Schilling, Heinz: Confessional Europe

While the transformation of gender relations had begun in the late Middle Ages, when powerful economic, demographic, and political forces had pushed it forward, the decisive break through came during the confessional age.(65) Its effects are best known in the Protestant lands, especially the Lutheran ones, though our picture of them is filled with contradictions. On the one hand, it is said that Protestant anthropology, particularly the appreciation of marriage, brought about a depreciation and “domestication” of women, and orthodox Lutheran sermons are said to have been characterized by “the view that uncontrolled women were dangerous to themselves and society.” (66) On the other hand, it has been shown that Luther’s theology enhanced the position of women, in that “also married and single women were called to the priesthood of all believers,” the bearing of children was praised as God’s special miracle,” and the old taboos, such as “the notion that women’s bodily process (menstruation, conception, pregnancy, birthing, and lying-in) made them impure were rejected.(67) This change was heightened by Reformed Protestantism, which relaxed the theory of general priesthood in the office of deaconess, (68) Case studies of practice, naturally, show a varying picture. At Augsburg, for example, although the Protestants did not “deem there to be any differences in the kind of spirituality appropriate to men and women,” they evolved “a two-kingdom theory of sexual difference [based on the idea that] their offices in life on earth were different.” Although this resulted in “a more exclusively male-run Church,” it did not effect religiosity proper, so that “Protestant women may have been able to develop a female-centered piety.” (69) Another study shows that in the German Protestant pastor’s household, the pastor’s wife worked alongside her husband as “companion” and “co-ruler,” based on an “office of housemother” that corresponded to that of “housefather”. Inequality nevertheless endured, as this female “lordship” was defined in terms of male lordship, an observation which corresponds to the Reformed model of gender relations in southern French cities. (70) Finally, there is the special case of the Protestant Imperial abbesses, who maintained an independent ecclesiastical position in Lutheranism, even though the Lutheran church was in principle a male church. (71)

Confessional religious discipline was not overtly gender-specific, that is, “confessionalizing measures were not directed specifically against or toward women.” (72) A long-term study of Calvinist Emden, for example, has shown that “the double standard appeared relatively late,” and that it arose from a specifically Pietist religiosity and the state’s supervisory measures against unwed mothers. Church discipline at Emden did not, however, “discriminate against either males or females regarding the norms or standard of Christian sexual life.” Men and women were in equal measure obliged to live according to the norms of Christian responsibility, love, and peacefulness, a requirement which could only lead to improvement for women. This is supported by the demonstration that “during the first century of church discipline at Emden (ca. 1550-1650) males were more frequently cited before the church council.” (73)

Catholic confessionalization, though on a different theological basis, also promoted a thoroughgoing change in traditional gender relations, though here, too, the findings are contradictory. On the one hand, “Catholicism nurtured a peculiarly female style of devotion” and developed a whole cosmos “of female saints,” while, on the other, this “holiness could be attained only by divesting oneself of the sexual, feminine ‘bodiliness'” (74) In the area of advanced female education, Catholicism seems to have promoted, both in theory and practice, more univocally than Protestantism did, “the intellectual equality of women and their capacity for and right to learning.” (75) In the Catholic regions of central Europe, confessionalization displaced the old cosmos of saints, “which had been chiefly ordered by the relationship of lord and subject and by the communal life of a largely closed rural order,” in favor of a cosmos of saints “keyed to the model of man, wife, and child.” The “patriarchial order of the peasant mentality” was replaced by an early modern mentality oriented to the Holy Family, in the center of which stood Mary. In the background Joseph, “in whom the male functions of rule over wife, child, household, and form were reduced to exclusively protective ones.” This change introduced” a brief phase of matriarchally influenced norms” and “a new concept of the family.”(76) Jesuit anthropology and pastoral principles, too, promoted changes in gender relations, namely, “a new concept of the family -marked by heightening of the sacrament of marriage, a division of responsibilities between the spouses, and a lessening of the father’s despotic power- was emerging. The patriarchal family and the “Holy Family” were not the same.” (77) Here we find, therefore, a tendency to embourgeoisement and interiority, just as in confessional Protestantism.

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