council tried to ensure that marriage was the foundation of social and sexual order. But, as Chapter 5 will show, the more the Council (p.5) tried to uphold marriage, and the more it intervened in disorderly marriages, punishing violent husbands and cautioning shrewish wives, the more it exposed the fragility of the patriarchal order it wished to reinforce. The last chapter explores the fate of the group of women who could not be incorporated into this civic, evangelical moralism which viewed women as wives: nuns. Subject to ecclesiastical rather than urban authorities alone, monks and nuns had always occupied an ambiguous position in urban culture. Yet though male monasteries rapidly succumbed to the Reformation, as monks left to take up other professions, became evangelical preachers, or else travelled to Catholic areas, convents offered the one institutional focus of real and lasting opposition to the triumph of evangelical moralism in the town. Godly order, the ethic which redrew the ideals of wifehood and mastership, and was imagined to underwrite the social stability of the town, was determinedly contested by these female outsiders to urban culture.

Gender relations, as this book will argue, far from being tangentially affected by the Reformation, were at the crux of the Reformation itself.8 The conservative rewriting of the Reformation movement's message around a politics of women's role in marriage and household was the key to its successful implementation and establishment.



2. Map of Augsburg from Sebastian Münster's Cosmographia, c. 1550, Städtische Kunstsammlungen Augsburg.


(1) R. Sainton, Women of the Reformation in Germany and Italy (Minneapolis, 1971); S. Ozment, When Fathers Ruled: Family Life in Reformation Europe (Cambridge, Mass., 1983).

(2) R. Evans, The Feminist Movement in Germany 1894–1933 (London, 1976), who argues that the peculiar character of state-dominated religion in Germany helped to weaken feminism in Germany.

(3) See also, on Lutheran thought, M. Wiesner, ‘Luther and Women: The Death of Two Marys’, in J. Obelkevich et al. (eds.), Disciplines of Faith (London, 1987).

(4) See P. Russell, Lay Theology in the Reformation: Popular Pamphleteers in Southwest Germany 1521–1525 (Cambridge, 1986), pp. 185–211.

(5) ‘moecht man sagen…Paulus sagt die weyber sollent schweigen. Antwort ich Weisst aber nit auch das er sagt Galat iii Jn Christo ist weder man nach [sic] weyb…’: Katharina Schützinn, Entschuldigung Katharina Schützinn für M. Matthes Zellen jren Eegemahel [Strasbourg, W. Köpfel, 1524], fo. c/iiv.

(6) Argula von Grumbach, quoted in Russell, Lay Theology, p. 196.

(7) Ibid.; M. Chrisman, ‘Women and the Reformation in Strasbourg 1490–1530’, Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte, 63 (1972), 143–68; Bainton, Women of the Reformation.

(8) For a powerful demonstration of the centrality of gender relations in class formation, see L. Davidoff and C. Hall, Family Fortunes (London, 1987).