Luther and his ever patient wife Katie
portraits by Lucas Cranach
Martin Luther sincerely appreciated women.
The following is an example from 1531 of his gratitude for his own wife Katharina (‘Käthe’ or ‘Katie’), though he couldn’t resist pointing out shortcomings: “I wouldn't give up my Katy for France or for Venice--first, because God gave her to me and gave me to her; second, because I have often observed that other women have more shortcomings than my Katy (although she, too, has some shortcomings, they are outweighed by many great virtues); and third, because she keeps faith in marriage, that is, fidelity and respect.” [No. 49; Luther was 47]
He could praise women occasionally even without insulting them: “Imagine what it would be like without this sex. The home, cities, economic life, and government would virtually disappear. Men can't do without women. Even if it were possible for men to beget and bear children, they still couldn't do without women.” [No. 1658; Luther was 48]
Luther could roundly denounce the insensitivity of other men: “the most holy bishop of Mainz [Albrecht] was irritated by no annoyances more than by the stinking, putrid, private parts of women. That godless knave, forgetful of his mother and his sister, dares to blaspheme God's creature through whom he was himself born. It would be tolerable if he were to find fault with the behavior of women, but to defile their creation and nature is most godless.” [No. 1658; Luther was 49]
But Luther was Luther.
He compared girls with boys: “Girls begin to talk and to stand on their feet sooner than boys because weeds always grow up more quickly than good crops.” [No. 2980b; Luther was 49]
He compared men with women: “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.” [No. 54; Luther was 47]
He and his cohorts discussed breasts: “which are an ornament to women if they are well proportioned. Large and flabby breasts cause unhappiness, it was said, because they promise much but produce little. Firm breasts, and even the small ones of tiny women, are fruitful and can provide milk for many children.” [No. 4105; Luther was 55]
He quoted Holy Scriptures to enlighten us about women: “When Job criticized his wife he called her foolish; although women are foolish for the most part...’” [No. 2938b; Luther was 49]
Luther quoted a proverb for insight: “There are many imperfections in the female sex--as the proverb puts it, ‘If all girls are good, where do wicked women come from?’” [No. 3523; Luther was 53]
In sum, from this small sampling of Luther’s wisdom about women, we can see quite a mix of sympathetic understanding and utter nonsense.
All Luther quotations from Theodore G. Tappert, ed./trans., Table Talk V 54 of ‘Luther’s Works’ (Fortress Press: Philadelphia, 1967).