Monday, February 22, 2010

Martin Luther on Women: Some of His Chivalrous, Gentlemanly, Complimentary Observations

Katharina (Katie) Von Bora (1499-1552), Former Nun and Luther's Wife; painted by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1526

The following are all Luther's words. The excerpts from Table-Talk ("TR" or Tischreden in German) were taken down by others; thus they are in a bit of a different category from his other writings, but nevertheless, Luther scholars regard what is found in Table-Talk as his words.

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Men have broad chests and narrow hips; therefore they have wisdom. Women have narrow chests and broad hips. Women ought to be domestic; the creation reveals it, for they have broad backsides and hips, so that they should sit still. [WA, TR I, no. 55, p. 19; cf. Hazlitt-Chalmers translation, p. 299]

There is no dress that suits a woman or maiden so badly as wanting to be clever. [WA, TR II, no. 1555, p. 130]

Doctor Martin Luther laughed at his Kertha, who wanted to be clever, and said, "God created man with a broad chest, not broad hips, so that in that part of him he can be wise; but that part out of which filth comes is small. In a woman this is reversed. That is why she has much filth and little wisdom." [WA, TR II, no. 1975, p. 285]

. . . when women speak well, it is not praiseworthy. It befits them to stammer and not be able to speak well; that adorns them much better. [WA, TR IV, no. 4081, pp. 121-122]

. . . what goes in through women's ears comes out again through their mouths. For that reason a secret is to be entrusted only to a dead woman. [WA, TR IV, no. 4434, p. 311]

(cited in Susan C. Karant-Nunn & Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks [editors and translators], Luther on Women: a Sourcebook, Cambridge University Press, 2003, pp. 28-30)
Although women are ashamed to admit such things, both Scripture and experience teach that among many thousands there is not one to whom God gives the grace to maintain pure chastity. A woman does not have the power [to do this] herself.

(Letter to Three Nuns, Wittenberg, 6 August 1524, WA, BR III, no. 766, pp. 326-328; in Karant-Nunn and Wiesner-Hanks, ibid., p. 141)

A woman is not created to be a virgin, but to bear children. In Genesis 1 God was not speaking just to Adam, but also to Eve when He said, "Be fruitful and multiply," as the female sex organs of a woman's body, which God has created for this reason, prove. And this was not just said to one or two women, but to all of them, with no exceptions. . . .

When He cursed Eve, he did not take her female body or her female sex organs; He . . . said, "I will give you much trouble when you become pregnant." This misery was not just promised to one or two women, but to all of them. The words sound as if God knew that all women would become pregnant and would carry this curse, except for those that He Himself excepted. Against this no oaths or agreements can be maintained, for it is God's word and power. . . . if it were possible and saintly to abide by any oath you swore, then you might as well swear that you would become the Mother of God, like Mary.

(An Open Letter to Leonard Koppe, "Why Virgins Are Allowed to Leave the Convent in a Godly Way," 1523, WA XI, pp. 398-399; in Karant-Nunn and Wiesner-Hanks, ibid., p. 140)

In Paradise woman would have been a help for a duty only. But now she is also, and for the greater part at that, an antidote and a medicine; we can hardly speak of her without a feeling of shame, and surely we cannot make use of her without shame. The reason is sin . . . We are in the state of sin and of death; therefore, we also undergo this punishment, that we cannot make use of woman without the horrible passion of lust, and, so to speak, without epilepsy . . .

(Lectures on Genesis, LW, vol. 1, 118-119; in in Karant-Nunn and Wiesner-Hanks, ibid., p. 147)

And who can enumerate all the ludicrous, ridiculous, false, vain, and superstitious ideas of this seducible sex? From the first woman, Eve, it originated that they should be deceived and considered a laughing-stock.

(Sermon on the Ten Commandments, 1516, WA I, p. 407; in Karant-Nunn and Wiesner-Hanks, ibid., p. 231)


Zach said...

What a sweetheart that Luther was!

". . . [W]e cannot make use of woman without the horrible passion of lust. . . "

That's a truism if ever I've heard one, although perhaps the German construction would be less obviously offensive. Methinks Dr. Luther would have benefited from a Theology of the Body course.

Timothy Buelow said...

Luther's table talks are notes taken by Luther's table while they were all drinking beer. There are no emoticons to show whether he was teasing, or whether he was ticked off at an off comment.
I am so glad no one records my every word, accurately or not, so that someone can mistake my "table talk" as though it were a theological statement.
Luther wanted only his catechism, and his book De Servo Arbitrio preserved. Obviously his wishes were not honored.