Calvin, Knox And The Ladies…

… I still need more references**.

John Calvin wrote of John Knox…

Two years ago John Knox asked me, in private conversation, what I though about the government of women, I candidly replied… that there were occasionally women so endowed, that the singular good qualities which shone forth in them made it evident that they were raised up by divine authority, either that God designed by such examples to condemn the inactivity of men, or for the better setting forth his own glory.  I brought forward Huldah and Deborah.

I think John Knox answered John Calvin’s objection directly in his treatise The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women.  He said,

“Here might I bring in the oppression and injustice, which is committed against realms and nations, which sometimes lived free, and now are brought in bondage of foreign nations, by the reason of this monstriferous authority and empire of women. But that I delay till better opportunity.

And now I think it expedient to answer such objections, as carnal and worldlier men, yea men ignorant of God, use to make for maintenance of this tyrannic (authority it is not worthy to be called) and most unjust empire of woman. First they do object the examples of Deborah, and of Hulda the prophetess, of whom the one judged Israel, and the other, by all appearance, did teach and exhort the defenses of the adversaries

I believe Calvin had the “private conversation” with Knox during Knox’s first stay in Geneva, before Knox wrote his Blast, and the language is certainly intriguing.   Was Knox calling Calvin worldlier?  I am not sure of that and my research continues.

No matter the timing though, Calvin makes room for a Queen and Knox does not.  Doug Wilson brings up the point that Knox did not have as much of a problem with Elizabeth when she became Queen.  He even tried to smooth things over a bit, but Elizabeth would have none of it.

I bring all of that up simply to say that even in times of disastrous women rulers (Mary Tudor, Mary Queen of Scots) the continental reformers did not rule out women rulers in principle.

My initial question in all of this was whether or not Sara Palin was a Deborah in America.  Has God raised her up as Calvin said, “to condemn the inactivity of men” on the subject of abortion?  Will we see the glory of God shine through her labors as a ruler in this country?

I have not yet decided and, to be honest, her speech did not move me into the McCain camp.  I think I saw more of McCain in her speech than I would have liked.  I am still digesting.

As far as the principle goes though…  I am with Calvin and not Knox or Baucham for that matter.

(Heinrich Bullinger had an interesting bit of advice for Knox… I will address that in my next post)

al sends

** I am looking for Calvin’t letters in a primary source and so far I have come up bust.  Anyone have a link for Calvin’s letters?  Or do I have to buy a book… with paper, ink and a dust jacket?


7 responses to “Calvin, Knox And The Ladies…

  1. Hi, I’m one of your readers. I have Calvin’s Letters at hand. I will look as soon as I get a chance, if you’re interested. They’re out of print at the moment, I think.

  2. Rob… some would say that I have gone beyond the Presbyterian meme. Way beyond it.

    Daniel, I did not mean to put a ‘?’ at the end of ‘reader.’ I am genuinely glad that you are a reader. Are you near Pensacola?

    al sends

  3. Thanks Kevin… I had looked at the site, but I don’t think the letters section is complete. And if it is, I cannot seem to find the letter where Calvin addresses Knox’s question.

    Some good stuff there though.

    al sends

  4. Al,

    It is always interesting to look into the details of historical interactions such as these between Knox, Calvin, and Bullinger. I am certainly not an expert on these men (any experts please chime in) but from what I have gleaned from looking at this (especially Knox and Calvin) here are my observations:

    In the main, concerning the issue of women in leadership, they are in agreement. In fact, it seems pretty common to refer to such as a “monstrous” thing. I think pitting Knox against Calvin, or Bullinger, in this regard, is wrong. Again, in the main, they (the continental reformers and Knox) would have all agreed.

    The existing differences should be viewed in light of personality, how to address the reality of women leaders, and historical context. There is also the very important issue of the submission of the people to their leaders and when rebellion is allowed. Knox, Calvin, and even Luther all had to wrestle with this. This, I believe, must also be taken into account when looking at Knox in his dealings with the two Mary’s and Elizabeth.

    Knox, it seems, was like Rocky Balboa (“he leads with his face”), going in swinging. Knox also found himself in a different context than Calvin. He was on the front line of the issue, starkly facing the reality of the moment. Calvin, in dedicating his commentary on Isaiah to Elizabeth, seems to show his concern with the spread of the Reformation. There was much behind-the-scene politics, concern for the church in England, questions about how best to address the issue, etc. They also wrestled with the issue of inherited rule (a daughter of a king as heir to the throne) and the customs of the day. This is much different from our day when we have a choice to vote for, or against, such a leader. In light of this, it would also be interesting to look at how the view in America of women having the same right to leadership as men parallels the move from a Republic to a Democracy, as well as paralleling the move from a more patriarchal society to a more egalitarian society.

    For the record, I am fine if God raises up a Deborah in our day. The problem I have is how we can know this going into it, and whether we should even be seeking to perceive if this is the case in order to help us cast our votes. The guys from times past that I respect seem to be of the same opinion on this. How to relate to a woman in office is one issue – to support the idea that she should be placed in leadership by the people is another issue. The hesitancy about declaring the Bible takes a position on this issue comes with the modern church, not with the leaders of the church in other times.

    This certainly doesn’t address all of the difficulties we face in pulling the lever for a certain candidate. But as for the principle involved, I will stick with the dead guys on this one.

    For a helpful discussion of this see Peter Hume Brown’s biography of John Knox, chapter five (p. 227ff):

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