Saturday, July 9, 2011

John Knox's Sexist Screed

I've been investigating -- and I'm far from done -- the evolution of the notion that Christian believers have a right to resist and disobey rulers in the face of, among other proof texts, Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2. It didn't all just happen at once. Its seeds had been germinating for quite a time as a dissident growth within Christendom. Common-sensically, the arguments emerged as a result of experience with crappy Kings...and Queens.

A little while back someone with whom I interacted in a comment thread suggested John Knox on when rulers lose their legitimate authority. The commenter objected to my idea that Sola Scriptura doesn't get you the right to resist tyrants. John Knox was a Calvinist, reformed guy; they are Sola Scripturaist, right?

Well no. As among others, Jordan J. Ballor has noted, there is a tradition of natural law in Protestantism. And this is, I think, because Protestantism inherited a great deal of its traditions from Roman Catholicism.

And indeed John Knox, the former Roman Catholic Priest he, cites Aristotle in The First Blast of the Trumpet Against the Monstrous Regiment of Women.

But, honestly, I have a hard time with both the title and the contents of this work. I'm a product of modern egalitarian gender equality thought. And this is anything but.

Here is a taste:

[The Empire of Women is
Repugnant to Nature]

And first, where I affirm the empire of a woman to be a thing repugnant to nature, I mean not only that God, by the order of his creation, has spoiled [deprived] woman of authority and dominion, but also that man has seen, proved, and pronounced just causes why it should be. Man, I say, in many other cases, does in this behalf see very clearly. [14]For the causes are so manifest, that they cannot be hid. For who can deny but it is repugnant to nature, that the blind shall be appointed to lead and conduct such as do see? That the weak, the sick, and impotent persons shall nourish and keep the whole and strong? And finally, that the foolish, mad, and frenetic shall govern the discreet, and give counsel to such as be sober of mind? And such be all women, compared unto man in bearing of authority. For their sight in civil regiment is but blindness; their strength, weakness; their counsel, foolishness; and judgment, frenzy, if it be rightly considered.

[15]I except such as God, by singular privilege, and for certain causes known only to himself, has exempted from the common rank of women, and do speak of women as nature and experience do this day declare them. Nature, I say, does paint them forth to be weak, frail, impatient, feeble, and foolish; and experience has declared them to be inconstant, variable, cruel, lacking the spirit of counsel and regiment. And these notable faults have men in all ages espied in that kind, for the which not only they have removed women from rule and authority, but also some have thought that men subject to the counsel or empire of their wives were unworthy of public office. [16]For thus writes Aristotle, in the second of his Politics. What difference shall we put, says he, whether that women bear authority, or the husbands that obey the empire of their wives, be appointed to be magistrates? For what ensues the one, must needs follow the other: to wit, injustice, confusion, and disorder. The same author further reasons, that the policy or regiment of the Lacedemonians (who other ways amongst the Greeks were most excellent) was not worthy to be reputed nor accounted amongst the number of commonwealths that were well governed, because the magistrates and rulers of the same were too much given to please and obey their wives. What would this writer (I pray you) have said to that realm or nation, where a woman sits crowned in Parliament amongst the midst of men?

"Oh fearful and terrible are thy judgments, O Lord, which thus hast abased man for his iniquity!"

I am assuredly persuaded that if any of those men, which, illuminated only by the light of nature, did see and pronounce the causes sufficient why women ought not to bear rule nor authority, should this day live and see a woman sitting in judgment, or riding from Parliament in the midst of men, having the royal crown upon her head, the sword and the scepter borne before her, in sign that the administration of justice was in her power: I am assuredly persuaded, I say, that such a sight should so astonish them, that they should judge the whole world to be transformed into the Amazons,[17] and that such a metamorphosis and change was made of all the men of that country, as poets do feign was made of the companions of Ulysses; or at least, that albeit the outward form of men remained, yet should they judge their hearts were changed from the wisdom, understanding, and courage of men, to the foolish fondness and cowardice of women. Yea, they further should pronounce, that where women reign or be in authority, that there must needs vanity be preferred to virtue, ambition and pride to temperance and modesty; and finally, that avarice, the mother of all mischief, must needs devour equity and justice.[18] [19]

