Throughout this semester, I learned about a lot of people, places, and things that I had not known about beforehand. In the midst of all these phenomenal or terrible people, I could only choose one thing. One person intrigued me more than anything else and that is the one and only, Argula von Grumbach. In today’s culture there is such a shift towards the feminist movement and with the lead pastor of my church being a woman, I decided that I wanted to dig deeper and discover more about an empowering woman figure. Greater than the relativity of her to today’s culture, looking at Argula through the lens of the Reformation period. She is a perfect model for someone of this time. From the way that she spoke against wrongdoings and the battling in the defense of who she thought was just, who better to be a spokeswoman for the Reformation Period other than Argula von Grumbach?
The theme for the Reformation Period is, “Drawing upon Renaissance concepts, many questioned the role of the Church in part because of pervasive papal power abuse and urged reform. Reformation leaders, emphasizing the primacy of the Bible as the source of truth, promoted the value of the individual over the institutional Church in one’s relationship with God.” Thinking about Argula and her life, keeps pointing me back to this theme. The pervasive papal power abuse and urged reform is right down her alley. Before we get too far into that, I had to understand where she got this courage by learning her whole backstory. Argula von Grumbach, like a lot of ladies, was not born with the same last name that she died with. She was born into the family of Stauff in 1942, who were a baronial Catholic family. She grew up in a city called Regenburg in the state of Bavaria and country of Germany.
The Stauff family pushed politics and religion heavily within their home. Another point of emphasis was the education by the Stauffs. The family decided that Argula was ready for a Koberger Bible when she was merely ten years old, which they had been told by some Franciscan advisors that the Bible would confuse her more than benefit her. The Koberger Bible, which was the common German Bible of this time, became like Argula’s best friend as she studied it so vigorously that she knew a lot of it by memory. I assume that this knowledge came in handy when both of her parents passed away when she was only seventeen years old. She went to live with Duke William, who was her caregiver and kind of played the role of her father. When she turned twenty-four a man named Friedrich von Grumbach caught her attention and he married her, but he was not as well-known as the Stauff family. Duke William decided to try to help them out as he was still caring for Argula, so he decided to place Friedrich on the royal court. Friedrich does not come into play much more, other than maybe encouraging Argula behind the scenes as she outshined him through her successes. He was a lot more “old-fashioned” in the way that the church should remain stagnant or the same.
He very well could have been against the reforming choices that his wife decided to be let known, but since there is not too much recorded about their marriage, I would like to give him the benefit of the doubt. The church and community are reported to have tried pushing Friedrich to get his wife “back in line” with the church, but it does not seem to have actually affected her actions. He passed away in 1530 and the Grumbachs were a family of six, before his death. Argula Grumbach seemed to have full care of the kids as she decided to put them through a Protestant education. Upon the decline of Friedrich’s life, Argula enjoyed reading and studying the literature of other reformers of the church. She probably started reading them during the last eight years of Friedrich’s life as that is when most of the works were then printed in German. Anything of the reformers that she could get her hands on intrigued her. She started intensely learning and trying to understand Martin Luther’s teachings and Philip Melanchthon (“Women of the Reformation”).
The courage that Argula von Grumbach came from a numerous of things that probably sprang from her childhood and early adulthood. The religious values, political stances, and educational benefits seem to play a role of her outspoken and smart way of going about things. Since she grew up with her Koberger Bible and studying that constantly, she had enough knowledge on the subject to actually formulate accurate information upon the topics being discussed. She grew quite fond of Martin Luther and most of his educational writings. She did not feel as if his teachings were being given the credibility that it should be receiving. There was a time where she was outspoken towards a University that she believed wrongly threatened a guy named Arsacius Seehofer. Arsacius supported Martin Luther’s teachings and pushed for some of his and even Melanchthon’s ideas. The University quickly turned on him and began threatening him. Before Arsacius even knew what hit him, the civil authorities were contacting him and telling him that he better take back what he said “or else.” He was arrested a few times because he refused to retract his statements and then he got some death threats. With all of this mounting on his shoulders he cracked and took back his previous statements.
Argula, being well-educated on the subject decided that she was going to throw her two cents in on the issue. Then this date, to be remembered by anyone interested in Argula von Grumbach or even anyone interested in the reformation itself, September 20th, 1523. Argula decided to write a letter to the University and then also the authorities that were contacted at the aid of Arsacius. She brought up the poor decision-making and then the even poorer ways of further seeing things out with Arsacius. This was very bold and blunt, which became quickly popular to read. The letter turned into a pamphlet, which was printed around fourteen times within the first two months. That may not seem like much in today’s culture, but that was quite a bit of buzz over a letter/pamphlet written by a woman in the 1500s. Argula was courageous to write this letter because she did not agree with something and she took the side of someone that she did agree with. She started off the letter with such passion too that it pulled in the audience “And this is why I am compelled as a Christian to write to you. For Ezekiel 33 says: “If you see your brother sin, reprove him, or I will require his blood at your hands””. She genuinely cared about the outcome to be made right.
