Every once in a while, we have a major breakthrough for women.
Thanks to Katharina von Bora (1499-1552), the great reformer Martin Luther came to his senses on the subject of women. Katie, a rebellious nun turned Protestant, became the wife of the matrimonially reluctant Luther who soon discovered how indispensable she was to him.
He was surprised by how capable, wise, and strong she proved to be—virtues he came to depend on.
My historian husband has a way of surfacing the good, bad, and ugly about those “heroes” of history that we tend to place on pedestals, but who repeatedly demonstrate that they had feet of clay just like the rest of us.
Luther was no exception. Prior to his marriage, he was known to say some terrible things about women.
Let me put it this way. Some of Luther’s pre-nuptial comments would fit well into the litany of misogynist rhetoric we’ve heard coming from Donald Trump.
No doubt inspired by good German beer, Luther once pontificated with certainty:
“Men have broad and large chests, and small narrow hips, and more understanding than women, who have but small and narrow breasts, and broad hips, to the end they should remain at home, sit still, keep house, and bear and bring up children.” —The Table Talk Or Familiar Discourse of Martin Luther
The revelation to Luther that men “cannot do without women”—and not just in marriage—was the truth all along. Didn’t God say, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper (ezer) suitable (kenegdo) for him” (Genesis 2:18)?
In case you don’t already know, ezer is a military Hebrew word. It’s used most often in the Bible for God as Israel’s helper in the Old Testament (16 of 21 times) and twice for the woman at creation. It’s not a description any of us can shed. It describes every girl child born in the world and stays with her for her entire life.
According to Hebrew scholar, Robert Alter, ezer kenegdo
“connotes active intervention on behalf of someone, especially in military contexts, as often in Psalms” (emphasis added). —quoted in Malestrom
In his commentary on Genesis, Victor Hamilton writes,
“[Kenegdo] suggests that what God creates for Adam will correspond to him. Thus the new creation will be neither a superior nor an inferior, but an equal. The creation of this helper will form one-half of a polarity and will be to man as the South Pole is to the North Pole” (emphasis added). —quoted in Half the Church
It took firsthand experience for Luther to see the light. In God’s providence, Luther was joined in holy wedlock to a strong ezer-warrior who proved without a doubt she was his match. What is remarkable about Luther is that he didn’t see his wife as an exception to the rule, but drew conclusions about all women from what he learned from Katie.
And now we have in print what soldiering through life with her led Luther to say on the subject of women.
 Luther quote cited in Donald McKim, ed., Cambridge Companion to Martin Luther (CUP, 2003), p. 169.
 Martin Luther, The Table Talk or Familiar Discourse of Martin Luther, trans. W. Hazlitt (Ulan Press, reprint, 2012), p. 299
My name is Lauren Larkin and I’m a relatively big fan of your work since I read “When Life and Beliefs Collide.” I do a lot of work/teaching on gender and gender relations, even though my current PhD work is not on gender specifically (its on the ontology of the human person as it pertains to.the salvation event).
Anyway, I am currently researching Luther (for PhD) work, and am simultaneously intrigued by Luther and women (you know, a side topic to pick up on while I’m researching other things to keep it interesting 😀). When it comes to gender and theology, I’ve not found anyone better than Karl Barth to use for support of the strong ezer aspect of the creation of woman. However, your post about Luther and his reconsideration of woman thru his experience with his wife Katie, intrigued me. Apart from the sources you cite at the bottom of the post, where else can I get my hands.on that information? What you said about Luther fits so many of my theories and arguments about woman and her creation and her relationship to man.
I thank you in advance for your time and help. If you are at all intrigued by what I’ve written on/spoken on you are more than welcome to check.out my blog (www.laurenrelarkin.com) or a podcast in work on with a friend: http://www.ezeruncaged.com.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Lauren R.E. Lark
Your work sounds (and looks) interesting. Thanks for the links. The following is from my scholar husband in response to your request. If you want to connect with him (which isn’t a bad idea), you can reach him through http://www.biblical.edu. His expertise is Reformation history, so he’d be a good resource for you.
All the best on your research. Here you go!
Some good books on Luther and women:
Susan C. Karant-Nunn and Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, (translators), Luther on Women: A Sourcebook
Steven Ozment, When Fathers Ruled: Family Life in Reformation Europe: Studies in Cultural History (Harvard, 1985)
Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe: New Approaches to European History (CUP, 3rd ed. , 2008)
Mickey Leland Mattox, “Defender of the Most Holy Matriarchs”: Martin Luther’s Interpretation of the Women of Genesis in the Enarrationes in Genesin, 1535-1545: Studies in Medieval and Reformation Thought (Brill, 2002)