‘The First Blast of the Trumpet’ by John Knox
Source: Selected Writings of John Knox: Public Epistles, Treatises, and Expositions to the Year 1559, by David Laing (ed.), Edinburgh 1864. Full electronic copy available.
Geneva, 1558 AD
John Knox (1514 – 1572 AD), is perhaps after Luther and Calvin the best known protestant theologian during the time of the Reformation, a foremost Protestant leader in Scotland and ‘father’ of the Church of Scotland. Knox wrote this book while in exile against the three queens who were ruling England, France and Scotland at the time.
The main contention of ‘The First Blast of the Trumpet’ is that the exercise of authority by women is contrary to both natural law and religion. The interest of this lengthy treatise for us is that Knox’s arguments reflect the beliefs of the day, both among Catholics and Reformers. We will only reproduce a few extracts.
. . . .“To promote a woman to bear rule, superiority, dominion, or empire above any realm, nation, or city, is repugnant to nature; an insult to God, a thing most contrary to his revealed will and approved ordinance; and finally, it is the subversion of good order, of all equity and justice.”
[Women are weak and foolish by nature]
. . . “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. 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 Law forbids women to hold public offices]
. . . . “But lest that we shall seem to be of this opinion alone, let us hear what others have seen and decreed in this matter. In the [Roman] Rules of the Law thus is it written: “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 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. The Law does moreover pronounce womankind to be most avaricious (which is a vice intolerable in those that should rule or minister justice). 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.”
[History shows that women cannot be trusted with authority]
. . . “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; 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. 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.”
[The Creator made woman subject to man]
“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. So I say, that in her greatest perfection, woman was created to be subject to man.”
[Further reason for subjection was put on woman by way of punishment]
“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). 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. 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.”
[All women suffer dominion by men because of Eve’s sin]
“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.”
[The Fathers too teach that women are sinful and subject]
- “Tertullian, in his book of Women’s Apparel, after he has shown many causes why gorgeous apparel is abominable and odious in a woman, adds these words, speaking as it were to every woman by name: “Do you not know,” says he, “that you are Eve. The sentence of God lives and is effectual against this kind; and in this world, of necessity it is, that the punishment also live. You are the port and gate of the devil. You are the first transgressor of God’s law. You did persuade and easily deceive him whom the devil durst not assault. For your merit (that is, for your death), it behooved the Son of God to suffer the death; and does it yet abide in your mind to deck you above your skin coats?” ”
. . . “And how that woman ought to obey man, Augstine speaks yet more clearly in these words, “The woman shall be subject to man as unto Christ. For woman,” says he, “has not her example from the body and from the flesh, that so she shall be subject to man, as the flesh is unto the Spirit, because that the flesh in the weakness and mortality of this life lusts and strives against the Spirit, and therefore would not the Holy Ghost give example of subjection to the woman of any such thing,” etc. This sentence of Augustine ought to be noted of all women, for in it he plainly affirms, that woman ought to be subject to man.”
. . . “St. Jerome agrees in every point, who thus writes in his Hexaemeron: “Adam was deceived by Eve, and not Eve by Adam, and therefore it is just, that woman receive and acknowledge him for governor whom she called to sin, lest that again she slide and fall by womanly facility.” . . . . He proceeds further, saying, “Women are commanded to be subject to men by the law of nature, because man is the author or beginner of the woman: for as Christ is the head of the church, so is man of the woman. From Christ the church took beginning, and therefore it is subject unto him; even so did woman take beginning from man that she should be subject.”
. . . “Ambrose, writing upon the second chapter of the first epistle to Timothy, after he has spoken much of the simple arrayment of women, he adds these words: “Woman ought not only to have simple arrayment, but all authority is to be denied unto her. For she must be in subjection to man (of whom she has taken her origin), as well in dress as in service.” And after a few words, he says, “Because that death did enter into the world by her, there is no boldness that ought to be permitted unto her, but she ought to be in humility.” Hereof it is plain, that from every woman, be she married or unmarried, is all authority taken to execute any office that appertains to man. Yea, it is plain, that every woman is commanded to serve, to be in humility and subjection.”
Conclusion: Knox goes on and on in this way, repeating all the stock arguments common in his day. Not once does he attack Catholics in this treatise. On the question of the inferior status and sinful nature of women all theologians of the time, whether Catholic or Protestant, were in agreement!
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