Chapter 13: Medieval Christianity
In the years after Augustine died, the institutional church continued to protect its doctrine from heretics by murdering them. And by the eleventh century it was protecting Jerusalem, the city where Christ died, by killing the "infidels" who occupied it. This slaughter of the Moslems who had taken over Jerusalem was called the Crusades.
The religion of Islam, as expounded by Mohammed, validated the principle of going to war in the name of Allah. This commitment to holy war allowed the Moslems to conquer territories that stretched from the Indus River to the Atlantic Ocean. Stories of the atrocities committed by their victorious armies inflamed the passions of European Christians, and under the leadership of Pope Urban II they went forth, in righteous indignation, to slaughter the heathens who had killed their brethren.
In A.D. 1095, the pope addressed a vast assembly of the faithful and reported, "from the confines of Jerusalem....a grievous report has gone forth that an accursed race, wholly alienated from God, has violently invaded the lands of Christians and has depopulated them by pillage and fire. They have led away a part of the captives into their own country, and a part they have killed by cruel tortures. They destroy the altars, after having defiled them with their uncleanliness."
The pope proceeded to demonstrate that he was unable to distinguish between the teachings of Christ and the teachings of Mohammed. He urged the men of Christendom to avenge the wrongs that had been done by declaring a holy war upon their enemies. He seemed unaware that Jesus had died rather than take up the sword against his enemies.
The pope was not the only spiritual leader who ignored the Gospel message. One of the most influential medieval saints--Bernard of Clairvaux--known as a great reformer of monastic life and a man who "accepted the Bible as God's word," also preached the righteousness of war. "The Christian who slays the unbeliever in the Holy War is sure of his reward....The Christian glories in the death of the pagan, because Christ is thereby glorified."
So for 200 years, with the blessing of the pope and various saints and religious leaders, the Crusaders went to war in the name of Christ. They killed and were killed with the symbol of his crucifixion emblazoned on their tunics. The nurturing and compassionate female principle that Jesus embodied had been expunged from Christianity. Like the Jewish people before them, the Christians had enshrined the male principle; they worshipped a god of war and made Jesus his commander-in-chief. They explained this theological machismo by calling it an exercise of God's "justice."
But a longing for the gentleness and love of the female principle that Jesus attributed to God, and demonstrated in his own life, had taken hold of people's hearts. They wanted to believe in a powerful Creator who was always caring and compassionate. But they could not conceive of any power apart from force and violence.
So Christianity found a way to circumvent this God whose justice demanded that people be tortured, maimed, and killed for their sins against him. They found a way to circumvent this God, and still maintain the totalitarian rule of the male principle. The Christian solution to empowering the female principle was the veneration of Mary, mother of Jesus. But it was a limited and wheedling power that she was given--not the power of autonomy.
Because Christianity taught that Jesus was both human and divine--the only begotten Son of God, conceived in the body of a Virgin--Mary was called the "Mother of God." It was in this capacity that she was revered as the intercessor between the human and the divine.
Centuries earlier, intercession had been the province of Christ. St.Paul taught "there is only one mediator between God and mankind...Christ Jesus." But the one whom Paul proclaimed mediator was the caring and compassionate Christ who had gone to his death rather than harm another human being. By medieval times, he had been replaced by the Crusading Christ, under whose banner men killed their enemies.
Now people needed a way to placate that all-powerful and militant Christ; they needed a way to extract from him the mercy and compassion of the female principle. So they began to appeal to his mother, Mary. She became the mediatrix between her God-son and humankind. And because she was a woman, she could be allowed to demonstrate the compassion, concern and care that was no longer attributed to her son.
The raising of Mary to the position of mediatrix between mankind and God-the-Son, was the perfect solution for a masculinized Christianity. Jesus Christ, like God the Father, could be purified of any elements of the female. He could become the total male. He could be divested of the female principle that he had embodied, and taught other men to embody. The status quo had been reestablished: men were men and women were women--and neither sex was to demonstrate the qualities of the other.
