The Radical Luther – Basil Schild

19 Jan

Pastor Basil Schild

“He who is called as a man is a woman before God. And she who was called as a woman is a man before God.”

So writes Luther in 1523, commenting on Galatians 3:28:

“For things will be as St. Paul says in Gal. 3:28:  ‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ There we have the same faith, the same possessions, the same inheritance—everything is equal. One could even say: He who is called as a man is a woman before God. And she who was called as a woman is a man before God.”

In a time when some sections of medieval society were still debating whether women had souls, Luther’s understanding, that in Christ women and men were not only equal, but received from Christ the same possessions and the same inheritance, to the extent that before God it doesn’t matter if you are called a man or a woman, was a direct challenge to both the social and religious attitudes of his day. The resulting Lutheran Reformation had a direct impact on raising the status of women in medieval society.

In 1528, commenting on 1 Tim 2:15, Luther declares:

“If the Lord were to raise up a woman for us to listen to, we would allow her to rule, like Huldah”

10 years later, in 1537, commenting on Jesus love for the poor and outcast he notes:

“…He might even select poor harlot Mary Magdalene as a disciple”

And nearly 500 years before modern debates, as he wrestles with his understanding of the role of pastors, what they do,  who they are, and how they relate to his understanding that all believers are actually in reality priests; he speaks of women being able to baptize:

“So when women baptize, they exercise the function of the priesthood legitimately, and do it not as a private act, but as a part of the public ministry of the church..”

And he continues:

“…A woman can baptize and administer the Word of life, by which sin is taken away, eternal death abolished, the prince of the world cast out, heaven bestowed; in short by which the divine majesty pours itself forth through all the soul.”

Luther includes women in what he considers to be the Church’s greatest role:

“…To baptize is incomparably greater than to consecrate bread and wine, .. it is the greatest office in the church—the proclamation of the Word of God.”

It may be argued that Luther  did not campaign for women’s ordination and that he supported a male pastorate, but his passion, and his challenge of the cultural prejudice against women of medieval times ought to be noted and celebrated. Not only did Luther recognize the way God blesses the world through women, he was even prepared to speak of God with feminine imagery: In the year 1529 he talks of  “The breasts of the Holy Spirit”

Why?  Luther is reflecting on the beautiful imagery in Isaiah, of God as a mother, comforting her children.

LW 28:44, Commentary on 1 Corinthians 7 , 1523
LW 28:280, Commentary on 1 Tim 2:15, 1528
LW 22:193, Commentary on John 1:45, 1537, Paraphrase.
LW 40: 23,   Concerning the Office of the Ministry, 1523
LW 40 24:25 Concerning the Office of the Ministry 1523,
LW 40: 23,  Concerning the Office of the Ministry, 1523
LW 17:408, Lectures on Isaiah, 1529
Isaiah 66:13


Posted by on January 19, 2012 in history, theology


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

5 responses to “The Radical Luther – Basil Schild

  1. PIchi

    January 20, 2012 at 3:24 am

    Good on you, Luther. How did God manage to give you so much sense in the middle of so much crazy stuff going on in the Institution of the church.

    Thanks, Basil, for putting it together for us. So real.

  2. Kristen

    January 20, 2012 at 5:49 am

    Wow, this is hard to reconcile with other statements of Luther. “Take women from their housewifery, and they are good for nothing,” he said. And also, “If women get tired and die of [child]bearing, there is no harm in that; let them die as long as they bear– they are made for that.” And also, “Men have broad shoulders and narrow hips, and accordingly they possess intelligence. Women have narrow shoulders and broad hips. Women ought to stay at home; the way they were created indicates this, for they have broad hips and a wide fundament to sit upon, keep house and bear and raise children.” Also, though he did concede that a woman might baptise in cases of emergency, when there was no one else to do it, he also said regarding “baptising, absolving and administering the sacraments,” that “the Holy Spirit has excepted women, children and incompetent people from this function, but chooses (except in emergencies) competent males to fill this office.”

    But I also read that unlike Calvin, Luther encouraged the education of women and conceded that there might be occasions (such as when there was a lack of available men) when she might be used of God in church leadership.

    However, practically speaking, when Luther closed the convents and removed the abbesses, he closed most avenues of social empowerment to women completely and relegated them to home and hearth. He did, on the other hand, elevate the home and hearth to a greater place of honor, where the Roman Catholic Church had considered it a menial place only.

    Still, I don’t doubt that Luther also said the things you quoted above. Like many men throughout church history, he appears to have been sort of a mixed bag when it came to the roles of women. Luther’s mixed message regarding the place and roles of women is, I think, one of the sources of the mixed attitudes women have faced in Protestantism in general.

  3. ruth2graham

    October 25, 2015 at 8:04 pm

    Reza Aslan is a prick and a liar. read the ugly koran and the nasty bits in the hadith and the life of Mohammed yourself before you criticise those who resent it

    • Katie and Martin

      October 27, 2015 at 8:54 pm

      Your language is harsh. My understanding is that he is a wise, moderate Moslem.


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