Women were active in the reform efforts that swept through Europe. From rulers, such as Isabella I of Castile and Elizabeth I of England, to the many, less powerful women in Anabaptist circles, women played key roles. Today, we will look at just a few of the women who worked for reformation both within the Catholic Church and the Protestant church.
Isabelle of Castile
As Queen, Isabella looked at the Catholic Church around her and recognized the need for reform. One scholar notes, “Isabella was determined to reform the church, and to that end began by securing from the papacy the right to name those who were to fill ecclesiastical posts.” She wanted to use this power to secure the best possible people for those posts. She also called for reform in convents and monasteries. “The queen and the archbishop set about the reformation of convents and monasteries. They personally visited the most important monastic houses, and those best known for their laxity, calling all to renewed obedience to their monastic vow, reproving those who showed little improvement, and in some cases, severely punishing those who resisted their entreaties.”
As we saw earlier in the week, Elizabeth I made England Protestant again after her half- sister’s death in 1558. During her reign, the Thirty-Nine Articles were set forth. These articles named the way forward for the Church of England.In what is known as the Elizabethan Settlement, Elizabeth I worked hard to direct a moderate and unifying approach to living out the Christian faith.
Teresa of Avila
As we will see next week, a significant aspect of the reformation within the Catholic Church centered on the development of new monastic orders. One new order was called the Discalced Carmelite order. It was called such because the members of the order wore sandals or were “barefoot” (discalced).The Discalced Carmelite order was founded by Teresa of Avila.
From the time of her youth, Teresa was drawn to the monastic life. When she was twenty years old, she entered a convent in Avila. For almost two decades, her life in the convent was fairly lax. But then she felt called to a stricter way of life. Throughout her life, Teresa had visions of Jesus. She feared that perhaps these visions were not of the Lord. But through her struggles, she came to believe that they were.230 It was through a vision that she felt called to start a new, monastic order that would “follow the monastic life with more rigor.” This included a call back to the “austerity and contemplative character of primitive Carmelite life.”
Eventually, her efforts grew and flourished as the order spread. A version of the Discalced Carmelites was even formed for men. Notably, “Teresa is the only woman in the history of the church to have founded monastic orders for both women and men.” She is also well known for her spiritual writing. We will look at some of her writing later this week.
Words of an Anabaptist Woman
There were, of course, women who held no title, whose names did not go down in history, and yet they faithfully followed their convictions as they participated in reform movements. One such example is an unnamed Anabaptist woman who was martyred for her faith along with her husband. Before her execution, she gave birth to a daughter. In a letter to her daughter, she wrote:
My dearest child . . . Oh, that it had pleased the Lord that I might have brought you up, but it seems that it is not the Lord’s will . . . Be not ashamed of us; it is the way which the prophets and the apostles went. Your dear father demonstrated with his blood that it is the genuine faith, and I also hope to attest the same with my blood, though flesh and blood must remain on the posts and on the stake, well knowing that we shall meet hereafter.
The four women we discussed today found themselves in very different contexts and working toward different aims. Consider: where does God have you? You might find yourself in a place of influence or have the power to affect change. You might feel rather powerless in your current circumstances. And yet, God can use you there as well.
What does faithfulness look like in the place God has put you? Is God calling you to speak truths? Initiate changes? Make sacrifices?
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