Then, in the sixteenth century, Martin Luther and his "reform" of Christianity took this separation of gender-based roles even further. When Luther rejected celibacy as a superior way of seeking and serving God, he removed the one area of religious influence available to women. Until his time, and in spite of the low regard that the theologians, priests, and the general run of men placed women, there was always the exception--the saint. And whether male or female, it was the celibate saint who most impacted Christianity.
But with his rejection of celibacy, Luther reinstituted the old rabbinical/patriarchal ideals. Women were not fit to carry the burdens of religion and theology; they were born to be wives and mothers, not perpetual virgins. They were redeemed by giving birth to children. And in Luther's theology, as in Old Testament times, the greatest disaster for a woman was to be barren.
He taught that although women were weak, "carrying about in body and mind several vices" they had a way of redemption:" One good covers and conceals all [their vices]: the womb and childbirth." Luther was echoing Saint Paul. Woman was redeemed by having children. And like Paul, he contradicted the teachings of Jesus, who made the study of the things of God, and the search for spiritual realities, the most important life task for both sexes.
Submission to her husband's needs and the bearing of children was the woman's way to salvation. Luther encouraged women to happily resign themselves to this fact, even if it killed them. He wrote, "Think, dear Greta, that you are a wife, and God gives you this work. Take comfort cheerfully in His will. Do your very best to being forth the child, but if you die, you die in a noble work and obedient to God."
In a further reinstatement of rabbinical attitudes, he cautioned that women should not spend their time in church, caught up in religious rituals and ceremonies. The woman should leave that to the man, and spend her time and effort only in the world of home and children.
If the mother of a family wishes to please and serve God, let her not do what the papists are accustomed to doing: running to churches, fasting, making many prayers, etc. But let her care for the family...let her do her task in the kitchen...if she does these things in faith in the Son of God...she is holy and blessed.
Martin Luther replaced the saintly ideal of the woman who was in a special relationship to God with the rabbinical ideal of woman-as-womb and handmaid to her husband. He made these functions the circumference of her existence. Regardless of the limitations placed on the female by earlier Christianity, it was understood that there were some women whom God had called to the life of the spirit--and that those women were privy to spiritual truths that were not withheld from them because of their sex. They were truths to be used for the exhortation and edification of the Church.
But Luther believed that the highest spiritual role to which a woman should aspire was helpmate to her husband. Katherine von Bora, the nun whom he married, became the prototype of the preacher's wife: her role in life was to enable her husband to seek and serve God with as little distraction as possible.
Although he taught the "priesthood of all believers," Luther's religion maintained a hierarchy of male priests. Men were allowed to retain the special privileges of the clergy and at the same time, they could also enjoy the privileges and services of the married state.
Luther also encouraged the identification of religious beliefs with nationalistic interests. With Christendom split into Catholic and Protestant factions, resentment against Rome and its pontiff also became resentment of the Italian politics into which the papacy had been drawn. Luther's denunciation of the selling of indulgences was not only a reaction against what he considered a sinful practice, he was also outraged because the money raised by the selling of those indulgences was enriching Italy, at the expense of his German homeland.
For Rome is the greatest thief and robber that had ever appeared on earth, or ever will....Poor Germans that we are--we have been deceived! We were born to be masters, and we have been compelled to bow the head beneath the yoke our tyrants....It is time the glorious Teutonic people should cease to be the puppet of the Roman pontiff. (Emphasis added)
After the Reformation, Christian nations self-righteously went to war against each other, solemnly asking the blessing of God on the slaughter of their fellow Christians.
The "reform" of Christianity that Luther and other leaders of the time thought they were bringing about, had nothing to do with reformation as far as women were concerned. And although Catholics and Protestants murdered each other over questions of doctrine and dogma, on the most important issue--the integration of the female principle into all spheres of human life--they were in absolute agreement. Both upheld the oppression of the female and conspired to keep women from influencing the world outside the home.
The female principle, incarnate in Jesus Christ, would not be allowed to interfere with the rule of the god of deadly force.