But lest that we shall seem to be of this opinion alone, let us hear what others have seen and decreed in this matter. [20]In the Rules of the Law thus is it written: [21]"Women are removed from all civil and public office, so that they neither may be judges, neither may they occupy the place of the magistrate, neither yet may they be speakers for others." The same is repeated in the third and the sixteenth books of the Digests,[22] where certain persons are forbidden, Ne pro aliis postulent, that is, that they be no speakers nor advocates for others.[23]And among the rest, women are forbidden, and this cause is added, that they do not against shamefacedness [modesty] intermeddle themselves with the causes of others; neither yet that women presume to use the offices due to men. The Law in the same place does further declare that a natural shamefacedness [modesty] ought to be in womankind,[24] which most certainly she loses whensoever she takes upon her the office and estate of man. [25]As in Calphurnia was evidently declared, who having license to speak before the senate, at length she became so impudent and importunate, that by her babbling she troubled the whole assembly; and so gave occasion that this law was established.[26]

[27]In the first book of the Digests, it is pronounced that the condition of the woman, in many cases, is worse than of the man: as in jurisdiction (says the Law), in receiving of cure and tuition, in adoption, in public accusation, in delation, in all popular action, and in motherly power which she has not upon her own sons. The Law further will not permit that the woman give anything to her husband, because it is against the nature of her kind, being the inferior member, to presume to give anything to her head.[28] The Law does moreover pronounce womankind to be most avaricious (which is a vice intolerable in those that should rule or minister justice).[29] And Aristotle, as before is touched, does plainly affirm, that wheresoever women bear dominion, there the people must needs be disordered, living and abounding in all intemperance, given to pride, excess, and vanity; and finally, in the end, they must needs come to confusion and ruin.[30]

[31]Would to God the examples were not so manifest to the further declaration of the imperfections of women, of their natural weakness and inordinate appetites! I might adduce histories, proving some women to have died for sudden joy; some for impatience to have murdered themselves; some to have burned with such inordinate lust, that for the quenching of the same, they have betrayed to strangers their country and city;[32] and some to have been so desirous of dominion, that for the obtaining of the same, they have murdered the children of their own sons, yea, and some have killed with cruelty their own husbands and children.[33] [34] [35] But to me it is sufficient (because this part of nature is not my most sure foundation) to have proved, that men illuminated only by the light of nature have seen and have determined that it is a thing most repugnant to nature, that women rule and govern over men. [36]For those that will not permit a woman to have power over her own sons, will not permit her (I am assured) to have rule over a realm; and those that will not suffer her to speak in defence of those that be accused (neither that will admit her accusation intended against man) will not approve her that she shall sit in judgment, crowned with the royal crown, usurping authority in the midst of men.

[The Empire of Women is Contrary
to the Revealed Will of God]

But now to the second part of nature, in the which I include the revealed will and perfect ordinance of God; and against this part of nature, I say, that it does manifestly repugn that any woman shall reign and bear dominion over man. For God, first by the order of his creation, and after by the curse and malediction pronounced against the woman (by reason of her rebellion) has pronounced the contrary.

[37]First, I say, that woman in her greatest perfection was made to serve and obey man, not to rule and command him. As St. Paul does reason in these words: "Man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man. And man was not created for the cause of the woman, but the woman for the cause of man; and therefore ought the woman to have a power upon her head" [1 Cor. 11:8-10] (that is, a cover in sign of subjection). Of which words it is plain that the apostle means, that woman in her greatest perfection should have known that man was lord above her; and therefore that she should never have pretended any kind of superiority above him, no more than do the angels above God the Creator, or above Christ their head.[38] So I say, that in her greatest perfection, woman was created to be subject to man.

