Life for Women in Munster under Jan Mathjis and Jan Leiden

This post is part of series I’m doing on Women in the Reformation. Be sure to check out the other installments, purchase including:

Gender in Anabaptist Circles in the Reformation
Education for Women in the Reformation: My Brain Wears Man Pants!
It’s Not a Throwback to the 50’s; It’s a Throwback to the 1500’s


In the 1530’s a group of Anabaptist extremists took over the town of Munster. I know that given how we understand Anabaptism today it seems like Anabaptist extremists is an oxymoron, order but it is true.
It started with a man named Melchior Hoffman who, buy cialis though he had no theological training, proclaimed himself a preacher and a prophet with an apocalyptic message that Christ would return to Strasbourg in 1533. He was arrested, and died in prison, but others took his apocalyptic message and adapted it. Jan Leiden and Jan Mathjis pick up Hoffman’s mantle and proclaim that the Kingdom of God, the ‘New Jerusalem’ was in the city of Munster. Hundreds of Anabaptists moved to Munster to be a part of the “The Kingdom” and basically took over the entire city, with non-Anabaptists forced out. Jan Mathjis began enacting city ordinances that would usher in the Golden Age. These reforms included:

* All land was to be communal, there would be no private land owned in the city.
* All godless heathens would be put to death; and in this case, godless heathens were the ones who wouldn’t sign his Anabaptist statement of faith.

Catholics and Lutherans attacked the city, trying to wrest control away from the extremists, and Mathjis was killed in battle. His mantle was picked up by Leiden. His reforms were even more extreme, including:

* If you sinned after baptism you were to be put to death.
* The establishment of a theocracy.
* Mandatory polygamy as it was the practice of the Old Testament and thus sanctioned by God (also on a practical level the woman/man ration was something like 3 or 4 to 1 so there was an over abundance of women in the city). Leiden would take 16 wives for himself, including the widow of Mathjis!
* Leiden had himself declared King of Munster in 1534.

Bernard Rothmann, one of the leaders of the Munster Anabaptists explains their position on polygamy in this way:

God has restored the true practice of holy matrimony amongst us. Marriage is the union of man and wife — ‘one’ has now been removed…Freedom in marriage for the man consists in the possibility for him to have more than one wife…[because] polygamy has not been forbidden by God. (A Reformation Reader, Janz, pg 223)

In calling men to polygamy, Rothmann also called them to be the strong leaders of their home, because the women in Munster needed to be put in their proper (biblical) place:

Too often wives are the lords, leading their husbands like bears, and all the world is in adultery, impurity, and whoredom. Nowadays, too many women seem to wear the trousers. The husband is the head of the wife, and as the husband is obedient to Christ, so also should the wife be obedient to her husband, without murmuring or contradiction. (Janz, 223)

In 1535 the city was retaken by the Catholics and Lutherans and all the leadership and the majority of the residents who hadn’t fled during the siege were slaughtered. The deaths of Leiden and the other leaders is described as:

After the deserved punishment had been administered to these criminal men, they were put into three iron cages so that they could be seen and recognized from afar. These cages were placed high on the steeple of St. Lambert’s Church as a perpetual memorial and to warn and terrify the restless spirits lest they attempt something similar in the future. Such was the evil ending of this tragedy. (The Reformation: A Narrative History Related by Contemporary Observers and Participants, 1964, pg. 266)

Gender in Anabaptist Circles in the Reformation

It is interesting how the role of woman changed in Anabaptist circles in the Reformation. In the beginning, because of the strong emphasis on the role of the Holy Spirit in interpreting and proclaiming the gospel, Anabaptists circles were often very egalitarian. Authority did not reside in class, gender or even educational level, it resided in a spirit-filled life.

Where the mainstream reformers were shunning and rejecting the medieval professions of prophet and mystic, the Anabaptists affirmed and encouraged these roles. Thus, a woman could speak authoritatively as a prophet because of the anointing of the Holy Spirit on her life.

Unfortunately, it does not look like this egalitarian spirit lasted very long in Anabaptist circles. As the movement became more structured, leadership structures began to take a reformed shape: men in leadership, women called to the home and to child-rearing. As Kirsi Stjerna writes:

Eventually, however, Anabaptist women would be subjected to the same gender conventions as others, with an expectation to find fulfillment in a patriarchally ordered marriage, household and church. (15)


See also: Education for Women in the Reformation: My Brain Wears Man Pants
It’s Not a Throwback to the 50’s; It’s a Throwback to the 1500’s

Next up: Life for Women in Munster under Jan Mathjis.

