Argula von Grumbach was a female Reformer, who lived from 1492-1563. She was a woman of noble birth, and writer of pamphlets. Pamphlet writing reminds me of blogging. It was a way to disseminate information with ease. It was really the only way for the common people, including women, to speak forth their views in any public way.
Unlike her contemporary, Martin Luther's wife, Katharina, Argula's activities went far beyond the domestic sphere. By virtue of her father giving her a Bible as a child, she was very knowledgeable of the Scriptures, something not common among women at this time. Those who participated in theological discussions of the day were generally learned male scholars. Women did not attend universities, so if a woman wanted to engage in a theological discussion, she did so as an outsider. Pamphlets were really Argula's only way to speak forth.
Argula emphasized two principles: the priesthood of all believers and the primacy of the Scriptures. She believed her authority to interpret Scripture and speak publicly was founded on the first principle. Of course, not everyone saw things that way. With the Reformation came an attention to the sacredness of the home and family. This gave meaning and value to domesticity. The emphasis on domesticity tended to direct women to work out their vocations primarily in the home.
Despite having no formal education, Argula was determined to speak out:
Ah, but what a joy it is when the spirit of God teaches us and gives us understanding . . . I don't intend to bury my talent, if the Lord give me grace.
That comment is not unlike how many women feel today. And even though we are 500 years past the Reformation, I suspect this tension between the desire to speak and the impediments faced is still something women experience.
What I found quite interesting is that in order to be heard, Argula faced similar reality women face today: the need for education and to know the right people. Argula, by virtue of her noble birth was in a position far above the majority of women. Not only did she have access to education, she knew the right people and she had the means to publish her pamphlets. It is indeed easier today to spread our own views, but knowing the right people does help. I had an email conversation four years ago with a published Christian writer, and he told me quite honestly that he believed he never would have been published had he not known someone in the industry. I wonder if that is true true generally speaking.
Argula, by virtue of knowing male nobility had patrons who would support her. Is that still true today? Do Christian women married to or associated with pastors, university presidents, and popular speakers have an advantage over other women? Just like Argula had the means to publish and knew a publisher, what kind of advantages do some women have today? It's an interesting question.
Not everyone liked Argula's insistence. She was labelled as "heretical," and a "hag" for trying to insert herself in the dialogue among male leaders and scholars. Yet she persisted. What I find most notable is her dedication to the Scriptures. And that is a lesson women today can learn from: to know the Scriptures well. We have so much more freedom to speak out than did Argula. Perhaps there are men who would roll their eyes when a woman theologian speaks forth, but there are people who support women in such roles. I think there is still a lack of women in strictly theological discussion, with the majority of the content of their writing focusing on Christian living and cultural themes, but there are a few female theologians out there, and there are some women bloggers out there who write about more theological topics. I'm thankful for both kinds of writing.
If we want to speak forth as women, we do have to be like Argula in two respects: be students of the Scriptures, and be persistent. I don't think it's enough to have a bone to pick and a space online to write. We need to be as grounded in the Scriptures as we can be, and we need to be dedicated to the truth.