Women for His Glory: Heroes of The Reformation
This month marks the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, the revival credited with bringing the church back to the fundamental truths of the Bible, namely, to the true gospel of justification by faith alone in Jesus Christ. In honor of this, we'd like to highlight some brave and amazing women who took part in the movement:
Elisabeth fled her convent around 1522 to Wittenberg where she sought out Protestant reformer, Johannes Bugenhagen. Two years later, she married one of Martin Luther's favorite pupils, Caspar Cruciger. That same year she wrote what most consider to be the first Protestant hymn, "The Only Son from Heaven," which was an amazing and controversial feat given that women were not usually hymn-writers in her day. She was also close friends with Luther's wife, Katharina Von Bora.
Katharina Von Bora Luther
Katharina became a nun at age sixteen. She felt an increasing sense of unhappiness in her life and a keen interest in the church reformation movement that was taking place in Germany. This led her to conspire with some fellow nuns to flee their monastery–a risky move that could have been punishable by torture and life imprisonment. She contacted Martin Luther for his help and they were successfully smuggled out of the monastery on Easter Eve in 1523. She and Luther later married and Katharina took on the role of help-mate, mother, and entrepreneur.
Wibrandis is often referred to as "the Bride of the Reformation," because she was married and widowed four times to different reformers. Her first husband died just two years after they married in 1524, leaving her a single mother to their young daughter at the age of 22. She would go on to marry reformer Johannes Oecolampadius, a scholar and expert in the Biblical languages. They added two more children to their family before Johannes passed away in 1531. The next year, she was married to recent widower and reformer, Wolfgang Capito. However, soon Wibrandis faced even greater tragedy when the plague struck her household in 1540–she lost her husband and three children (two born to Capito and another son born to her previous husband). Elisabeth Bucer, a friend of Wibrandis, was on her deathbed when she got the news of Capito's death and asked her husband Martin to remarry Wibrandis upon her passing. The two were married until Bucer died in 1551, leaving poor Wibrandis widowed a fourth time. Yet, despite all this tragedy, her letters reveal a woman who suffered but remained focused on faithfully serving the Lord, her husbands, her children, and others.
Marie was born in France to a noble family in 1495. She was a bright, well-educated woman who became captivated by Luther's teachings. This led her to make the dangerous decision to leave the convent in 1525 and join the reformation movement in Strasbourg. In another controversial move, she married a former priest, Simon Robert, with whom she had five children before he passed away in 1533. Two years later, she married another Reformed pastor, Antoine Froment. Together they led efforts to expand the reformation movement in Geneva. Marie wrote a book detailing the reformation movement taking place in their city and she has been credited as possibly the first Protestant writer to give an eyewitness account. Historian and theologian, Marie also wrote a passionate and powerful letter condemning Roman Catholicism and arguing for the equal treatment of men and women in their ability to read and interpret Scripture. She was even asked by John Calvin to write the preface for his printed sermon over 1 Timothy 2:8-12 on the issue of female modesty. Her ministry had significant impact and eventually Geneva became a Protestant republic. Marie was a bold woman of faith–in speaking to one of the convents she tried to convert, she said, “I lived for a long time in the shadow of hypocrisy, but God alone made me see my state and I came to the true light of true faith.”
Katharina Schutz Zell
Katharina has been referred to by some as the "Mother Reformer." She was a remarkable, capable, and compassionate woman and the wife of Reformed pastor, Matthew Zell. She first met her future husband when he came to her town preaching the true Gospel of justification by faith alone in the atoning work of Jesus Christ. Their marriage was one of the first Protestant marriages–a move that defied the clerical celibacy rules of the Roman Catholic church. She was devoted to her study of the Scriptures and defending the Protestant reforms. She published a Biblical defense of clerical marriage and attacked the Roman Catholic views on celibacy. In addition to her work as a writer and theologian, Katharina was a tremendous care-taker and host. Her home was always an open refuge for the sick or persecuted and at one point, she even had 80 men under her care and had to organize relief for 3,000 refugees in Strasbourg. She suffered great personal tragedy when she lost her first and second child, both as infants. Despite all this, she continued to minister to the needs of those around her. She was left a widow in 1548 and lived out the remainder of her life doing what she had always done–boldly defending the faith and caring for the sick. In a letter to a friend shortly before her death, she wrote:
I see before my eyes and welcome the time of my release; I rejoice in it, and know that to die here will be my gain, that I lay aside the mortal and perishable and put on the everlasting immortal and imperishable. I am now sixty years old, and I have walked before God in fear of Him and despising the world for fifty years, so that I can say with the holy Ambrose: “I have lived so that I am not ashamed to continue to live among the faithful, but I do not fear to die, for I am certain that in Christ I will live again and that in Him I have a gracious God forever.”
Helen, a Scottish Christian, is credited as being the only female martyr of the Scottish Reformation. She and her husband, James, were arrested and charged with heresy. During the birth of her child, Helen refused to pray to the Virgin Mary as was custom, saying she, "would only pray to God in the name of Jesus Christ." Helen, along with her husband and several other men, were found guilty and sentenced to death. Helen asked that she die next to her husband but her request was denied. The men were hanged and Helen is reported to have said to her husband before they parted,
Husband, be glad, for we have lived together many joyful days, and this day, in which we must die, we ought to esteem the most joyful of all, because we shall have joy forever.
She watched her husband die and was then forced to give her infant child to a neighbor before being carried off to be drowned.
Olympia Fulvia Morata
Olympia was an Italian scholar who, by the age of 12, was able to converse in Latin and Greek. Her father was a scholar as well who embraced the teachings of Luther and Calvin. When her father's health started to decline, Olympia left her position in the court of Ferrara as a tutor to care for him. When she returned to her position, the political and religious climate had drastically changed. Around this time she embraced Protestant theology and true faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. She went on to marry Reformed German doctor, Andreas Grundler. The couple returned to Germany where they encountered much persecution and danger. Her life was cut short when she died in 1558 at the age of 29. Her writings and works were later published by a close friend. In one of her letters, she wrote to those fearful of God's acceptance of them:
Don't be afraid … No odor of sinners can be so foul that its force cannot be broken and weakened by the sweetest odor that flows from the death of Christ, which alone God can perfume. Therefore seek Christ.
Lady Jane Grey, dubbed "the traitor-heroine of the Reformation," was an English noblewoman who was Queen of England and Ireland for just nine-short days before she was removed from the throne due in part to her Protestant views. She was later sentenced to death by beheading. Lady Jane resisted efforts to convert her to Roman Catholicism and it is believed she was around 16 or 17 years old when she was executed in 1554. She is considered a martyr and it is reported that at her execution she recited Psalm 51 and spoke the last words of Christ, "Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit (Luke 23:46)."