Sunday Meditation

May the almighty and merciful God complete the work thus begun and bring it to fruition. May God bring you to that perfect enlightenment which only God’s word can kindle, sickness and which it is futile to pursue or hope to find by human reason, medical as we read in the thirtieth Psalm: ‘For with you is the wellspring of life, sales and in your light we will see light.’ And in the hundred and eighteenth Psalm: ‘The revelation of your words gives enlightenment and understanding to the humble.’ There we learn that God will not tolerate us bringing our wisdom to him, but we must desire wisdom from him, for it can never be pursued or found in any other way. We must not want to be anyone, or be accounted for anything in our own eyes, but just seek God, and him alone, not pressing our own interests upon him. If we pay no attention to [our interests], God lets himself be found; otherwise we will never find him. John chapter one says: ‘This is the true light which enlightens all people’; and then follows: ‘the world did not recognise him, but to all who received him he gave power to become children of God.’

Argula von Grumbach, Letter to Johann of Simmern, 1 December 1523.

Education for Women in the Reformation: My Brain Wears Man Pants!

“I should prefer that all women, even of the lowest rank, should read the evangelists and the epistles of Paul…” ~ Erasmus

The issue of education and women in the Reformation era is fascinating. On the one hand, there was a spirit of equality in the Protestant call that the Scriptures be available and read by the common lay person. This included women. On the other hand, there was a distinct difference in the quality and level of education between men and women in Protestantism.

With the closing of convents, women who came from lesser societal ranks who could have entered the convent and received an education, were instead directed to study the domestic skills. (Katharina Luther appears to be an example of a woman from a common background who benefited greatly from her time in the convent. She not only learned theology, she also learned how to interact with nobility thanks to the sisters who came from that higher background).

With the emphasis on gender roles, and on the woman’s duty to submission and modesty, higher education was not seen as appropriate for women whose God-gifted calling was to love her husband, tend house and have babies.

Indeed, learning was, in some ways, a dangerous thing. Women who were highly educated were viewed with suspicion. A highly educated woman was of the same rank as an unchaste woman, because these highly educated women often chose a life of education rather than the God-ordained life of marriage. As Kirsi Stjerna writes, “Learned women, who often opted not to marry, interrupted normalcy and were suspect of unchastity. Normal, chaste women married men, not scholarship.

There was something wrong with a woman who would choose higher education over the domestic life. While this may be a little bit hyperbolic, there is power in the description by Patricia Lablame, “A woman who excelled intellectually disregarded the boundaries of her sex and mental powers…She became an intellectual transvestite.

That is not to say that there were no highly educated women, indeed there were. But these women tended to be women of privilege, nobility or power. We have looked at a few of these women of the Reformation in the last couple of weeks. Women who wrote and spoke boldly on theological issues. Women like Argula von Grumbach, Marie Dentiere, and Jeanne D’Albret.

Further Reading:
Women and the Reformation by Kirsi Stjerna
Women of the Reformation in France and England by Roland Bainton
Beyond their Sex: Learned Women of the European Past by Patricia Labalme

It’s Not a Throwback to the 50’s; It’s a Throwback to the 1500’s

I have been fascinated by the discussion raging between complementarians and egalitarians as to what ideal this notion of biblical womanhood is upholding. For many egalitarians, viagra this complementarian emphasis on ‘biblical womanhood’ it is nothing more than a throwback to the *idyllic* 1950’s.

But as I read through Reformation Era material, viagra sale I am beginning to see that it is here that the seedbed of wifedom and motherhood as the highest (and only?) calling for Christian women begins to take specific theological shape.
Prior to the Reformation, there was a place for women who did not necessarily want to get married and have children, for those who felt called to full time ministry and desired to study: The convent. The convents became safe communities for single women to pursue religious devotion and study in a way that was both permissible and encouraged. Abbesses would have been strong leaders and well-learned women who had spent decades serving her sisters.

But with the Protestant reformation, many of these convents were forced to close if they were in “Protestant territory.” What was the calling of a woman in these Protestant circles, when convents were closed for being seed-beds of Catholic insurrection?