[39]But after her fall and rebellion committed against God, there was put upon her a new necessity, and she was made subject to man by the irrevocable sentence of God, pronounced in these words: "I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception. With sorrow shalt thou bear thy children, and thy will shall be subject to thy man; and he shall bear dominion over thee" (Gen. 3:16).[40] Hereby may such as altogether be not blinded plainly see, that God by his sentence has dejected all women from empire and dominion above man. For two punishments are laid upon her: to wit, a dolour, anguish, and pain, as oft as ever she shall be mother; and a subjection of her self, her appetites, and will, to her husband, and to his will. From the former part of this malediction can neither art, nobility, policy, nor law made by man deliver womankind; but whosoever attains to that honour to be mother, proves in experience the effect and strength of God's word. But (alas!) ignorance of God, ambition, and tyranny have studied to abolish and destroy the second part of God's punishment. For women are lifted up to be heads over realms, and to rule above men at their pleasure and appetites. [41]But horrible is the vengeance which is prepared for the one and for the other, for the promoters and for the persons promoted, except they speedily repent. For they shall be dejected from the glory of the sons of God to the slavery of the devil, and to the torment that is prepared for all such as do exalt themselves against God.

Against God can nothing be more manifest than that a woman shall be exalted to reign above man; for the contrary sentence he has pronounced in these words: "Thy will shall be subject to thy husband, and he shall bear dominion over thee" (Gen. 3:16). As [though] God should say, "Forasmuch as you have abused your former condition, and because your free will has brought yourself and mankind into the bondage of Satan, I therefore will bring you in bondage to man. For where before your obedience should have been voluntary, now it shall be by constraint and by necessity; and that because you have deceived your man, you shall therefore be no longer mistress over your own appetites, over your own will or desires. For in you there is neither reason nor discretion which are able to moderate your affections, and therefore they shall be subject to the desire of your man. He shall be lord and governor, not only over your body, but even over your appetites and will." This sentence, I say, did God pronounce against Eve and her daughters, as the rest of the scriptures do evidently witness. So that no woman can ever presume to reign above man, but the same she must needs do in despite of God, and in contempt of his punishment and malediction.[42]

[43]I am not ignorant, that the most part of men do understand this malediction of the subjection of the wife to her husband, and of the dominion which he bears above her. But the Holy Ghost gives to us another interpretation of this place, taking from all women all kinds of superiority, authority, and power over man, speaking as follows, by the mouth of St. Paul: "I suffer not a woman to teach, neither yet to usurp authority above man" (1 Tim. 2:12). Here he names women in general, excepting none; affirming that she may usurp authority above no man. And that he speaks more plainly in another place in these words: "Let women keep silence in the congregation, for it is not permitted to them to speak, but to be subject, as the law sayeth" (1 Cor. 14:34). These two testimonies of the Holy Ghost are sufficient to prove whatsoever we have affirmed before, and to repress the inordinate pride of women, as also to correct the foolishness of those that have studied to exalt women in authority above men, against God and against his sentence pronounced.


Tom Van Dyke said...

I'm a product of modern egalitarian gender equality thought.

Well, basically, since Knox is citing Aristotle, we in the 21st century condemn Western and American Civilization up until the ratification of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

This tells us...not much. Political rights are conventional, not natural. Tocqueville's view of the 19th century American woman was that she was every bit the man's equal, but in different ways.

In the 21st century, it's nearly impossible for us to put ourselves into the heads of the first 3000 years of Western Civilization, But Barbara Allen does an excellent job of explicating Tocqueville on gender here. That the genders are equal but not the same is an unimaginable---unintelligible---concept in our current era, which is why for many, history itself is unintelligible except as a list of humanity's crimes.

Jonathan Rowe said...

There is a saying among historians: The past is a foreign country. When I read some of these lines in Knox's argument that's what comes to my mind.

But yeah, such sentiments were par for the course back then and up until recently.

Tom Van Dyke said...

“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”--- L.P. Hartley

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”---William Faulkner

Take your pick. I do believe Christianity and Christian thought changed the world, per Christopher Dawson. [Altho I do not insist on his Christology, the Incarnation as literal and necessary truth.]

