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Calvin Against Female Authority


“Yet consider now, whether women are not quite past sense and reason, when they want to rule over men. In a word, it is madness. For, were men made for women? It is true that today men are as channels through which God causes His grace to stream down upon women. For, from whence does labor come? From where do all the most excellent things and highly esteemed things come? To be sure, it all comes from the men’s side. So God is well pleased for men to serve the good of women, as experience shows. Yet St. Paul has an eye here to the beginning of the creation, where it was said that it was not good for the man to be alone, and that he needed someone at hand who would always be ready to help. Since God was thinking of the man, it certainly follows that the woman is only an accessory. And why? Because she was only created for the sake of man, and she must therefore direct her whole life toward him. She must confess, “I am not supposed to be without direction here, not knowing my purpose and station. Rather, I am obliged by God, if I am married, to serve my husband, and render him honor and reverence. And, if I am not married, I am bound to walk in all soberness and modesty, cognizant that men have the higher rank, and that they must rule, and that the woman who disregards this forgets the law of nature and perverts what should be observed as God commands.” This then the place to which St. Paul brings back women.”

— John Calvin, Men, Women, and Order in the Church: Three Sermons by John Calvin (Dallas: Presbyterian Heritage, 1992)


“If the woman is under subjection, she is, consequently, prohibited from authority to teach in public. And unquestionably, whenever even natural propriety has been maintained, women have in all ages been excluded from the public management of affairs. It is the dictate of common sense, that female government is improper and unseemly.”

— John Calvin, Commentary on 1 Corinthians 14:34


“It is asked, whether he speaks of married women exclusively, for there are some that restrict to them what Paul teaches, on the ground that it does not belong to virgins to be under the authority of a husband. It is however a mistake, for Paul looks beyond this to God’s eternal law, which has made the female sex subject to the authority of men. On this account all women are born, that they may acknowledge themselves inferior in consequence of the superiority of the male sex.”

— John Calvin, Commentary on 1 Corinthians 11:10

6 thoughts on “John Calvin Against Female Authority”

  1. Great quote. Thank you. (I’ll be adding it to my database). I am a little surprised though at reading this from Calvin. I seem to remember reading of an exchange between him and Knox in which Calvin was much more conciliatory on the subject of women rulers than Knox.

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  2. I found the exchange between Calvin and Knox I’d mentioned:

    Two years ago John Knox asked of me, in a private conversation, what I thought about the government of women. I candidly replied, that as it was a deviation from the original and proper order of nature, it was to be ranked, no less than slavery, among the punishments consequent upon the fall of man; but 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; and added, that God did not vainly promise by the mouth of Isaiah, that queens should be the nursing mothers of the church [Is. 49:23]; by which prerogative it is very evident that they are distinguished from females in private life. I came at length to this conclusion, that since both by custom and public consent and long practice it has been established, that realms and principalities may descend to females by hereditary right, it did not appear necessary to me to move the question, not only because the thing would be invidious, but because in my opinion it would not be lawful to unsettle governments which are ordained by the peculiar providence of God. … I think I had reason to fear, if the affair had been brought to a trial that, for the inconsiderate vanity of one man, an unfortunate crowd of exiles would be driven not only from this city, but from almost every part of the world, especially as the evil now admitted of no other remedy than the exercise of indulgence.

    John Calvin, ‘Letter XV to Sir William Cecil’ (sometime after Jan. 29th, 1559)

    Reply
    • Not sure that I can agree with Calvin on that one.

      I didn’t understand the last part. What “affair” is he talking about that could have been “brought to a trial”?

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  3. I’ll have to confess that I’m not sure. I tried to find the entire text of his letter XV to Sir William Cecil online to determine the context, but couldn’t find it. I’ll venture that it may have had something to do with a possible suggestion by Knox that female regency and right of succession be resisted, but I’d be guessing.

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