Reformation Women, 16th Century Figures Who Shaped Christianity’s Rebirth

Reformation Heritage Books, 2017

The Reformed church rightly holds to the Biblical teaching that a woman should not be in the pulpit. But we can be at risk of emphasising this prohibition at the expense of teaching women what they can do for the church of Christ.

Encouragingly, “Reformation Women” by Rebecca VanDoodeward is full of examples of faithful Christian women in the 16th century who, by their service, bore much fruit for the Lord within the broad boundaries of His word.

In the 12 mini-biographies that make up this book, we learn of some of the lesser known female figures of the Reformation, from wide-ranging circumstances and positions across Western Europe. All were faithful in suffering, diligent in spiritual disciplines, self-sacrificing and earnestly committed to the preservation and growth of the church.

We read of Marguerite de Navarre, a Reformed princess, who used her political influence to free Protestant prisoners and even housed some in her palace at the risk of her own safety. Katharina Schutz assisted her husband’s ministry by her written works to spread the gospel, and defend Biblical doctrines that were under attack at the time. Her home was also a haven for countless refugees during war and persecution in France. We learn of the recently widowed Charlotte Arbaleste who escaped the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre with her infant daughter and refused to attend Mass to save her life, despite strong pressure from her own mother. Then there is Olympia Morata, an exceptionally intellectually gifted scholar who was forced out of the royal courts for her conversion. Her previous zeal for the classics was transferred to the Scriptures and so she continued to use her gifts in the education of others.

One might expect there to be more historical context given for when these women lived. Granted there are appendixes with timelines and family trees, but VanDooderwaard’s goal is not a history lesson. What she does is enable us to identify with these fellow saints and sisters despite our separation from them in history.

They served the same eternal God and were the recipients of the same everlasting promises and blessings that are still offered to us today.

God prepared important work for the women in His church. This book is a challenge and encouragement to bear fruit for Christ wherever we have been placed.

Book review by Katie Fraser, wife to James, mother to two boys and member of Stranraer RPCS

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