Protestant Christians all over the world are celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation this month. Many events will center on the Catholic monk who started it all, Martin Luther.
But even though Luther, a German, first wrote and shared his ideas about reforming the Catholic church, his wasn’t the only voice crying out. Other former priests and scholars soon joined his call. Many of these reformers are well-known and celebrated.
Women who also supported efforts to reform the church aren’t as well-known. Some were royal women who had power to make change. But others simply married reformers and were active in ministry with them.
Some – such as Luther’s wife, Katharina von Bora – ran households so their husbands could concentrate on writing and preaching. “Katie” Luther not only managed the family finances, she also raised six children, tended orchards, farmed and brewed beer. And she fed and cared for the sick and the many who came to live and study with her husband.
A few other women important to the Reformation include:
- Katherine Schutz Zell (Germany): She published a defense of clerical marriage and of her husband, who was being excommunicated from the Catholic church for having married her. Her ministry included visiting prisoners, conducting funerals and creating women’s ministries. She also published a book of Psalms for women to sing, and organized Strasbourg to deal with 3,000 refugees for six months during the Peasants’ War.
- Vittoria Colonna (Spain): Her elegant letters and poems helped convince Catholics to reform the church from the inside.
- Jeanne d’Albret (France): She instituted official Reformation policies in her own kingdom of Navarre and sponsored translations of the New Testament into her people’s native language.
- Lady Jane Grey (England): As a 16-year-old, she used theological reasoning and biblical teaching against a theology professor twice her age to resist converting to Roman Catholicism.
- Queen Dorothea of Saxe-Lauenburg (Denmark and Norway): Ardent Lutherans, she and her husband promised at their coronation to promote the holy Gospel, provide for the poor, build hospitals and employ teachers and ministers for the people.
Thanks to the men and women who embraced the Reformation, the social changes that resulted altered the place and role of women in the centuries to follow. One outcome of their work was that society came to recognize and celebrate the value of women’s status as wives and mothers.