Martha Kennedy Guest Post/Interview – The Protestant Reformation and Freedom of Religion

Did the Protestant Reformation improve the quality of the lives of wives? Or did it make it worse? When the Anabaptist Swiss immigrated to the U.S. during the 17th and 18th centuries, what three faiths did they bring with them? Why did the Anabaptists believe that the powers of church and state should remain separate?

martha-kennedy-headshotThe role of wives in the 1500s – Did the Protestant Reformation improve the quality of their lives in the long run or did it make their lives worse?
I don’t think that the daily lives of wives changed much as a result of the Reformation, but there were changes in the perception and status of women in general.

Protestantism and Catholicism both rely on scripture to define gender roles, and the Bible states several times that men are ordained by God to be the leaders of the home. One example, Ephesians 5:22-24, says, “Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” One exception is that in many Swiss Anabaptist fellowships, wife beating was classified as a sin and the man who beat his wife could be banned.

In general, Protestant women were not allowed to speak in church or take an active part in ecclesiastical work. Lutheranism and Calvinism maintained these scriptural principles. Luther wrote, “The wife should stay at home and look after the affairs of the household as one who has been deprived of the ability of administering those affairs that are outside and concern the state….” Calvin agreed that a woman’s place was “in the home.” As with the Catholic and the Reformed churches, Anabaptist women also had no formal role in the leadership of their fellowships, yet many actively proselytized and were active in the underground church.

Before the Reformation, there were monastic orders for women, many of which had a great deal of wealth and power. They also gave women an opportunity to follow a different vocation than wife. The most powerful person in Zürich at the time of Zwingli’s reformation was the Imperial Prince/Abbess of the Fraumunster, Katharina von Zimmern. She had the power to elect the mayor and to pardon prisoners who had been sentenced to death. She joined the Reformation and turned her Abbey into a school, married, and even had children.

An important aspect of the Reformation was the acceleration of witch hunts which overlapped with the systematic persecution of Anabaptists by both the Reformed and the Catholic faiths. We tend to think of “witch hunts” as “Medieval” but, in fact, the Reformation — the new Protestant faiths — came down harder on suspected witches than had the Catholic Church which was more concerned with heresy in generation (which included the Reformers). Both the Reformed church and the Catholic church condemned Anabaptism.

Both witches and Anabaptists were tortured into confession and executed during the Reformation. A tower in Zürich known as the “Hexenturm” or “Witches’ Tower” was often used for imprisoning and torturing Anabaptists. The relationship between Anabaptism and witchcraft in the minds of many Reformation leaders and the Catholic church is complex but based partly on some superficial similarities, such as both witches and Anabaptists held meetings in the forests at night. In the case of witches there was the hope of meeting Satan; in the case of Anabaptists, the goal was to evade the law.

Considering all this, I wouldn’t say that the Reformation improved or worsened the lives of wives, and it may have diminished opportunities for women in general through the destruction of monastic orders.

What are the three faiths that came from the Anabaptist when the Anabaptist Swiss immigrated to the US during the 17th and 18th centuries?
The main faiths are the Amish, Hutterites, and Mennonites.

Why did the Anabaptists believe that the powers of church and state should remain separate?
The Anabaptists belief that the powers of church and state should remain separate is fundamentally based on Mark 12:14 – 12:17

…14“Teacher,” they said, “we know that You are honest and are swayed by no one. Indeed, You are impartial and teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Now then, is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay them or not?” 15 But Jesus saw through their hypocrisy and said, “Why are you testing Me? Bring Me a denarius to inspect,” 16So they brought it, and He asked them, “Whose likeness is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they answered.17Then Jesus told them, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” And they marveled at Him.…

The Anabaptists took this passage seriously and insisted that where God’s law came into conflict with Civil Law, God’s law supersedes the law of the state. The three areas in which this put them in conflict with the prevailing powers were in the matter of taking up arms against an enemy, which they believed violated the commandment “Thou shalt not kill,” baptizing infants, and the swearing of oaths.

Because Jesus was an adult when he sought baptism from John the Baptist, the Anabaptist belief is that only a person old enough to exercise free will to choose to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ should be baptized. This was the fundamental point of departure between Zwingli’s reformation and the Anabaptists. This presented a problem for the civil authorities because they relied on the christening records of the Church for their census and to assess taxes.

Following Christ’s teaching in Matthew 5:34 – 37, they would not swear oaths;

“I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: 35 Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. 36 Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. 37 But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.”

At the time of the Reformation, oaths of fidelity had been part of everyone’s life for centuries. People owed “fealty” to their lord, to their government, to the leader of their army, a host of things that are not part of our lives, yet oaths of this nature exist in our lives. One example is the Pledge of Allegiance, sworn by every American child every day in school.

Recommended Article: The Brothers Path – a Review

  5 comments for “Martha Kennedy Guest Post/Interview – The Protestant Reformation and Freedom of Religion

  1. October 28, 2016 at 11:34 am

    This was fun to research and write. Thanks for hosting me!

  2. October 28, 2016 at 12:47 pm

    Great and very informative interview. Good questions, the answers to which gave me pause to think and new historical information to process.

    • October 28, 2016 at 1:58 pm

      I love the inclusion of the video of the Pledge of Allegiance with this post. Many people have gotten angry over the words “Under God” but there might be a more fundamental consideration even than that. It’s been interesting learning about these people.

  3. October 28, 2016 at 3:47 pm

    Thanks for taking part in the tour.

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