Martin Luther at 50
In a discussion of Martin Luther’s ‘Table Talk’ about women, one book cries out for inclusion: Susan C. Karant-Nunn and Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, eds. Luther on Women: A Sourcebook (Cambridge Un. Press, 2003). As the authors admit, no single volume could contain all Luther has in print about women. That would require several volumes. The two scholars’ book contains far more than his ‘table talk’. They delved also into his letters, his lectures, treatises and sermons. Notably they leaned heavily on sources not available in English (which they themselves translated for their book). Who has the scope of knowledge to even know how their emphasis might have skewed resulting conclusions by readers? And of course there are the shifting, even contradictory but always hardstruck, opinions by the great man himself.
Beyond the introduction to this vast topic the authors present subthemes: three chapters on biblical women (Eve, Mary, and both Old and New Testament women), three chapters on domesticity (marriage, sexuality, and childbirth), two chapters on contemporary women (his wife Katharina von Bora and other contemporaries), and a chapter on witchcraft and magic involving women. To keep their book a manageable size, the authors use minimal citations (neither footnoes nor endnotes). There is no list of works cited. Nor is there a list of key Luther works not cited. Bear with the authors. This is an introduction to an enormous topic that few scholars can fully access. The sources are in Latin, in a developing Early New High German, and even in a mixture called ‘macaroni’ used in more casual moments by scholars of Luther’s time.
There is more than enough here to satisfy the curious. The book is the answer to the English-speaker’s curiosity about Luther’s attitude toward women. Surely the 21st century reader will discern Luther deeply rooted in the Middle Ages. Will the 21st century reader be as unkind to Luther as Luther was to his protector Frederick the Wise? Luther blustered that regarding things of God and salvation Frederick the Wise was ‘seven times blind’!