On the other hand, my sympathies otherwise lie with ahistoricism,
that man's permanent problems are perennial, permanent.

The problem of woman and her children has not been resolved by giving her the right to vote.

Stuff like this, where Randall Stephens of the RELIGION AND AMERICAN HISTORY blog, writes the usual modernist-historicist view of history

attacking Glenn Beck, etc., in the usual fashion, is just boring. Going back to Old Testament figures having multiple wives is a smokescreen, and ignores the role of Christianity in establishing an inherent equality of the genders.

Founder James Wilson:


Tom Van Dyke said...

James Wilson begins with a history of marriage, how it wasn't entirely peachy in Greece or Rome. Then, he writes:

"By the precepts of Christianity, and the practice of the Christians, the dignity of marriage was, however, restored.

In the eye of the common law, marriage appears in no other light than that of a civil contract: and to this contract the agreement of the parties, the essence of every rational contract, is indispensably required…

It will be proper, in the next place, to consider the consequences of marriage.

The most important consequence of marriage is, that the husband and the wife become, in law, only one person: the legal existence of the wife is consolidated into that of the husband. Upon this principle of union, almost all the other legal consequences of marriage depend. This principle, sublime and refined, deserves to be viewed and examined on every side. Among human institutions, it seems to be peculiar to the common law. Peculiar as it is, however, among human institutions, it seems not uncongenial to the spirit of a declaration from a source higher than human—“They twain shall be one flesh.”

Now of course, in the emancipated [womancipated] post-Christian 21st century, this sounds like religious pap. However, it might be possible to see that it's far from sexist, far from woman being inferior to man.

As it turned out, the paradigm didn't work, in no small part because men suck and leave their women and children to fend for themselves. But the idea was not that the woman was owned by her husband, or that she did not exist without him, but that they were "one flesh."

Mikewind Dale (Michael Makovi) said...

"In the 21st century, it's nearly impossible for us to put ourselves into the heads of the first 3000 years of Western Civilization."

I don't know, it probably depends on who you are. I haven't yet read earlier than Heinrich Bullinger and John Calvin yet, but I found it pretty easy to get into their heads. Being an Orthodox Jew who considers the Talmud to be a relatively modern, recent work will do that to you.

Mikewind Dale (Michael Makovi) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Notoriously, Knox wrote this as a proof of the monstrousness of having (the Catholic) Mary Queen of Scots acting as God's deputy, then basically did an Emma Litella "Never mind!" when (the Protestant) Elizabeth came to the English throne.

Officially, Knox wasn't reversing himself, because God Himself had obviously raised Elizabeth up as He had raised Deborah, so That's Just Completely Different and you're a Vile Sinner if you don't see it.

Also, the British playwright Caryl Churchill was once part of a stock company of female writers and actresses which called itself The Monstrous Regiment of Women, in "tribute" to Knox.

Jeffrey Kramer

Tom Van Dyke said...

Nice stuff and needed context, Mr. Kramer. Thx, and welcome.

BTW, Elizabeth I had to go Protestant. In the eyes of the Roman Church she was a bastard and that's hardly a call to be the queen.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Tom, and thanks for the welcome.

If Elizabeth had converted to Catholicism, would the church have called for her deposition anyway, on the grounds of bastardy? If not, it seems to me that she did have a choice. And from the histories I've read, it appears the church was actually somewhat hopeful for the first few years of her reign, and so acted in a pretty conciliatory way towards Elizabeth. (And naturally Elizabeth kept on offering them grounds for hope.) The excommunication didn't come until twelve years into her reign, after all.

Jeffrey kramer

Tom Van Dyke said...

Jeffrey, do you have anything on Rome reaching out to Elizabeth and thereby England? Lutheranism and Calvinism both made their plays. Beza even wrote her a poem!

Anonymous said...

Tom: not at hand, sorry. I think I'm primarily remembering J. E. Neale's Elizabeth, but I might be mistaken.

Jeffrey Kramer