Now we know that Argula von Grumbach was quite fond with Martin Luther, so we should take a look at some of his works that Argula focused on studying to better understand what it exactly was that she liked about him. Martin Luther was one of the greatest influencers of the Protestant Reformation. Martin Luther was a professor of theology in Germany and him and the Roman Catholic Church did not quite see eye to eye. He actually disagreed and argued with a lot of the things that were taught by the Catholics in this time period. The indulgences or buying of forgiveness and allowing the people to pay for whatever wrong they were doing with money of this world was a big dispute that Martin Luther sided against. He decided to post up his Ninety-Five Thesis or Disputation on the Power of Indulgences which brought up the issues that Martin Luther had with the church of this time. Martin Luther rather focused on putting the salvation on a pedestal as something that can never be earned. God is the only one that can give it and no amount of money will save you. The grace of God and through His power alone is the only thing that can save us.
Salvation is something that was given to each and every one of us and it is not a means of monetary value of someone whether or not they can be saved. Since the pope was the head of almost everything at the time and Martin Luther was going against him, he eventually became excommunicated from the church and the ruler named him as a fugitive. It was because of his courage and perseverance that Argula found a sense of motivation to support his views and back up Arsacius. She agreed with Martin Luther and studied more intensely his works. Argula loved Martin Luther and followed him for the most part, but she was not limited to studying only his writings. She studied and learned from groups of protestants too. She had written letters to Martin Luther’s overseer just to encourage him and tell him that she agreed with his teachings, that not everyone disagreed with him. Though she wrote this as personal letters to begin with, they became printed and read by people all around. She did the same thing with writing letters to someone underneath the Emperor.
The letters had the same end as they were printed and released for everyone to read. She had met with this person before at a meeting of the Imperial Parliament. Argula believed very strongly in Martin Luther’s works, so this is the reasoning behind her wanting to meet with or write letters to different protestant groups of this time. In order for any change to be done, someone needs to take a stand for what they believe to be right and Argula was set on doing just that. For a woman to be doing this was way ahead of her time, but that just shows how much courage, faith, and guts Argula truly had. She was a go-getter. Argula was a fantastic writer for a man or a woman and brave for either gender, but it is such a huge deal that she was the first protestant woman to be that outspoken and write about it. Women of this time period did not tend to let their voices be heard.
Whether that be from fear of someone just to tell them to be quiet or that they were actually scared of being hurt, they tended to steer clear of bigger issues. Women were not allowed to have much of a position when it came to political views, religious beliefs, and the list could go on and on. The women usually were just supportive of the husband and cleaned up after his messes or watched the kids. Argula broke the stereotype mold of just being supportive and obedient to what the man told her to do. She was so courageous and outspoken about her thoughts. She agreed with what Martin Luther had to say about religious issues and things going on in the background of the church leaders. She agreed so much that she was willing to put her neck out there for the cause. She could not just sit around and be passive, but had to get involved. Whether it be by writing letters to Duke of Saxony, the protector of Martin Luther, by the letter written to the representative of the ruler, or the letter written to the University that treating the student unjustly. She was willing to put herself out there for what she believed in. The community told her to back off and she did not. Her husband told her to tone it down and she did not.
Argula was stubborn and hard-nosed, but she would throw it on the line for what she believed in. As controversy arose around her, Argula stood firm in her beliefs and did not hinder under any pressures. She supported the leaders of the Reformation period and may not be as well-known as she should be. Even though not everyone agreed with her and still do not, she represents the worldview of the Reformation so well. She agreed with the process and the reform, she was changing stereotypical boundaries of the time by being a female writer, and she wrote poems and letters that showed her getting behind Martin Luther’s ideas. These letters were printed and shown all around. Argula represented our reformation theme in the way that she did not just agree with the normal way of thinking, but challenged it. She challenged the Churches pervasive papal power abuse and urged reform. She was so outspoken and bold that people remembered her.
Argula von Grumbach has such a beautiful ring to it. So willing and able to change the mindsets of others. She may not have changed everyone’s mind on the reform, but she was bold and different enough from the everyday routine that it forced people to open their ears and listen. She was so courageous in her doing so because this was ultimately very dangerous for a woman in this time. Reflecting on the theme of this semester, “Drawing upon Renaissance concepts, many questioned the role of the Church in part because of pervasive papal power abuse and urged reform. Reformation leaders, emphasizing the primacy of the Bible as the source of truth, promoted the value of the individual over the institutional Church in one’s relationship with God.” Throughout Argula’s life, knowing more about why she wrote the letters she did, knowing the stories of the people she wrote the letters to, how come it was so incredible that she was a female outspoken writer, and how all of these come together just represents the overall theme of this semester so well. The Reformation period may have been a lot different had Argula von Grumbach not have been a part of it. She had such an impactful influence on everything she wrote or just everyday life that she was the perfect person to do this paper over.