Not only were convents closed for being relics of Catholicism, but the offices of prophesying and mystical experiences that was also common in Catholicism was frowned upon by the Protestants, because mystical experiences were in no way equal to the firm exposition of Scripture. Thus, the ministry of mystical writings, one in which women could participate in, was also eliminated in Protestant circles.

It is in light of this that a theology of wifedom and motherhood began to be foundational in Protestant thought. The most holy vocation for Protestant service for women was marriage. Motherhood was a divine and noble calling for women. As well, men were commanded to ensure the proper submission of their wives, and in Protestant communities ordinances were passed to ensure that wives practiced the virtues of submission and obedience. Indeed, women would be saved through childbearing (1 Tim 2:15)

Interestingly, a shift in the theology of marriage was also developing. The scriptural foundation, “Be fruitful and multiply” was replaced with “it is not good for man to be alone.” As well, marriage would become more than a legal contract; it became a spiritual covenant entered into freely by both partners. This was due in large part to the decline in bethrothal marriages. There was no guarantee that a baby born in one faith (Catholic or Protestant) and promised to another child at the age of two would still be a Catholic (or Protestant) when they came of age.

The Reformation created the vocation of Pastor’s wife. It was not uncommon for nuns to convert to Protestantism and marry Protestant pastors (just think of Martin Luther and his wife Katherina). These pastors’ wives were expected to keep home, have babies, provide hospitality, and support their husbands in their pastoral duties. They would even be ‘godmothers’ to new believers in the faith. Pastors’ wives became the main Christian office for women who felt called to serve and be active in leadership. But, this leadership was still primarily domestic in nature.

Next up: Education for Women in the Reformation: My Brain Wears Man Pants!

Further Reading:

Crisis and Renewal by R. Ward Holder
Women and the Reformation by Kirsi Stjerna
Women of the Reformation in France and England by Roland Bainton

Women of The Reformation: Jeanne D’Albret


Jeanne D’Albret was Queen of Navarre in France. In 1560 she publicly professed her faith in Calvinism. Jeanne’s confession of faith appears to be more genuine than that of her husband. Antoine de Bourbon had converted to Calvinism, but it appears that he did it only for political purposes. Later, when the King of Spain offers him more land and power, he would denounce Calvinism and return to the Catholic faith. Antoine made Jeanne a prisoner in her own home. Catherine de Medici wrote to Jeanne and urged her to concede to her husband and renounce her Calvinist faith.

Jeanne answered that were she in possession of her son and her kingdom she would plunge them both to the bottom of the sea rather than go to mass. Antoine took their son, Henry, into custody. Jeanne enjoined the boy never to go to mass on pain of being disowned.**

In 1564 Jeanne issued an edict declaring that Huguenot (Protestant) marriages should be considered equally valid under the law, and that heads of households could not dictate the faith of their children or servants. In 1566, Jeanne issued an order suppressing Catholic processionals. This edict caused three revolts. Jeanne’s method for dealing with these revolts was to quash them, and then offer amnesty. Of course, she became jaded when the insurrectionists whom she had pardoned twice would rebel the third time.

While in La Rochelle, she convened a Synod, and Theodore Beza, a student of John Calvin, moderated. She signed off on all the decisions made by that Synod, and even posed her own question to the Synod: Could she employ Catholics in the civil administration of Navarre? The answer given back to her was that she was to prefer “the Reformed, and to reject the obdurate Catholics, to employ those amenable to instruction.”

In 1571 there was a brief peace between the Huguenots and the Catholics with the signing of the Peace of St. Germain. In 1572 Jeanne agreed to a marriage treaty between her son Henry (who would become Henry IV of France) and Margaret, a Catholic, (the sister of Charles IX). Jeanne died shortly after the signing the marriage treaty and rumours began to fly that Catherine de Medici had had her poisoned. Two months later, Henry and Margaret were wed, and in the glow of the wedding celebration, six days later the Huguenots who had descended on the city to witness the wedding were all slaughtered in the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre. While Catholic reports would say only a few hundred to few thousand died, Protestant reports put the death toll in the tens of thousands. The massacre would cripple the Huguenot movement in France.

**See Roland Bainton, Women of the Reformation in France and England. Minneapolis: Ausburg Publishers, 1973.